Reminders

image

The plan was to spend a good part of the day on my book. Having looked forward to this day off from work for a week, I mulled over phrases and thoughts from where I left off last time.

I woke up early, ready to take on the day. Sitting up to get out of bed, I took a deep breath and expanded my chest, startled to feel chest pressure and heaviness. Moving forward with usual morning things, I waited for the chest pressure to go away. And this is how the day went–waiting for chest pressure to go away.

Rarely do I have a full day like this anymore. I have figured out it seems to come during times of stress and, therefore, I try to avoid getting worked up or feeling stressed out. But, of course, in life this isn’t always possible.

Or, chest pressure comes when something really bad is going on with my heart. So my worries on Thursday were, Is it extreme pressure? Are my hands sweaty? Does my jaw hurt? Monitoring symptoms takes vigilant energy. My symptoms were relieved when I sat down and rested, so most of the day was spent resting. And being frustrated.

My brother called that evening and sensed something in my voice; he asked if I was okay. I told him I had felt crummy all day. He said he felt crummy the day before, like he was getting the flu. But with extra sleep and a new day, he felt better. “But,” he said, “I have the luxury of feeling sick and not worrying about it.”

This is the chronic part of my heart and vascular disease. Symptoms and extreme fatigue pop up, without regularity, as if to say, “Don’t forget, I’m still here.” I feel a bit sorry for myself, frustrated over the lack of energy and mental space to even work on my book. A day lost. A day sick.

These reminders come, always unwelcome, but usually with a lesson or a positive outcome. This day of rest reminded me of how grateful I am to feel well most days. More good days than bad is a good thing. And now I have plans to work on my book one day next week. Some of the thoughts and phrasing may be different, and just may be better.

Make is a good week!

 

The Guilt of Illness

image

Some of the most profound experiences come in unusual places. Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the PGA tournament in Wisconsin. Can’t say I am a huge fan of golf but I was excited to be out on the course and watch the pros. Michael and I traveled with my parents on this weekend road trip.

Unfortunately, it was extremely hot (I later heard it was 94°F with a “feels like” temperature over 100°) in the mid-afternoon. It seemed the golf course and planners were unprepared for the demands of thousands of people in such extreme heat. There were not many concession stands; those available had long lines with long waits, and some actually ran out of water.

I was one of what must have been well over 50 people that day who experienced heat exhaustion. I know I am not very tolerant of heat. Some of the medications for my heart and blood pressure make me very heat sensitive. I was also unprepared for the golf course, the amount of walking, and unexpected lack of indoor facilities.

It is the fault of no one and, thankfully, I did not pass out or worse. But I ended up in the medical tent for over an hour. My blood pressure remained stubbornly high. I was nauseous. The volunteer physician treating me was kind and compassionate, and seemed very concerned. With my history of heart attack and artery disease, he felt I needed to be checked out at the hospital emergency department. I needed IV fluids, and they could not do that in the medical tent.

In the ambulance, a young, friendly paramedic started an IV to put fluids into me. I told her I felt really bad for my husband and parents; I had ruined their chances of fun for the day, and was causing a lot of worry—again.

The paramedic responded, “One thing healthy people don’t understand is the guilt that comes along with being ill.”

I could only nod as I let this profundity settle in. I had never thought of this as something common to many (most?) people with an illness.

I thought about all my trips to the emergency department over the past six years. Each time, I have apologized to my husband, family members or friends that are with me. I feel terrible for their worry. I don’t like to be the center of attention or to inconvenience others. I don’t like to be the cause for a change in plans. I don’t like the expense that comes with having a medical dust-up.

Each time I am being treated in an emergent situation, I worry about my family worrying about me. I know I am okay. I am with the medical people and know exactly how I feel. But those waiting in another room don’t know, except for the occasional update which I usually ask a medical person to provide.

I feel guilty for the ongoing accommodations my husband makes: lifting anything remotely heavy, being sure I am not too cold or too hot or over-stressed. Being willing to change plans when I don’t feel well. He does all of it very willingly and I feel fortunate to have him. I try not to take him, or his willingness to accommodate my medical peculiarities, for granted.

If you have been ill, chronically or short-term, have you felt guilty? How did you handle these feelings?

I imagine the guilt of illness is common because none of us wants to be the cause of distress for our loved ones. We feel bad for causing them to worry. I wonder if it is just natural.

