Saturday, August 18, 2012

This Dream of Mine

Last night I had an incredible dream.  One that woke me with hopeful, happy tears and a sense of wonder for my own future.  The dream was simple, yet emotionally riveting.  And it was one that, unless you were me, would have held little significance.  In this dream I was at my high school’s track.  I was dressed in runner’s clothes and had on a nice, comfortable pair of jogging shoes.  The dream was through my eyes and as I looked up into the football stands I noticed they were full of people.  I made eye contact with my family and many others whom I had loved and known throughout the years.  In the dream I knew why they were all here.  I didn’t even have to wonder.  They were here to watch me run.  To support me as I ran my first mile…ever.  My sister held a little white flag at the start line and my brother was there with a video camera.  I smiled at them and nodded, giving them my go.  Then, a whistle blew and I was off.  I could hear people screaming and cheering me on, feeding the adrenaline rush that had already begun.  I could feel my heart beat faster and faster as I picked up the pace, anxious to finish.  I made it through the first two laps without skipping a beat.  Only two more to go.  I pushed forward knowing I was halfway there.  My heart was starting to ache and my chest hurt but in this dream I knew I could go on.  Nothing could stop me this time.  So I looked up as I passed the stands for the third time and I saw my mother’s face.  She cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “Go ShaNae! Don’t stop! You can do it!” And that’s all I needed.   I hit full throttle for the last lap, determined to see this through and before I knew it the finish line was just feet away.  For a split second, the world went silent.  I heard my heart beat, healthy and strong. An unfamiliar yet comforting sound.  I looked at the stands, and saw tears in my daddy’s eyes.  And then I was back, and I sprinted those last few steps across the finish line.  My heart exploded with relief.  And a joy that I cannot even begin to explain rushed through me like fire.  Tears swelled in my eyes and came streaming down my face as I collapsed myself to the floor, trembling with gratitude and overwhelmed by tears.  I felt my sister and brother at my side shaking my shoulders and yelling, “You did it! Can you believe you really did it!” Pretty soon everyone who knew my story was by my side offering hugs and congratulations, a show of support that meant the world to me.

And then, I woke up.  Crying.  It took me a second to realize what I’d just seen and once I grasped the emotion it hit me again, with full force, and I continued to cry. And I bet there are a few reading this wondering, “Why? What’s the big deal? This sounds like an over exaggerated story.  She ran a mile, so what?”  Well, let me explain.

For those who don’t know, the possibility of running a mile, even one lap for that matter, has been a distant dream of mine since I was ten years old.  Basically, for as long as I can remember.  I was born with a cardiac genetic defect called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This disease has been the thorn in my side all my life, keeping me in a cage when all I’ve ever wanted to do was fly.  I love sports, I love dancing, I love hiking, climbing, and so on! And I love travel! All of these things have proven to not only be impossible, but life threatening over the years.  When I was medically evacuated from Africa this summer, I hit a really low point.  And I started to think that maybe this was it.  I’d tried everything, and nothing ever worked out.  I always ended up hurt.  I’d hit my breaking point, and I made that very clear with God.  I was so hurt and broken at that point that I chose to make Him aware of what His trials were doing to me.  I’d had enough and didn’t think I could take anymore.  At least not for a while. Year after year something would go wrong and I always took it in stride.  I never felt like I couldn’t move on.  But for some reason this time I did.  And that scared me.  I knew something had to give or I was going to be in a whole lot of psychological trouble.  

So, when the day came that we heard I was now a candidate for this new procedure under investigation over at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, we were thrilled.  I couldn’t believe it.  Could there really be a cure after all? One that would allow me to walk up a flight of stairs without being completely winded? I tried to picture such a life, but decided it was best to expect the worst and hope for the best.  That way, I wouldn’t get hurt, again.  So, we waited week after week for more information to come flooding in and this is what the final deal was.   A certain Cardiovascular Surgeon at the Mayo Clinic had been performing an investigational surgery for eight years now, with only an approximate number of fifty patients who underwent the procedure.  The long term results and success of this procedure are unknown, due to its short existence.  Some of the patients were unable to feel a difference after surgery and continue to struggle on a day to day basis.  Others received optimal results and can now perform activities they’ve never done before.  However, good or bad immediate results give no heed to what long term looks like.  The doctors and surgeons couldn’t tell me what this surgery would do to me ten years down the road.  But they could tell me that even with good results, my heart muscle could still ulitimately fail ten years from now and require us to re-evaluate my situation.  Basically, it was a gamble.  But once we reviewed my options and knew my only other choice was heart transplant, it felt right.  And completely worth the risk.

