Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Post from the Heart

I left the hospital in a hurry the other day. Just a few hours before waving good-bye to my nurse, a very sweet and nurturing woman who I could not understand no matter how hard I tried, I was receiving a slow drip of some sort of medicine to lower my heart rate and push it back to a static state. At 40, just 6 months after purchasing my first pair of drugstore reading glasses, I had arrived at the coronary unit via the emergency room to find out why my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. Apparently, I was experiencing atrial fibrillation, an alarming condition (more alarming to the patient than the doctor, I suspect) that causes the heart to spontaneously lose its beat. That’s right...I had no beat. Temporarily. The concern with AF is that blood clots can form leading to strokes. Yuck. I don’t even like writing that, but it is my current reality -- as I sit here typing hooked up to an event monitor that records any irregular heart beats. I’ll wear it for a month. It looks and feels like a pager from the 90’s. They couldn’t have modeled it after an ipod?

Though it took longer than originally predicted to get my ticker back to its normal tick-tocking, they were able to release me in time to rush to Rhubarb's orchestra concert, which I would otherwise have missed. I was supposed to be avoiding stress. Rushing was not on my list of approved activities. But Rhubarb playing the violin brings me joy - so I rushed as fast as a person who was nearly too tired to walk could rush. HotNerd and I arrived and sat way in the back with the kids, who were already there with friends. I was exhausted. Rhubarb's orchestra opened the concert. It brought me joy. It calmed me.

But Eggplant and Blueberry were restless, as happens when you are 7 and 4 and forced to go to your sister’s orchestra concert after your mother was in the hospital. During the other orchestras, I followed them in and out of the concert hall. We tried to stay out until each orchestra was finished and the stage was being re-set. We were right next to the door so we weren’t walking in front of the lower seats. I was exhausted, did I mention, and dizzy, but feeling pleased that I got to see the concert and that Rhubarb got to have her mother at the concert.

A lady approached me and asked me take the kids out. She said, curtly, that it was distracting (understandable) and “unbefitting proper concert behavior”. I’d like to point out that this was a children’s concert, performed by children for their families. What IS proper concert behavior in that sort of setting? I could debate that for hours but I am not allowed to feel stress.

All I could think that afternoon was that it was such a blessing to get to be there, to hear Rhubarb play, for Rhubarb to have people there for her. I thought how precious that moment was, especially since I had literally been in a hospital bed with an IV drip just 1 hour beforehand. When the lady approached me, surely she saw my drooping eyes, my lackluster expression, my pale skin. And, if she hadn’t, does it matter? Were we really that distracting to her? So much so that she felt the need to approach us?

How many times have I been curt or downright rude with someone who I found annoying without considering where they had been just minutes before, what story they brought with them to that place? It’s so easy to be so in our own heads, so consumed by our own stories that we forget that each and every person with whom we relate is also appearing with their own back story.

When the woman approached me, I wanted to cry. I was so tired. I cannot describe the exhaustion I was experiencing after having my heart beating through my chest for 12 hours. I cannot express the fear that was literally cursing through my veins, the stress literally weighing upon my heart. What I really needed at the moment was a smile. A smile. Some sort of reassurance that everything was going to be okay. Perhaps even a hand.

I’ve neglected to lend a hand when needed. I’ve watched a harried mom dealing with her restless kids and attempted to telepathically will her to control them somehow (even knowing what I know about anyone’s inability to control a child). I could have smiled and didn’t. I could have lent a hand and didn’t.
Perhaps I might take this next month to allow this bulbous event monitor overtaking my waistband to provide a gentle reminder to listen for the back story each time I relate to another person. My personal little behavioral modification device.

And if you see me, a woman with an unsightly bulge on the left side of her waist and electrodes peeking out of my t-shirt that make me look like I’m trying to get a radio station... or that I’m bionic.... or 90, could you maybe smile? It slows my heart when you do.

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