Ruining Birthdays

It’s The Man’s birthday and I am remembering past birthdays. I ruined his birthday two years ago. We were at The Mayo Clinic for a few weeks while I had my riskiest heart surgery. It was a scary time for both of us, for the risks we were taking, not knowing if it would work or, because of the way my heart plays coy when there’s an audience, if they’d be able to even see what the problem was. It was incredibly stressful. The trip involved 7 or 8 months of planning and everything happened to come together on/near The Man’s birthday. Though he assured me it was not the case; I felt like I was ruining it. We had a small celebration before we left, but I was really sick and it was, frankly, lame. His birthday was on a Friday and we had spent the whole week doing tests and prep for the surgery on the next Monday. I was not feeling super fabulous from “Hell week” and neither of us talked about it being his birthday until late that night. Our thoughts were heavily preoccupied.

It wasn’t just the risks and surgery that worried me. Going into this trip I was concerned with The Man’s ability to take care of me for the duration. I knew it would be exhausting physically and emotionally. I knew it wouldn’t end there, either. The recovery would be long and, to quote my main cardiologist, “You should feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. It will be a very long recovery, your body will be exhausted from the surgery, your heart’s going to take a long time to get used to learning this new rhythm, it’ll be a year before we know how successful it was. This is a very painful surgery and recovery is very difficult.” I cannot tell you how many times my doctor in Salt Lake talked to me about the surgery. My main Mayo doctor called him a few times and repeatedly asked if I knew what I was in for and if he thought I was prepared.

Everyone was concerned about the way this was going to affect me, the potential complications, and wanting to make sure I truly understood what I was signing up for, “She knows she’s going to be awake and aware, there won’t be pain relief, and it will last for several hours?” I kept thinking, “Yeah, guys. I got it. Thanks for really, REALLY, pounding it in that this isn’t gonna be fun. Can we stop talking about how much it’s gonna suck and focus on something else?” (I couldn’t have anesthesia and little to no lidocaine at the incision sites in my neck and groin, (of which there were over 20 per side..hello scar town, goodbye swimsuit), I would be lifting weights to tax my heart- they needed to observe my heart mainlining crack and exertion would set it off, and the surgery itself would be quite time-consuming.)

In the end, some things turned out better than I feared. The surgery was as…let’s call it “discomfortable” as promised and recovery was…whatever…but despite that the memory of our time at Mayo is very sweet to me. The Man, never great at staying focused for….anything, was present and on top of things the whole time. I wasn’t super ambulatory and he wheeled me in and out of hospitals/doctor offices/labs, WITHOUT getting us lost – a miracle because he was not good with map reading or directions, and he stayed cheerful and acted like he was thrilled to do it. THE WHOLE TIME!

Most of the week before my surgery I couldn’t eat. We had to plan things very carefully to work in food for me. “Ok, you have this test at 3pm and there’s no food for 12 hours before it. That test should take an hour. Then you have this other test at 4:10pm in this other building and you can eat before it as long as you steer clear of fats. The 9am test requires you to eat only x and y…but y is a no no for the 3pm test…so it looks like you can eat y tonight for 20 minutes, and then tomorrow you have a one hour food window before prep for the next day’s tests come into play. Oh. This test needs you to drink 2 gallons of water 6 hours before….looks like we’re waking up at 2am and doing that. Got it? SWEET! Let’s go find you some fat free, sugar free, caffeine free, salt heavy lettuce. You can eat as much as you want for A WHOLE TWENTY MINUTES TOMORROW! OH BOY!!”

It was a little intense. I wasn’t in great shape going in to Mayo, the plane ride itself was really hard on my heart, not something I had even considered. Then we had a week of constant stress, tests you would not believe even if I described them, low nutrition…. something that puts everyone in a bad mood, even less sleep, I was physically exhausted, The Man didn’t have it easy pushing me around in my “stroller” – we didn’t bring Travesty (my wheelchair) and the kindest description for the loaner wheelchair was “subpar.” That isn’t even the hard part stuff.

