When I pulled out of my driveway I could see my breath float and disappear as it hit the warmed air. School was cancelled for the day and a sky as stark as the broken white road lines watched over the Valley as I drove myself to the hospital. Prayers and worry filled my mind, jumping between the two just as quickly as the large flakes melted on my windshield. I gave myself pep talks. This is a routine procedure. Out loud. Worrying will lead to an increased heart rate. Alone. I’m gonna be fiiiine. As if I was talking to a friend. You’ve got this. Attempts to calm my nerves. In four hours this will all be over.
Naked, except for a one-size-fits-all gown, lying flat on my back I stared up at a device that resembled a gigantic headlight. Heads covered in pale blues and greens with only eyes exposed bobbed in and out of my sight. While squeezing a syringe of valium into my IV the nurse to my left asked, “What do you want to hear sweetie?” Somehow I knew she was referring to music. “You mean like anything?” I asked, curious if we’re talking Spotify here or like “the doctor is going to sing you a lullaby” kind of thing. “Yep. Anything at all.” The next 10 seconds in my brain looked something like this: I actively thought in that moment how if I had been asked that very question on any other day of my life in relation to being on my deathbed (I exaggerate), I would’ve replied without hesitation: Wilco. But I stopped myself when I realized the doctor would be going INTO MY BEATING HEART while listening to the music I choose. Wilco can get weird if you’re not prepared for it. I did not want that man distracted by what could sound like old tv white noise, tambourines and keyboards being thrown on the ground and journeys inside of journeys of utter instrumental chaos while feeding a tube through my arteries. My conflict surprised me but instinctively I answered: “The Head and the Heart.” When I heard myself speak, I realized the irony in my choice. I think the nurse thought I was making a statement about my physical state but by the time she understood a male nurse found the album and clicked play. The first song starts out with a tick tick tick tick tick tick. I turned my gaze towards the gigantic headlight, couldn’t help but smile (it was the drugs) and drifted off.
The next time I opened my eyes I was still on the OR table. I’m still alive. The large black monitor to my left displayed an image of my heart. My moving, beating, living heart. Oh mah God. That’s my heart. There were several tubes inside it. I started to get anxious and I could feel my throat pounding. I looked up at the nurse to let her know I was awake. She fixed that quickly.
Day five of recovery after the cardiac ablation left me feeling frustrated yet eager and thankful. Externally, aside from bruises the size of my head and the color of mixed berries on both legs, I was doing fine. But my energy level was crippling as so much effort was going into healing me internally. It was comforting to know that my body was doing exactly what is was designed to do and that this feeling wouldn’t last forever but being forced into slow-mo was humbling. It put the plight of others in perspective. I consider myself an active individual but I don’t ever want to take that for granted. These legs and arms and organs will not always do the things they can do today and I don’t want to waste away my ability or my health. So there I was, Day 5 of recovery and I set out on my first post-procedure hike. My swollen thighs carried me to the top of Humpback Rocks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Through mud and ice a foot thick we, slowly, worked our way up to the gorgeous views. At the top we enjoyed leftover wings and treats that were sent to me from friends while I was stuck at home, couchbound. Being outside, breathing that mountain air, the feeling of being capable and strong and worthy of those feelings was healing that day. It heals me a little bit every day.