Today is Memorial Day. A day of remembrance. A day to think about all of those who died fighting for our freedoms. And while I do remember our fallen heroes, I also remember a Memorial Day weekend eleven years ago that was especially tough and painful for me. In writing about my personal experience, I do not wish to take anything away from our brave soldiers, for I know I could never make the sacrifices they have made.
Eleven years ago during the last week of May, I had my fourth open heart surgery. I was twenty-five years old. I had been born with a condition called double outlet right ventricle (DORV) in which both the main arteries of my heart were attached to my right ventricle. My left ventricle was unable to function.
Prior to my surgery in 1999, the last surgery I had was in 1984. At 25, I was really quite stunned to be going through another heart surgery. I knew I was sick and getting sicker but I was disillusioned to think that some different meds would do the trick and fix me right up. This was not the case.
I was thankful that I knew the Lord and I believed He had His hand on my life since the day I was born. Even though I knew this, I was not serving Him at the time of my fourth surgery. I had been in rebellion for about eight years, not serving Him, instead serving myself. Despite my rebellion, I still believed He would take care of me which gave me peace.
The surgery went well. In the ICU, the first thing I remember is seeing my friend, Janee and noticed she was wearing earrings, which was a miracle in itself since I was not wearing my glasses. The next day in the ICU, I remembered asking my mom to pray for me. The surgery had been on a Friday. On Sunday I was released from the ICU and was able to feel my pain for the first time. Coughing and laughing hurt like heck. I went through an episode of trying to cough stuff up but it wouldn't come out. I wasn't able to breathe very well so they called in a respiratory specialist. They sucked all the gunk out of my throat. To this day, I panic when I swallow wrong and can't catch my breath.
Monday I was forced to get out of bed. My pain level was more than a ten. How could they expect me to walk down the hallway four days after surgery, I wondered? But I did it, not because I wanted to but because I had to. In the days that followed, the friends that had been there had gone home to go back to work. My dad and my sister left and I cried. My mom stayed. I was able to get up and around more often, albeit very very slowly. It still hurt to laugh and cough. Eating was a non-priority and everything tasted and smelled weird. It felt like I was never going to get better. I hated taking my pain meds because they made me feel spacey.
On Friday, exactly a week from the date of my surgery, I was released from the hospital. It seemed too soon. Insurance reasons, I suppose. At the hotel in Rochester, I dared to look at the scar down the middle of my chest for the first time. I felt depression trying to sneak into my head and my heart. I fought off the tears, knowing I had been through this before, knowing I could do it again.
Eventually, I made it back to Watford City where I recovered at home for about six weeks. Day by day, the walk around our circular driveway became easier. The pain lessened. I could get out of bed without shooting pains going down my back and chest. I felt my stamina slowly coming back. I began eating normally again. I prayed I would never have to go through this again.
This was a life-changing experience for me. I truly believe that not only did I go through a physical heart surgery but a spiritual one as well. Although it didn't happen right away, I eventually rededicated my life to the Lord. I started going to church again and I knew I wanted to live the way God wanted me to live. I have learned that sometimes God allows us to go through painful situations in order to get our attention. I wonder what my life would be like today, had I not had my surgery at the time I did? What would it have taken for me to turn my life back to God?
Before my surgery, I looked back and saw God's hand in my life and now, as I look back I see it ever more strongly and I wonder, what would I do without Him? How DO people live without Him?
Every Memorial Day weekend, it is a time to reflect on our fallen heroes. And for me, it is a time to remember how God has shown his grace and mercy on my life. I am forever grateful.