…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…