Last weekend, after two bags of IV fluids and some potassium, I was good. No problems since then. Chalk it up to being unprepared for the conditions of the day, and the gift of understanding a new layer of living with a chronic medical condition.

Make it a good week!

Curb Appeal

I love this time of year, Springtime. People seem peppier, a little brighter and happier, although sometimes sneezier due to allergies. Trees are budding, and green is popping out of the ground as new plants and flowers grow.

The other day I was cleaning up and pruning the landscape in our front yard. Last fall I left the flowers and greenery on small bushes for “visual interest.” Someone told me it looks nice to have some height in the landscaping over the winter, and it helps with curb appeal. I gave it a try, and it did look nice over the winter. But there really was nothing to those flowers or bushes. They were dead.

These are last year's flowers I cut out of the new, growing plant.

Last year’s flowers that I cut out of the new, growing plant.

As I cut off the dead flowers and pulled old leaves out of the bushes, the landscaping looked much better, cleaner, and healthier. It got me to thinking about spring cleaning, for my life in general. I wonder how much I do to maintain my visual interest or curb appeal–holding onto a façade throughout a season.

If you have a chronic illness, or have had a medical condition, addiction in your home, a significant loss, or perhaps a child making his own choices on what seems to be the wrong path, you probably know what I’m talking about. The façade we put on for other people, just for appearances, is like the bushes left for the winter for visual interest. It is just that, a façade.

What we say to others about ourselves is selective and, with Facebook and other social media spaces, it is easy to post the positive things in our lives–the good curb appeal. When asked how we’re doing, it is often easier to say, “I am doing fine,” than to really get into the truth of the pain we feel. Or, we try to show our best physical selves when we are holding onto unhealthy habits, or dysfunctional relationships.

This spring, in addition to pruning, weeding, and washing windows, I am thinking more about my life in general, and what needs to go. Perhaps the easiest person to fool is ourselves. But at some point, it becomes obvious that we need to be honest and make changes. What is the visual interest that you need to let go of? In what ways are you pretending, putting on a façade? Can you prune some of it away?

The little Autumn Joy Sedum bushes after pruning.

The little Autumn Joy Sedum bushes after pruning.

Feeling Alive

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset

The timing of things, how experiences and events shake out, truly amazes me. My most recent post was about living with a chronic health condition and reframing the critical question or focus from why to how. I believe there is a fundamental difference between these two realms.

The why focus cultivates feelings of helplessness and has an external locus of control: something was done TO me. I am passive.

But how brings the control back to the internal realm by asking how to incorporate this set of circumstances, and how to handle them. I have some power and can take action.

Recently, after the above break-through, I got the opportunity to put the theory to practice. Occupied with a dust-up in my health condition, I’ve been overwhelmed and distracted, mulling over a depth of sadness I haven’t experienced in quite a while.

Two weeks ago I went to the ER with tingling and numbness on one side of my face. I try to live a normal life, going places, seeing people, working, writing, enjoying. But odd physical things happen from time to time and I need to get them checked out. This odd condition I have, FMD, makes arteries prone to tear or develop aneurysms. And I know that one-sided body numbness or weakness can be a sign of a stroke. Although I decided a long time ago that I won’t have a stroke (a person doesn’t get both a heart attack and a stroke… that’s just not right and I believe God has my back on this one), Michael and I knew I better be checked out.

This ER trip ruled out a stroke, very thankfully. But it did find a large, new aneurysm that needs to be watched over the coming months. What this trip also did, along with the follow-ups and consultations with specialists, was the equivalent of taking the wind right out of my sails. My sail boat fell over.

Both of my doctors were unusually compassionate; it was as if they each understood the situation was scary, and they each wanted to prevent something like this from happening again. They both expressed that they wished they could stop dissections or aneurysms from happening; they both said “I want you to live a normal life. Don’t be afraid of everything.” And they each reiterated the importance of my medications. They both said there is nothing else we can do except to take precautions, take medications.

At least three years have passed since my last big health issue. I was not complacent with this disease. I did take precautions and medications. But this dust-up was a reminder, one that made me very sad, as to what “chronic” really means. And there is no answer to the question of why. I just need to focus on the how, and continue to move forward.

Now, with some introspection and time, it is back to living with intention. I share this just so that the positive can be taken from negative circumstances. Weird dust-ups can happen to any of us and it’s how we choose to carry on afterward that defines us.

Make it a good week!