Written by Jesse
As I’m sure my darling wife would tell you, I am a sucker for anniversaries - always have been. I view certain dates in our past as a kind of temporal landmark - a point of reference for where we’ve been, what our experiences were at that time, and how we’ve grown since. There are many dates in our lives that I view as such, including the obvious ones, like our wedding anniversary and birthdays, to more obscure ones, such as the day I asked Cherith to ‘go out’ with me, the day of our car accident, and the day we brought Nathan home from the hospital after his 17-day NICU stay.
As many reading this are probably aware, we are fast approaching one of these ‘landmarks’ in our lives. Saturday, June 23rd, will be my one-year anniversary of having open-heart surgery to replace my defunct tricuspid valve and decrease the size of my right atrium. As seems so often the case, I can hardly believe that a year has passed since this momentous occasion.
Over this past week, Cherith and I have been reflecting on how we felt around this time last year: the fear and anxiety; the doubt, the dread, and that forever nagging question of “what if?” lingering at the forefront of our thoughts. Our lives had been turned upside down when we first heard the news, accentuated all the more by an initial prognosis that equated to a death sentence. Thankfully, this doom scenario was nullified by a cardiologist who actually knew what she was talking about, though having my chest split open and my heart stopped for a couple of hours while it was being sliced into wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time.
Speaking of which, and with some risk of sounding a bit cliché, going through such an event tends to sharpen one’s perspective on what life is truly about. Life is full of the unexpected, and the manner with which we deal with these events help define who we are. Saying good-bye to Cherith and the kids was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to endure, especially with that nagging WHAT IF? screaming in my head. But ultimately, I had to trust… I had to trust; to trust that my family was not alone in that waiting room, to trust that they would be okay if the unimaginable happened, to trust that I was not alone in fighting this monster.
I remember waking from the surgery, and for a very brief moment, I imagined I had dozed off one lazy Sunday afternoon. Then reality flooded in, and I remember being overwhelmed with a sense of tremendous relief: I made it! From that moment, the burden of the fear and anxiety, the doubt, the dread, and that constantly nagging question of ‘what if?’ was lifted. Looking into my Cherith’s eyes, hearing her sweet voice and feeling her soft touch did more for my heart than any surgery ever could. This was behind us, and our healing could now begin.
Since then, as is always the case, life has been filled with ups and downs. Having to deal with arrhythmias as a side effect was certainly not something I had hoped to encounter, but thankfully these too have been remedied (though having a radio-frequency ablation earlier this year brought a whole new appreciation to the term ‘heart burn’). And now, we are able to bask in the freedom of burdens lifted; to savor the spoils of a hard-fought victory; and to live life to its fullest in constant gratitude and appreciation.
I will forever be grateful to all those who helped my family throughout all of this: to those who brought meals, who folded laundry, who mowed our lawn, thank you. To those who cared for our kids, who came to the hospital, who sent ‘get well soon’ cards, thank you. To those who prayed for us, who spoke words of encouragement, who offered a shoulder to cry on, thank you. Your contributions showed an act of love and kindness far beyond what I though possible, and I am forever indebted to you.
So one year has passed, and instead of looking forward to a summer full of hospital gowns and beeping monitors, we look forward to swimming lessons and cleaning up puppy poo. I actually don’t even mind that it has been so hot lately, and I’m really looking forward to taking Anna to her first 4th of July fireworks display. I know that other challenges will come, and I’m sure they will be accompanied with their own questions of ‘what if?’. But for now, at this moment, life is wonderful, and it feels really good…