The Best Gift

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of having my heart repaired.  I actually thought it was seven years, but when I pulled out my old, jagged EKG, I discovered it’s only been six.  Time flies when you’ve got a heart like mine.  Here are some of my memories from that time in my life.  I know Valentine’s Day isn’t here yet, but I celebrate it all month long.  So, Happy Valentine’s to my friends and family.  I hope your heart is as full as mine.

You lay on the operating table, sleepy from the icy drugs running up the veins of your arm.  The doctor enters and asks “What kind of music do you like?”

“Anything but country.” you slur, the words like marshmallows in your mouth.  You close your eyes and try to block out the jerky beep, beep, beep of the EKG.

It is that very beep, beep, beep that brought you here.  The room is cold and the air wisping through the opening in your gown sends chills tiptoeing down your arms and legs.  You are wearing funny, striped socks on your feet.

You keep your eyes closed and then country music bleeds through the speakers.  The EKG fires in staccato. Beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep!

“Now.” the doctor says as he threads the wires through your leg and into your heart.  You feel the wires squirm.  Twisting.  Searching.  Repairing.  Your chest is made of bricks, heavy and stiff.  Your body lurches violently with each heartbeat.  A rogue tear slides down your cheek, taking your brave face with it.

The country music is whiny and unbearable.  The EKG is an alarm sounding, a code red noise.

Country music is literally going to kill me,” you think.  Your mouth tastes like metal.  You are sure that this is what fear tastes like.

The wires weave.  Your sweat from every known gland.  Your heart beats so fervently it feels like it has no other choice than to simply give up any second now.  All of the air has been sucked out of the room and you’re sure that you are not going to make it.  Your heart hammers.

You smile at the thought of dying in funny socks and have a moment of pure gratitude for your life.

You do not hear the EKG anymore.

You only hear the doctor say “Okay.”  He slowly pulls the wires out, like pulling a loose thread from a sweater.

The EKG returns to a steady rhythm.  You breathe again.  The bricks are gone.  And, thank God, THANK GOD, a nurse finally turns off the country music.

You lay still in the recovery room.  Your husband, who has paced the entire time, holds your hand.  You lay with your legs elevated in a ‘V’, a ward against blood clots.

You are told “Lay still.  Do not move.  At all.”  After several hours every part of your body, including your hair, aches from all that stillness.

Sometime, maybe the evening, maybe the middle of the night, maybe the next day, you are allowed to go home.  Per doctor’s orders, you ride with your legs resting upright on the dashboard and your husband’s hand warm on your own.

A week later, you ride your bike on the river trail.  Your stitches send a pinch of pain as you swing your leg over the crossbar of your bike.  You pedal loopy, slow circles.  The frost nips at your fingertips and there is a perpetual drip from your nose, but your legs are sure.

The blood in your heart looks for ghost pathways, but your heart is strong.  And strength is what matters most.  Maybe all that matters.

Your heart is better than new.  It is stronger than you ever imagined it could be.

It is Valentine’s Day and you know with every cell in your body that you, the girl in funny socks, have been given the best gift of all.

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