Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Another way to look at it

I am an anniversary kind of girl. I have the kind of brain that remembers dates, and for good or bad, the anniversaries of special dates serve as touchstones in my life. Today is such a day.

One year ago today, on February 23, 2009, my husband had open-heart surgery. A 45-year-old man's having open-heart surgery is not unheard of, really. Jack's heart had gone into atrial fibrillation a couple of months before, and extensive testing revealed that his mitral valve needed to be repaired. But just ten months before Jack's surgery, our 14-year-old son had open-heart surgery. So learning that Jack needed surgery as well was a bit of a shock, because we knew what it meant. We knew what was coming.

You see, if a surgeon needs to repair the heart, he has to first stop the heart from pumping. The heart can't be moving and getting surgically repaired at the same time. Open-heart surgery requires that the surgical team stop the patient's heart, repair it, and then re-start it. Of course, a wonderful heart-lung machine with a dedicated perfusionist tending it keeps the blood circulating and the organs oxygenated during surgery. But still. That heart-stopping part is--well--heart-stopping. And worrisome. It's hard to prepare for. Jack made sure that all his affairs were in order, that his will was up-to-date, that I knew everything I would need to know in case things didn't go well. Aside from those practical things, praying is about the only thing you can do. Prayer that all will go well. Prayer that the heart-stopping and the heart-starting-back parts will be successful. Prayer that everyone involved will have peace. But you know that the surgery is life-threatening, and it's hard to deal with that fact.

This day last year was one of the longest days of my life. The Operating Room at Duke got backed up, so the surgery started much later than we were expecting. I stayed with Jack until they took him into the OR at 3:00 P.M. Then I waited. Friends waited with me, and the hours ticked by. The surgical team did a wonderful job of keeping me updated throughout the progress of the operation, which was amazingly helpful, but the time dragged. Two, then four, then six, then eight hours crept by. Finally, more than eight hours after Jack was taken to the OR, the call came that they were finishing up. Our surgeon came to the Waiting Room--vacant now except for me and one stalwart friend--just as the clock struck midnight. He brought with him the news that the surgery had taken an unexpected turn. Before the operation, all of Jack's doctors thought that his mitral valve could be repaired. And our surgeon was one of the best in the world, a real artist at repairing valves. As it turned out, he tried to repair the valve, but it didn't work. There was no choice but to replace the valve. He brought me 8x10 glossies of Jack's mitral valve before the repair and his brand-new stainless steel valve. Really.

The day after the surgery was a difficult but exciting day. Jack was moved out of Surgical ICU into a regular room. He was still very groggy from the anesthesia, he had five IV's, and he had four drainage tubes in his chest, but he was alive and well. Our surgeon came by to check on Jack in the afternoon. Although I had already told Jack about the operation, the surgeon explained it all again. Only this time he added a little more information. "Your valve was really in bad shape," he told Jack. "It's a good thing we operated. Otherwise, you would have died of heart failure."

And just like that, we learned that we'd been wrong. Our anguish had been misplaced. We'd thought of the surgery as life-threatening. Turns out that it was life-saving.

A year has gone by, a year of many ups and downs and a long but successful recovery. And after much reflection, I've realized that Jack's surgery is not the only thing that I was wrong about. Grievances I've clung to, sure that clinging to them prevented their being repeated. Bitterness I've nurtured, certain that I was just protecting myself. Anger I've held on to, knowing that doing so was absolutely necessary.

But I was wrong. Letting those things go is not life-threatening. It's life-saving.

"Come to Me," says the Savior, "all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Jesus's way is the way of letting go of those grievances, setting aside that bitterness, ridding my heart of the anger. And while His way may seem hard, it's actually the easier way. It's the way out of burdensome weariness. It's the way of rest.

And on this anniversary, rest is a very good gift.

28 comments:

southerninspiration said...

Wow, Richella, what a perfectly written and heart-touching (stopping????) post!!!! It's amazing what perspective we gain from the hard things, isn't it? Thanks so much for sharing!

Suzanne

Southern Gal said...

The Lord has been speaking to my heart through a Sunday school lesson, a sermon, and now your post.
I know what I must do. Thank you for sharing.

Tonya said...

What an awesome testimony to God's timing and provision!!! Thanks for sharing!

crabbygirl said...

Amen!!!

Amanda @ Serenity Now said...

Your words always amaze me. :) You have such a gift, my friend! A beautiful post!!!

dawn said...

