“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott
My little incident — that’s what my family and I call what happened to me a year ago this week: an aortic aneurysm and dissection that required emergency open-heart surgery. Since then, my recovery has been remarkable, some say miraculous. I feel good — so good, in fact, that if I didn’t know this had happened to me, I wouldn’t know it had happened. I’ll be followed by a medical team for the rest of my life to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and there’s a short list of things I’m not allowed to do (including skydiving, zip lining, and scuba, and I’m trying to convince my husband that snow shoveling is also on that list) but otherwise, I’m good to go, for which I am so thankful.
To mark this anniversary, this past week I visited the urgent care clinic just a few blocks from our house to see if Katie, the physician’s assistant who was the first to treat me, was working. I wanted to thank her for making the prescient decision to send me to the hospital. She had told me, “You’re not having a heart attack, but you are having a serious incident.” That incident turned out to be the dissection that had caused excruciating pain along my sternum just 30 minutes before, and if not treated urgently, would have been fatal.
Fortunately, Katie was working when I stopped by to visit. When she walked into the waiting room where I was seated, she immediately smiled and said, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe it’s you!” I couldn’t believe she remembered me, but she said, “Of course I remember you. You’re my greatest success story!” She said she still follows my medical reports and is thrilled (and somewhat stunned) with the outcome. I told her how grateful I was for her care, and that her close attention to what I had said that evening — “Something’s not right” — dramatically changed the arc of this story. I have no doubt she saved my life. We hugged, wiped away a few tears, and I bowed to her as she walked away.
Katie would not be the last medical provider over the next several hours to make life-saving decisions under less than ideal circumstances. From the start, my prognosis was not good. The surgeon told my husband there was less than a 50-50 chance I would come out of this unscathed. I am here today because of the aggressive, informed, tenacious care from the ER, cardiology, and ICU teams at Regions Hospital. I am alive because of them, and grateful beyond measure.
People roll their eyes a bit when I say this experience was harder on my family than it was for me, but I really do believe that — especially during the time I was in surgery and they had to stare into the unknown as they hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. They were devoted in their support of each other during those dark hours, which brings me great comfort. Terry. Elizabeth. Peter. Kara. You are my everything.
To my brother who traveled across the country to be with me and whose steadfastness gave the family a shoulder to lean into during those scary, early days; to my sister and brother-in-law who gifted us with boxes of goodies and resources to take the sting out of this unsettling time; to our ministers and beloved church community who showed up with comfort shawls, flowers, love, and guidance; to my clients (yes, a shout out to my incredible clients!) who revised schedules to accommodate this ill-timed incident and then sent flowers and cards and more flowers; to my Dungeon gym family who anxiously awaited my return and cheered when I did my first burpee; and, to our loving, loyal, helpful friends who gathered ‘round with food, care, and safe-keeping — you were all the embodiment of grace. You met us where we were and left us in a better place.
So what happens now? I’ll continue to ask my doctors a thousand questions, and they will continue to patiently answer them as best they can. Perhaps the best advice comes from my surgeon: “Live your life!” In his honor, I plan to do that for a long time.
P.S. You can tell from the lack of hashtags and poop emojis that this was not written by Liz, as the editor of this journal post suggests. I needed to use her account to post this. But re-reading these blog posts I can tell she obviously she gets her witty sense of humor and writing style from me. [insert hair toss emoji]