There was something else that gave me an awful lot of pause regarding the Mayo trip. You may not see it as being a big deal, but to me, it was huge! The new Fall Out Boy album would be dropping while we were there. They hadn’t put anything out in 4-5 years or so and this was a tremendous life event for me. The big deliberation was:

Do I pre-order it on Amazon and have it delivered at home and then HAVE TO WAIT FOR A WHOLE WEEK AND A HALF AFTER IT COMES OUT BEFORE I CAN BE HOME AGAIN TO LISTEN TO IT?!? HORROR!!!

Or do I try to buy it while we’re at Mayo? Where we won’t have a car? And where it might not even be sold?!? (This album, and the need to be in proximity to a store that sold it, was big a factor in which hotel I picked. Yeah. I know. Crazy-town. I didn’t have a lot to look forward to in life at this time and things like this really matter when your life revolves around suckiness.)

We walked to Wal-Mart, a little over a mile away downhill from our hotel, on a quest to buy this coveted album. I was giddy on the way there. We had only been at Mayo for a few days and I didn’t think my heart would mind if we took it for a walk. Especially a walk to procure such an important idol of joy this album was sure to be. The Man was exceptionally patient with my slug-like pace, and he supported me without complaint or even showing he noticed. My heart decided to give out about halfway there. Not. Awesome. It was cold and even though I was bundled up in my heaviest parka, it was too much for my heart to take. The Man did like we do and made jokes about it while we struggled to make it the rest of the way. We were both pretty concerned about it, but what do you do when there’s epic music on the line? I mean…what would the pioneers have done?!?

When we finally made it there, Wal-Mart was out of stock. We had called ahead to check..but apparently Rochester has two Wal-Marts, and it was the OTHER Wal-Mart on the OTHER side of town that had it in stock.

I am not proud to say I cried a little. Knowing I’d have to go through the next week and a half without the new album was just too much for me. I know. Emotionally psychotic.

The Man got a cab and carried me to our hotel room. The next day, after all the tests were done, he told me he had an errand to run and he’d be right back. Then he left me at the hotel and two hours later, he returned with the Fall Out Boy album. He put it on my iPod so I could add it to the playlist I was making for the surgery. (My Cardiac Electrophysiologist suggested I bring calming/relaxing music to help during the surgery.) The Man didn’t complain when I played it and danced like a heart patient. (Heart patients don’t have the best dance skills. It’s a stamina/coordination lacking thing.)

Fall Out Boy was not The Man’s favorite band ever. He would say, “I liked them fine until it was the only thing I heard for years on end. Now it’s a Guantanamo-Britney-Spears-torture-music situation. Darling, I love you, I just wish you’d play something else.” Him listening to the new album with me was an epic show of love. That boy was long suffering.

I’ve been listening to that album this week. It will always be one of my favorites. I can see The Man sitting on the chair while I projectile joy barfed my Fall Out Boy love.

While we waited for appointments he often took my hands in his, looked me in the eyes, and told me he loved me. That even if this didn’t work and my heart was still crap, I was worth it. And he was glad to be there with me. If you knew The Man you’d know saying these sorts of things in this way wasn’t his usual.

One day in particular, we were both completely spent. It had been several days of early morning tests combined with late nights and we had something like an hour and a half between tests. He asked if there was a quite place we could go to rest, and we were directed to a dark room full of reclining chairs and blankets. We both pretended to sleep while we waited for the next appointment time. He did little things like this the whole time we were there.

I was pretty sick after we got home from Mayo. It was weeks before I could shower, dress, or reliably take care of myself. Every morning for weeks, he would wake up, get ready for work, take me to the bathroom, bring food to me, kiss me goodbye and then return on his lunch hour, take me to the bathroom, wash and dress me, carry me downstairs, plop me in front of the fire, get me a laptop, book, the phone, and kiss me goodbye as he went back to work. The Kid would see to my needs when she came home from school a few hours later, and then The Man would be back at it when he came home from work. I slowly improved, but it was a few weeks of me being entirely reliant on him and The Kid before I improved enough to do these basics. It was months before I was back to doing things like laundry and light cleaning again.

I think about this because it’s his birthday.

I also can’t help but think of the birthdays I’ve had that *he* has ruined. It seems he was always getting something surgified around my birthday. And, since it’s the most requested story about The Man in my repertoire…I think it’s ok to share this one again: Ask Me About My Explosive Diarrhea!

Enjoy it like it’s the first time.

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