It’s Called a Heart (Part 4)
Please read: It’s Called a Heart (Part 1-3 First)
In stark contrast, I entered the hospital in the pediatric wings, and was now in the cardiac wing, which was mainly elderly. An elderly cardiac patient who was in and out of the hospital had a private room built for his private use; and, he checked out the morning of my surgery-lucky me! He checked out as in-the hospital, no-he didn’t die. I was given his room which had a private bath and room for one of my parents to stay with me, overnight and no hospital roommate. I was in and out of consciousness for the first 48 hours, with blinding headaches.
I died in my sleep. There was an overwhelming smell of flowers and when I opened my eyes, the flowers were arranged like a funeral. It was one of the few times that someone wasn’t in room with me when I woke and I thought to myself, ‘Wow what a poor turnout for my funeral. I really should have planned it before I went in, there would have been a way better turn out’ and with that I drifted off again. It was an amazing feeling of love when I finally did shake off that drug trip to see just how many people cared.
I became a bit of a mini celebrity during my six day ‘tune up’ in the cardiac ward. I had balloons, cards and flowers from well over 100 people. My Mom asked what I was talking about before in my semi-conscious state, “ You were muttering about how you thought you’d be better dressed for your funeral, sighed and went back to sleep.” I told her my experience and she suggested that for the remainder of my stay that we have the flowers delivered directly to our home. (For a very long time after this I had a strange reaction to flowers and didn’t like receiving them)
The nurses and doctors were used to a bit more of a mature, slower moving, bingo crowd, on the cardiac floor. That became exceedingly apparent when I came out from peeing and was met by an audience of panicked nurses and excited Residents ready to cut me back open. When I moved, I moved like an 18 year old (otherwise healthy) girl and all of the monitors jumped off the charts which set everyone into cardiac event mode, and I was just using the commode.
The day before I checked out, the cardiothoracic surgeon came in with 2 male Residents (the same two who were disappointed from peegate), he told me that since things were going well, and I was being discharged in the morning, he was going to remove my guide wire for a pace maker. And with that he exposed my bare chest, I was still a virgin and mortified. My scar was wrapped like it held the codes to the nuclear bomb and my little nipples on a board were exposed. I know it was clinical and necessary but it didn’t make it any less humiliating and I hadn’t yet mentally prepared myself for the startling reality that there was a foot long parting gift that still needed to be unwrapped.
The guide wire was attached to my heart and ended on the outside of my body. When he started to pull it, it felt like someone was dental flossing the inside of my body, it was the strangest sensation but apparently my nipples also wanted to get in on that sensation and became erect. I caught one of the Residents checking out my boobs, I’d like to say he got an eyeful but I wasn’t even a 32 A. Wow, men are really pigs, he may have thought about donating one of his pig valves in the future. Oink. When I’m uncomfortable, I often make really inappropriate jokes to try and defuse the awkwardness. I looked at him and said, ‘What? You couldn’t have slapped a couple implants in while you were in there?’
The morning of my departure one of the nurses said that she could remove the bandages or, touching my arm, said I could do it myself at home. There were no jokes this time. It was one of the most sobering moments of my life. I think, as a woman, she could relate to how psychologically traumatizing it was going to be for an 18 year old girl to see a fresh, foot long scar, in the center of a chest, one– she was already very insecure about. The scar, what it represented, and what it would forever mean to me was so overwhelming and powerful in that moment. I remember telling myself to ‘remember this feeling and pull from it for the rest of my life’. It was an amazingly mature notion, for a girl up until then, was the total opposite.
I had to take showers for the next 2 months to reduce the risk of site infection from the scar. I was in the shower in my parent’s room. They are very private people and we were never really in their bedroom let alone what was referred to as ‘Dad’s bathroom,’ he did live with 4 women so he was entitled to his space. And side note to men everywhere, he has never left a toilet set up, ever. So when people say women want men just like their father, correct, one who can put down a toilet seat is on the checklist.
Home now for a few days, I decided, today, was the day. I was going to work up enough courage to remove all of the bandages in the shower. I pulled on the strength of the little seven-year old roommate in the hospital and it put life into perspective quickly. I also knew everyone was curious. How could you not be? But, thankfully, everyone let me go at my own pace and did not ask about it or the process.
People would not be so polite in the future. People staring at me like a science experiment gone horribly wrong was painfully uncomfortable or comments like: ‘That is a nasty looking scar ‘ or ‘God, what happened to you?’ prompted such smart asses responses as: ‘I was skiing and attached by a bear,’ (not kidding I had one guy so convinced that’s what happened, he kept parading people over to me all night at a party to recount my ‘bear attack’) or my other favorite go to ‘It was a really bad boob job,’ (which one sensitive soul seriously suggested I get my money back and sue the surgeon, and not kidding he was an attorney). Who are they letting into law school today?
Sliding my robe off, I stepped into the shower. I stood facing the stream of warm water in the shower and again told myself to remember every part of this experience, I’m not sure why or how I knew to note these experiences but the older me thanks the younger me for having such uncharacteristic insight. I peeled back each of the 22 steri-strips covering the foot long scar that started at the top of my sternum and thought (well Frankenstein’s got nothing on me), and there was another scar at the top of the long center scar I wasn’t prepared for, it looks like a ‘Y’ and I thought (oh great they had the ‘Y’ ready in case it didn’t go well and they needed to perform an autopsy. I had just learned about the ‘Z’ and ‘Y’ pattern in advanced biology, so there was some practical application of new knowledge).
Dried blood, fresh red unevenly cut skin, with bioresorable (would dissolve over time) sutures sticking out, made for a gruesome discovery. I fell to the floor of shower, in the fetal position, began to cry, and scream so deep within my being no sound was able to escape. It was a visceral reaction initially. Each drop of water that pelted against my body stung like a knife cutting into me, chipping away the shock that I’d clearly been operating under for the last few weeks, (the brief amount of time from hearing I needed open heart surgery to having the procedure done), to this moment.
The water rolled off my body and effortlessly down the drain, taking with it the last remnants of shock. Exposed, my newly cleansed body was vulnerable to a soul crushing pain as fresh as my scar. My finger, like a matchstick striking the length of the unjust hideous scar, ignited a fiery fury towards the dismissive physicians, who misdiagnosed me. My persistence, successfully cheated death and the realization of what was almost permanently taken from me– love, hope, dreams, and my young life, all flooded me angrily at once.
The searing heat from that unquenchable anger gave rise to a strength and power in my legs as they guided me up from the shower floor. I was alive because of my own persistence and determination which was not only fortifying it was healing. I was forever changed. That was the only time I cried about my surgery or scar. I stepped into that shower a fragile and unsure girl and I stepped out a confident and capable woman with an unrelenting drive, a voice, and assured, it was meant to be heard and never dismissed again.
February 1, 1972 is my real birthday, but May 1, 1990, is my re-birthday. As I had suspected, and incorrectly told by doctors, I have not had the crushing chest pains, which alerted me to the problem, since. Whether it was in the classroom, church, or a doctor’s office being dismissed when seeking the truth, was part of my foundation that shaped who I am today; and, what had once started out as a chip on my shoulder hyper vigilantly grew into a boulder on my shoulder.
Thanks for reading-Melayna Lokosky