I was on the treadmill, my wife on the elliptical machine. Suddenly the thought hit me: exactly one month ago, at exactly this moment, I was in the operating room while a titanium ring was being fitted inside my heart as part of a heart valve repair operation.
I looked over at my wife, mouthed “one month”; she nodded, and I promptly broke out into tears. Which is kind of funny when you’re on the treadmill; looking at me (which no one was doing: the gym was virtually empty and I was facing the window outside) you wouldn’t know if I was suddenly finding it very, very hard to walk at a speed of 3.2 or reacting emotionally to something.
Err, it was the latter.
I think my wife saw the tears, which, thankfully, didn’t last long. I can go from tears to smiles in 0.5 seconds flat these days. From a sob to outright laughter. Naomi didn’t react to this display of emotion – she’s used to it.
It started a few days following the operation. Any declaration on her part of good news would leave me teary. “Why are you crying?” she’d ask. “I’m giving you good news.” In this case, she was noticing improvement on my part, more alertness or mobility.
Or she would be telling me of all the good wishes people were sending me for a rapid recovery. I don’t know why this brought tears but it did.
It started irritating her.
For me, crying was simply an emotional release, a letting go. It still happens frequently now, over a month following surgery.
While in recovery, I would cry while bathing myself (it seemed like such a simple pleasure following hours of discomfort and mental suffering). The other day at home, after yet another visit to the hospital when my heartbeat went irregular for the third time is less than a month, I went over to Naomi crying openly and put my arms around her. These were tears of gratitude towards someone who has been so supportive and loving over the last five weeks.
So I’m an emotional basket-case. There could be worse things.
Watching TV, I’m still overly sensitive to scenes where there is physical or emotional pain involved. I used to close my eyes if I witnessed physical cruelty on the television (not that I ever watched any shows where there is any meanness or malice towards others). Today I shut them tighter.
I don’t flinch before having my blood taken; that’s one area where I’m much stronger. I am also able to give myself a needle in the belly for the blood thinner Fragmin which I’m supposed to take until the Coumadin takes hold. Hey, I’m giving myself needles! I can’t be that much of a sissy!
Although my crying did irritate my wife quite a lot in the hospital, I think that she understands me better now. Crying is simply an emotional release. When I did so while bathing, one of the Haitian orderlies who saw me understood. “Let the bad out,” she said in French, and I didn’t feel so bad about myself hearing these caring words.
My wife doesn’t get upset anymore. She sees how I can switch moods quickly. The other day, awaiting the esophageal echogram (yuck, they put a thin camera down your esophagus to see your heart close-up) I finally broke down.
Turning up at the hospital once again, at five in the morning with a quickly-beating irregular heartbeat, was surreal and dreamlike. “This isn’t happening,” my brain was constantly telling me. I had gone two weeks with a normal heartbeat.
But I kept a stiff upper lip for most of the day, despite terrible faintness and stomach cramps. It was when I was feeling better that I started bawling. Naomi was on my side this time, empathetic. Just then, at the height of it, the nurse waltzed into our stall and said, “OK, time for the test!” I put on a giant smile and it was as if I had never cried. The test went quite easily this time and in a little while they put me out yet again in order to shock the heart into a normal rhythm.
One tries to find meaning in times like this: am I getting stronger as a person? Working out my Karma? Learning any deep life lessons?
On the negative side, there are stresses which I’ve accumulated that I’ll have to release over time. We’ve had to cancel an upcoming trip to London due to the risk of atrial fibrillation occurring again while overseas. But, my meditations have never been clearer. I’ve tackled the sensitive issue of death (I’m reading a couple of books on the subject of near-death experiences) which have brought me increased peace of mind.
So it isn’t all bad.