Wow. Richella--I felt a bit like I was there with you. I know the amazing heart-lung machine and how it makes the surgery possible but scares me at the same time. My son Aidan (who we lost at 4 months) underwent open heart surgery as one step on his fight for life. It was so intense...and somehow them coming out and telling me he was on that machine was not comforting. BUT when they told me he was off and everything was restarted...that was a good moment. :)

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that your metaphor of the things we thought were life-threatening were actually life-saving will stay with me. It totally fits with my Big-G-Good view on life. Thanks for that image. :0)

Patricia said...

Beautiful... as always!
God Bless
Patricia

Melissa @ The Inspired Room said...

Richella, that is an amazing story. Your words are thought provoking and inspiring, thank you!

Get Real Girl said...

This post is so powerful and beautifully written. So awesome that you can share this testimony of how God's timing is perfect and life-saving. Thank you so much for sharing this today.

togetherforgood said...

This is a wonderful story, wonderful reminder. His easy burden has been on my mind lately. We fight it so hard-- it must be too heavy, surely-- only to discover that the burdens we place on ourselves are so much heavier, so much harder to bear. He is good.

The Scooper said...

Richella, that story was beautiful. Even though I knew the outcome of the surgery, I was still on the edge of my seat. For him to be so young and for there to be so many unknowns...I simply cannot imagine. Thank the Lord for that surgery. And thank you for carrying the message even further in a way that we can all relate to. Yes, I hang on to all that you mentioned and then some. I appreciate your encouragement to let go and live.

And thanks for your always precious comments over at my place. I smile big when I read them. : )

Lora Lynn @ Vitafamiliae said...

Oh, the resting is hard sometimes!
So well-written!

Kristi said...

So eloquent and so thought provoking. Thank you, again, my friend. Blessings on this 'life-saving' day.

Jenglamgirl said...

What a remarkable ending to a stressful event in your life. God is good! You have a wonderful way with words. I thouroughly enjoyed this post. I also love your about me and what you said in it.

Thanks for your visit, and how could I be so silly then to not call my little side kick mini glam girl! ha! HUGS, JenGlamGirl

Danielle said...

Wow, what a powerful post!

And thanks for stopping by my blog today and your kind comment!

Jenglamgirl said...

BY THE WAY YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!!!!

Eva Gallant said...

Wow! What an experience.

Thanks for visiting my blog on my SITS day!

Jennifer said...

I know exactly how you feel! It is almost one year since my brother had a mechanical valve put in. It is just amazing... hearing it work inside his chest when you are near him! And shortly after my husband and I were married he had a 12 hour brain surgery because of a brain aneurysm. Remembering these events... it is like they just happened yesterday! They are memories that stay vivid as time goes by. But they are also wonderful reminders of the power of prayer and God's love that got us through tough times! Thanks for sharing your story.. I am so happy things turned out well!

Dawn said...

did you write this just for me today? did you? this month we counted 12 years since eric's hert surgery... a life-saving operation, too, stainless steel and all. but the life-saving stuff? resting in Jesus? thanks... your words are peace to this heart. but you know that :) happy life-saving anniversary to you & jack. and many more...

Stacey @ The Blessed Nest said...

Wow! Take some time today to love on your hubby & praise God for His blessings He's given you both!

Geezees Custom Canvas Art said...

what a beautiful post.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!!

melissa * 320 Sycamore said...

I am so glad that everything turned out okay~what beautiful words you speak:
"And while His way may seem hard, it's actually the easier way. It's the way out of burdensome weariness. It's the way of rest."
Thank you for this testimony...so, so true and I needed to hear it today. Big hugs~

Amanda@Imperfectly Beautiful said...

Richella...thank you for always touching my heart with your gift of words. You are an inspiration to me in so many ways. I am so blessed you're my friend.

Love you
~Amanda

Elizabeth Patch said...

you faith clearly shines through! One of my sons had major surgery, and I almost can't bear remembering how hard that day was. thanks so much for stopping by my blog and leaving comments on my SITS day.

Carmie - the Single Nester said...

Beautiful and God Bless!

Dianne said...

Aah, Richella
The Lord definitely has given you a gift. A gift to share your hardships, grievances, bitterness, etc with us, but then to also tell us we NEED TO LET GO, and LET GOD!!!
May the Lord richly bless you for the gentle encouragement that you give and share to others.

Sherry said...

This is an amazing story and one I can relate to. My husband was diagnosed with cancer July,09. After surgery he is doing very well. Something like this makes you appreciate every minute you have together and really puts into perspective what is important in your life.

Sarah @ Thrifty Decor Chick said...

Richella, that was beautiful! I'm so glad all are doing well now. You have so much strength!

Post a Comment

Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I read every one; they make my day. If you have a specific question, please be sure your email address is attached to your profile or leave your email address in the comment; I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Every blessing!