It’s a gripping moment when the doctor declares that someone you love needs heart surgery. The shock is real and the emotions agonizing. There can be confusion, re-hospitalization and unforeseen complications.
But there can also be much more than that. There can be good stuff.
Six months ago, at the age of 68, my mother underwent heart surgery: a quadruple bypass and aortic valve replacement. During the surgery and in the months of recovery that followed a few lessons revealed themselves to me.
Here’s what I learned:
Breath Is a Gift
Once we were given the okay in the form of a happy, subtle nod of the head from the surgeon, I placed my hand on my mom’s chest — and on my own — and focused on our inhales and exhales.
Breathing out anxiety and breathing in calm returned me to the simplest of gratitudes: my mom is alive. There are no guarantees about tomorrow and there is still much to manage — from pain, to medications and bills — but her breath is a reminder that she’s still here and that we’ve made it this far.
Tough Conversations Finally Happen
Nobody wants to plan a funeral or hash out the details of a will, particularly when a loved one is attached to IVs, oxygen and beeping machines.
But endless hours in the hospital can give caregivers, family and the patient the opportunity to gently wade into tough topics.
As my dad and I sat by my mother’s bed in the ICU, we talked about logistics, such as the status of legal documents, like their estate, and the list of prescription drugs they take daily. My brother and I also discussed setting up an emergency travel fund.
In a crisis, it can feel good to address hard questions that have lingered too long.
Lifestyle Changes Become Apparent
My mom had to quickly come to terms with the fact that she was not as healthy as she believed. After her heart surgery, she left the hospital with a litany of lifestyle changes to make. She’s adjusting to them slowly and steadily, and that takes courage.
Inspired by her fortitude, I talked to my own doctor and took a good hard look at my life. Eating well, exercising (I started doing yoga) and finding better ways to cope with stress are now priorities in my life.
Who knew I would have my mom’s heart surgery to thank for all of that.