It's been eight days since I awoke in the cardiac intensive care unit at CU-Denver Hospital, yet it seems I'm just now rousing from the fog of that dream world. Simply learning to handle basic life functions on my own has been a draining task, filling up most of my days. It's an experience my body seems intent on forgetting as soon as possible. Already, those long hours of days and nights in the hospital bed, hooked up to machines with tubes coming out of me – including two horrifyingly large and sensitive "drain" tubes that came directly out of my belly below the ribcage – already those long hours of introspection are threatening to fade away in spite of my intentions.
How can I tell this story? How can I describe the sense of change I have? I look almost the same, but my heart has been cut open and partially replaced in spite of my otherwise healthy 31-year-old body.
As I hobble around the park, catching my breath, I now share something with the lady in a wheelchair from the nursing home. She had an oxygen tube in her nose and a blanket over her lap as her son pushed her around. Sitting at home with an oxygen tube in my nose, I feel a new kind of frailty, and also understand a new strength and courage.
In the shower, sitting in my "old man" chair so that I don't get dizzy and fall over in some catastrophic manner, I can feel how much thinner my arms have already become. The strength and climbing ability I had just two weeks ago feels like another person, and it pretty much was. Ultimately I will be healthier – I would not have been long for this world without the surgery – but I'm starting from scratch. I can't drive for a month. I can't lift more than 10 pounds at a time, even if I'm using BOTH hands, and I sure as hell can't help my fiancée around the house very much. Meanwhile, Mandi is in grad school and working full time while she takes care of me. We've also had some wonderful help from friends and family, and even some meals prepared for us by parents of Mandi's elementary students. (Thank you so much, everyone.) This is all very humbling. I have a hard time accepting help, but I clearly need all this help. I'm lucky to have it, and at the same time, it's taking a lot of work to maintain a healthy self-esteem when I feel like a huge, burdensome man-baby.
Meanwhile, all the other challenges of life do not stop. Bills fill the mailbox. My insurance company is already giving me a hard time. It'll be time to go back to work on Monday. I can barely breathe, literally, and already my circumstances are sucking me back into the old mindless routines. Mindless – that's what I want to avoid. But it's hard to be so mindful when I struggle to catch my breath coming up the stairs.
I'm trying to make the most of this great experience, and I have so much I want to write, and at the same time I feel so incapable. Yet I know more than ever that time is running out on all of us. I've recently come to the realization that I am a perfectionist as well as a procrastinator, and that is a tough mix. Truth be told, I'm not satisfied even with this blog entry. I want to throw all this writing in the scrap doc like usual. I still struggle to write the stories I yearn to articulate, but something, anything is better than nothing. And I may only ever be Nothing, but I can sure do my best to do Something with the time I have.
Soon this time will be yanked away from me and all of us, like the tubes they pulled from my gut last Sunday, the same day my beloved Broncos lost to the Patriots.
"This won't hurt at all," the nurse said. "It'll be just like pulling a stitch."
It scared me to think he honestly believed that. One tube in particular had already caused me lots of pain, shooting bolts through my organs whenever it was moved slightly the wrong way. I tried to tell people that all along, but it can be hard to get people to listen when they are busy telling you how you should feel. The nurse casually went about pulling the tube. I screamed in a faint little moan. Only then did he realize my concern.
For one thing, after all this, I like to think I'll do a better job of listening to people. As for writing, I'll try to keep getting better at that, too.