So, on August 8th I underwent my first open-heart surgery.  The operation took about six hours and went very well.  Turns out, my surgeon was able to remove more diseased muscle than he thought he would.  In the ICU, I remember waking up gagging, trying to remove the tubes that were down my throat.  Someone’s voice told me, “ShaNae, we can’t take those out until you can stay awake.  Stay awake.” So I tried.  But I couldn’t.  I drifted in and out of sleep several times, gagging and cringing at the pain every time I awoke.  But finally I managed to fight the leftover anesthesia and they removed the tubes.  Now that was painful.  And even now, ten days later, my throat is raw and I sound like a man.  But what a small price to pay, so no complaints here.  The next three days were spent in the hospital.  I had wonderful nurses who worked with me to keep my pain under control and make me as comfortable as possible.  Though I can’t say I ever felt comfortable when awake.  Turns out that opening your chest cavity places extreme pressure on your neck and back, resulting in emanating pain for months.  And I HATE pain pills.  They make me sick so I opted not to have them and toughed it out.  The recovery has so far been what I expected.  Really painful, nauseating, and extremely tiring.  But hey, at least I have a cool scar to look at whenever I get bored.   

  I was able to be discharged three days after surgery.  We spent the next few at a nearby hotel.  Those days were a living hell.  I can’t explain them and quite frankly never want to go back there so, moving on.  Once we left the hotel we drove a couple hours away to a small town just outside the Twin Cities.  Most of my blog readers know I have a daughter.  A beautiful little girl named Sophie that I placed for adoption when she was born.  Typically I dedicate my posts on this blog to adoption so  I hope that fact of my life is pretty clear.  A month before I left for Africa her parents informed me that they would be moving.  I was DEVASTATED.  For lots of reasons but mostly because I thought the change would tear us apart.  Well, I got over myself and I’m extremely happy for them and excited to see what’s in store.  I mention all this because Sophie and her family just so happened to be moving to Minnesota.  The same week I was due for surgery.  Irony?  I don’t think so.  Blessing is more like it.  They made it to Minnesota two days after my surgery and managed to stop by and say hello.  Talk about a Saving Grace.  Hospital rooms are miserable, so seeing them completely made my day.  So anyway, that small town we drove to after leaving the hotel was Sophie and the Fam’s new hometown.  We got to stay with them our final few days in Minnesota.  It was a tender mercy for sure.  We had lots of time together and watching those kids run around and play was all the entertainment I needed.  I myself wasn’t much fun for the kids so thank goodness my mom was there.  She kept them entertained and loved on all she could.  Sophie was sure my mom was just full of surprises.  Whether it was painting her nails, or putting pretties in her hair, there was no end to the fun my mom could produce.  I was over whelmed with gratitude for the Mathesons’ and their willingness to let us stay in their home.  We had so much fun and I can’t wait to go back when I’m acutally healthy and able. 

So! Speaking of healthy and able.  Now, I just wait.  I won’t be able to tell what the surgery did for me for at least two months.  I have to get past recovery and get my stamina back before I’ll be able to get active again and see what I can and cannot do.  So, am I anxious? YES! And these dreams of running and dancing and climbing fill my sleep each night.  I pray every day thanking my Heavenly Father for this miracle. Ten years ago, this surgery wasn’t even an option. Modern medicine is developing every single day.  Cures are restoring patients’ dreams each year. And even if this surgery doesn’t help me, it gave me hope.  And I can thank Him for that.  It’s amazing to me how He never gives up.  I can kick and scream and say I’m done but He knows I’m not and He does everything He has to for me to see that. He taught me that life is so complex.  There are so many things at work in our day to day lives that we don’t even know about.  And I'm just grateful to be here to see it all play out.  

Yesterday I had some wonderful friends stop by for a visit.  And they came bearing gifts! Look at this oh so creative care package I received!  It brightened up my day more than they know.  Just seeing them was enough and made me grateful for good friends.  They really are blessings from Above.