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It’s Called a Heart (Part 2)

It’s Called a Heart (Part 2)


It’s Called a Heart (Part 1 Posted January 24, 2014)

It’s Called a Heart (Part 2)

Shopping for Surgery

I really don’t know what everyone expected from me in the moments that followed, finding out I needed to have open heart surgery.  My parents and sisters were crying and hugging me and I just wanted dance-I felt vindicated, a total sense of relief. I didn’t cry, I wasn’t sad, I was happy.    I knew something was wrong and if I had allowed people, people who society trusts to be the authorities, to go unchallenged, I would be dead.  I really go to extreme lengths to prove a point, but this was even extreme for me.

I wasn’t crazy, as the many doctors had made me feel; and, I logically predicted, once the atrial myxoma* was removed, my crushing chest pains would finally stop.   An atrial myxoma is a noncancerous tumor in the upper left or right side of the heart.   It grows on the wall that separates the two sides of the heart. This wall is called the atrial septum.    All of the doctors said the tumor was unrelated to chest pains and I would likely still have them after the surgery.


Well, that’s a cheery prognosis.  Beta blockers for life and a scar, really, what more could a girl hope for?   The tumor on my heart, we were initially told had grown from the fall of 1989 to April of 1990, to the size of a small cherry.  There was serious concern over valve damage due to the size of the tumor.

Prior to surgery, I had to decide if I wanted the artificial valve (blood thinners for the rest of my life and would not be able to have children) or the pig valve (no blood thinners, able to have children, but valve had to be replaced every seven years).  I knew then, with a fair amount of certainty, that I didn’t want to have children, but was smart enough to know that may change.  And, I love bacon, so to me, if I had to have a valve, pig was the ultimate tribute to bacon.  Added bonus, I already had the snort laugh down.

Moments after my parents told me the news, the phone rang.  My sister, Amy home from Duquense University for the big news, yelled to me that it was Billy (my high school crush) and offered to take a message. Billy and I always hung out in a group, about seven girls and seven guys, but he’d never called me before.  (I remember thinking that it was God’s cruel joke or karmic retribution for all the questions I asked holy people; and probably an indication I was going to die).

Amy rolled her eyes, handed me the phone, as if minute old news, about having my chest fileted open and a growth carved out of my heart, would really faze me when it came to Billy.  Billy had called to see if I was going to ‘the Flats’* later and wanted us to go together. (Seriously, I was convinced I was God’s cosmic joke).  I was pretty sure my parents who were already really over protective (think wrapped in bubble wrap and not allowed out past 11 PM) were ever going to let me out of their sight again, let alone on the night we all found out I needed to have open heart surgery.

*The Flats,’ were an open space in the local woods where all the kids went to drink.

I told Billy that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go, and hearing his disappointment, I casually blurted out, “Yeah, I just found out I have to have open heart surgery,’ like I had just told him I had to get the car washed.  I remember this moment so clearly because, by sheer chance, he was the first person I told and it was the first time I uttered the words aloud.  Sadly, I am still about as smooth when it comes to tact and personal relationships.  Needless to say, he hung up about as quickly as humanly possible.  I certainly didn’t blame him.

I’d heard earlier in the week, Billy was thinking of asking me to prom (and I have no idea if it was true or not).  Regardless, I begged my parents to let me go to the party that night (every girl’s dream prom and pig valves), and partly to get out of the house and clear my head.  Fully expecting them to tell me I would be contained in a bubble until surgery, they shocked me by letting me out to tell my friends in person.

Checking to see how far I could push this I told them honestly where I was supposed to meet everyone, in the middle of the woods, that often got raided by cops.  Nope, they didn’t even flinch.  They were either in total shock, or they really thought I was going to die.  Never one to let an opportunity to pass me by, I met everyone up at ‘the Flats.’

I drove there myself, rehearsing in my head a better way to tell people than just blurting it out and assaulting people, like I had done to poor Billy.  I’d improved, but was still very unemotional and detached when telling friends.

Thinking that Billy had asked me to go to the party with him, I thought he’d be pretty excited to see me turn up there later.  There was an understandable awkwardness, and I thought about trying to assure him, he couldn’t contract a tumor by proximity, but thought better of it.  He never asked me to prom and while I was disappointed I could understand, asking a girl who might die on the operating table before prom, was well, a design flaw.

Not to let the new side effects of parental fear go to waste, in perfect asshole fashion, I explored the boundaries, or lack of, over the next six days.  On the seventh I checked into the hospital.

I’m not really sure how other people prepare for open heart surgery, but I went shopping.  I decided if what I’d seen on tv regarding hospital gowns was any indication, a gray open-back smock, someone else had previously worn, was not a good look for me.  I explained to my mom that I needed a few things for my week stay in the hospital.  Without so much as a word, she gave me her credit card, something she had NEVER done before, and told me to have fun with my friends.

I headed out to the Victoria’s Secret, in South Hills Village with my friends.  Let’s keep in mind that I was 95 pounds and my chest looked like a nipple on a board.   (So, far from sexy.)   I first picked a soft pink long sleeved, cotton, sleep shirt.  Simple, practicable, and totally out of character for me, I guess I was in shock too.  Starting to feel all of my self entitled, bratty self, I remember I have my mom’s credit card.  Silk panties (not satin, they hold too much static cling), were on sale, for something like, four pairs for $50.  Well, that certainly seemed like a steal.  I’d need eight pairs for my week long stay.

By the time I was done it was over $350.  The sales girl noticed that it was my mother’s name on the card and not my own.  Showing her my driver’s license with the same last name, I said really snotty, ‘I’m having open heart surgery.’   She asked for my mother’s telephone number, called her to confirm, both that I could use the card and if I was really having surgery.  My mom confirmed both, and with that the sales girl, racked with guilt, gave me a 30% discount.  That sales girl was a way better person than me, surgery or not, she should have kicked my ass, or at the very least kicked me out of the store.

Not even a ‘and be reasonable, Melayna,’ from my mom.  Fuck.  She thought I was going to die.  Respectfully, I left all the tags on everything until I got to the hospital, in case I didn’t make it, so she could return or at least exchange.  I recognize these probably are not ‘normal’ thoughts of an eighteen-year old girl, getting ready for open heart surgery, but hey!


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