How I Survived The First Few Weeks After Heart Surgery

…There I am in the middle of the stairs, fighting my urge to give up. I need to stop halfway up because my breath is coming in gasps. Then they come ahead of me. A couple of old ladies have been walking behind me for some time now and just as I’m leaning myself against the railing, breathing heavily, they get past me. Surprised that they have outwalked a young girl, they start laughing. And away they go, taking my devastated ego with them.

Of course, they have no idea what I am going through… It’s hard to walk in somebody else’s shoes.

ECG - heart surgery

But let me start at the beginning.

I have a heart condition, which I discuss thoroughly here. It has been present since birth throwing a plethora of challenges at me along the way. Well, at least it was present until recently. I’m not sure how to talk about it anymore because I had my valve replaced three years ago and the defect no longer remains, but my heart still needs to be monitored as I may run into other issues.

It was at the age of 24 and a few months away from turning 25 that I went under the knife. And I must admit it was not easy to come to terms with who I was at that time. Truth be told, a couple of days and weeks after the heart surgery I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror. It’s like I was a different person. I couldn’t identify with that body anymore. It was a stranger to me. I guess we were both trying our hardest to fit back in.

Mobility was an issue

For instance, at first, I had to learn to walk again. Like a baby that has no idea how legs work. My lower limbs had weakened and I would also pant every step of the way. As a whole, physical mobility was limited. I couldn’t do a lot of things on my own. For example, I couldn’t wash my hair or get a proper shower for that matter. And getting out of bed was a disaster every single time! I had to use a rope to slowly and painfully reach myself up.

In addition, I couldn’t open the fridge or heavy doors, move a chair from one room to the other, give my dogs water, lift an object, get dressed or even handle my winter coat. It was too much of an effort. I had to be very careful not to put pressure on my chest and, believe it or not, every single movement somehow involved the torso. You don’t know which muscles are required to do a simple task until you are injured and you are trying to go about your day. I felt so useless! I remember trying to buy laundry detergent from the store one day when I realized it was too heavy to take with me. It was ridiculous.

Sleep was a problem

Not to mention the fact I couldn’t sleep for weeks. It felt so horrible that I was even scared to go near the bed because it brought back bad memories. At that time the sheets were my worst enemy. One of two scenarios happened every time: i) me dozing off for an hour or two and spending the rest of the night pacing around the room; or ii) staring in the darkness till dawn unable to get a wink of sleep. Oh, and did I mention that I had to sleep sitting up? I just couldn’t lie down because it was too painful on my chest. This went on for about a month. Today I’m proud to say this stressful experience taught me how to catch some z’s in any position.

I was out of breath all the time

And this is where I get to the story I mentioned in the intro. It was the worst moment of all…

One day I was out for a walk as part of the ‘recovery plan’ I had set up for myself. In the city where I live, it’s stairs everywhere and I knew they were the prefect training site for someone in my health condition. However, as you would imagine, at that time steps and I weren’t besties. It was so much work lifting my legs that it made me regret going there in the first place. My body felt heavy and it took a lot of effort to keep on going. But I had to because I wanted to recover as fast as I could. Needless to say, when the two ladies got past me and started laughing, I felt horrible. It’s never too late to become the laughing stock of the area, although they had no idea what was going on or why I was so weak.

I guess the worst part about my heart disease was that more often than not I felt like I was 80. My age just didn’t correspond with my physical condition. And that made me depressed. I looked so young on the outside, but I just didn’t feel that way.

Anyway, the heart surgery, although it was a tough experience, helped me feel younger and showed me what it is like to breathe with ease even when it is hot outside.

I had to get back my confidence

Confidence issues
It took me a long time to get back in shape and get my confidence back. For one, there was a scar on my chest that reminded me of what had happened every single day. It felt weird but I wasn’t upset about it. I already explained how many things were going on at that moment. The cicatrice was the last thing to worry about. But sometimes people stared at me as if I had done something horribly wrong. Perhaps because I didn’t mind showing it off.

What is more, my family suggested that I apply scar removal creams. They cared about me and they wanted me to be the girl I had been before this whole heart surgery thing came my way. However, that wasn’t possible. When something like this happens, you can’t look at life the same way anymore. And they thought that if the scar could be washed away, then I would forget about this unpleasant experience.

To be honest, I only started applying different creams to it like coconut oil and stuff I had bought from the drug store so that I didn’t feel guilty for not taking care of it. (Lol, I know, it sounds crazy.) While at the same time I believed it would get much better looking in time, all on its own. See, I had met people with scars in the past and they looked just fine to me. So it is fair to say I wasn’t worried about it at all and I didn’t think that these treatments would make any difference.

I guess that because the heart surgery happened at a time in my life when I had already accepted myself and was proud of my appearance, I was okay with a scar. Confidence is a long-term process, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s difficult to build and it can vanish in a flash, but if you have it, you go about your day much more easily. And if you want to know the truth, I don’t notice the scar anymore. It’s part of who I am now. Even if I could remove it, I could never erase what happened to me. And right now all that matters is that I’m healthy and that my heart is in good shape. I mean, what else could I be asking for?

I’m proud of my body, of how strong it is and how it deals with problems. And I would never trade it with someone else.