It has been five months since being blindsided by my aneurysm diagnosis. Given my age, good health and lack of any discernible reason for this, I was urged by several local doctors and CV surgeons to see the aortic team at Mayo Clinic. It is hard to argue against going to the best hospital in the world when I live so close. So over the next few days, I will have extensive imaging, cardiac studies, lab draws, cardiology, genetics and CV surgery consults. The Mayo doesn’t play games. I’ll give ’em that. This will be more appointments and tests in a two day period than I have had in the past 10 years. My hope is that the litany of tests will be a very over the top baseline data collection and that my aneurysm is stable. After all this fuss, I really just want to be given a pat on the head and told to come back in a year.
But the truth is, every time I approach a visit related to my condition, reality sets in and it triggers a lot of anxiety. And please, please don’t try to hush this fear away. Sometimes fear is justifiable. It is a normal, God-given human emotion in the setting of actual life threats. You wouldn’t tell someone being chased by an axe murderer not to worry. You’d tell them to run like hell. But with life-threatening medical conditions, we somehow think platitudes are helpful when they just start to feel like gaslighting. What is helpful is to hold space for my fear and my faith that one way or another, everything will be ok.
In that vein, if you asked me how I am doing, I’d tell you, “I’m fine.” In fact, most people will answer with a polite, “I’m fine,” when asked how they are doing. So this question often yields no information about how someone is actually doing. But I also know this question is often a sincere attempt to demonstrate care and concern. So I am going to share something I learned recently as a provider, myself, that has enhanced my ability to show compassion to my patients. I learned that if you really want to know how someone is doing, a good question to ask is, “What worries you the most?” Because studies have shown that what a patient worries about is often quite ancillary to their chief complaint. I suspect this is a valuable question in general when you want to know if a loved one is ok – medically or otherwise. I highly recommend you try it.
I’ll go ahead and answer that question: I am worried about my kids. For me, it almost always comes back to the kids. If and when I need to attend appointments, who will make sure my kids are fed and driven to and fro to school and activities? Who will make sure their homework is done and hearts are well-loved? These are the questions that plague me as someone with no family support nearby. My young adult kids are champs, but they also have college and jobs and it is a lot on their shoulders when asked to come home and take care of the younger two. And all four of them quietly worry about their mama. My friend Rachel is bringing the whole crew food and my friend Brenda is picking my youngest up from the hill and these kindnesses seriously mean more to me than anything. Because loving my kids is how you can love me best.
And as my mind drifts towards the possibility of surgery someday, the questions become larger. It isn’t just about the possibility of dying. (I mean, that is a real possibility and I am terrified of the whole stopping my heart for 5-6 hours part of it. But it actually isn’t my immediate concern.) I know what it takes logistically just to get to these two medical visit days. So I wonder how in the world would this work if I had major surgery that requires recovery in the ICU for 5 or more days, the hospital for up to another week then home with limited ability to do much for several weeks? And beyond just the driving and cooking and cleaning, who will tend to my babies hearts? Those questions worry me the most. So know this: If and when surgery comes, what I will want most is for my kids to be loved and supported. That will free Dave up to wait on me hand and foot. I will even order a little bell on Amazon. Kidding. Kinda.
To be clear, my faith is strong. I trust God with all of this. And I am grateful for prayers. So how how can you pray?
In no specific order:
- Pray for peace for my anxious heart as it holds all these emotions.
- Pray that my blood pressure stays under control – this is a very critical aspect of management and I really want to avoid needing meds.
- Pray for Dave as he juggles a really stressful job and the stress of his wife’s decrepit aorta.
- Pray for wisdom and discernment for the team at Mayo. All hopes for delay of surgery aside, if I need it, I need it and when the day comes to make that decision, I’d like it to be obvious to the team.
- Pray for the kids. Even better, send them some encouragement. They are the best humans. I can’t even think about them without crying. I am dramatic like that when it comes to my babies. (Much to their exasperation at times.)
- Pray the aneurysm is stable and remains so for a long long time. FYI because some people have asked, they don’t shrink. Ever. It’s like a balloon that has been overly stretched. It doesn’t go back but it can stop growing or just grow super slow – that is the goal. If it is slow enough, maybe surgery will be so far in the future that my grandkids will be old enough to come help granny when she needs surgery.
- As always, pray the thing doesn’t burst. Ever.