Healing Wall

One morning I didn’t wake up. He woke up beside me, just as he had for the last six years. But one thing was very different on this particular morning. I wasn’t already awake, the smell of coffee drifting from the kitchen. I wasn’t standing next to the bed, saying “Time to wake up, Mr.” I wasn’t whining at him to turn off the alarm clock. I wasn’t sleeping peacefully beside him, with our dachshund curled up against me. I wasn’t doing any of these things that I had done countless times before. I also wasn’t breathing. This was entirely different from every other morning we had shared before. “No, not like this,” he thought. And then he saved my life. Within minutes, there were paramedics in our bedroom, paddles placed on my chest. Four blocks to the hospital. Within an hour, my brother was there. Soon after, my parents arrived, food left out on the kitchen counter, the forgotten remnants of the breakfast they were making when they received the call. Therapeutic hypothermia treatment was started. Ice and cold blankets were placed on my body. I began to shiver violently. My mother sat beside me and told me to imagine I was on a beach, warm in the sun, and even though I wasn’t conscious




and they said I couldn’t hear her, I turned my head toward her voice.


The next few days involved lots of floor pacing, code blues, and questions. “Did she do drugs?” “Did she have an eating disorder?” “Did she drink well water?” What could cause a healthy 24 year old woman to have a sudden cardiac arrest? They ran test after test, asked question after question, ruled out cause after cause. Then, “Any cases in the family of sudden death in a young person?” “Yes, my 12 year old nephew died suddenly right after he woke up,” my dad told them. They did EKGs on my mother, brother, and father. My father’s showed the same peculiar thing as mine, a prolonged QT interval. The questions stopped. I had Long QT Syndrome, an inherited disorder of the electrical system of the heart. The EEG machine was wheeled into my room. Electrodes were attached to my head. My husband sat beside me and held my hand. They stopped the sedation. I woke up and I looked at him. My eyes were full of panic. His eyes were full of reassurance, love, and hope. When the results came back, his eyes were full of relief. I had no permanent damage. In a couple of days, I could walk out of this hospital. Surgery was scheduled for me to get an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator). We ordered a pizza, and I sat in my hospital bed, wires coming out of both arms and from a port in my chest, loopy on Propofol, laughing and joking with the people I love.


Our car pulled away from the hospital, and our families waved to us, just like they had on our wedding day. After a week, one that I will never remember and they will never forget, I went home, sore from surgery, with defibrillator burn marks on my body, blurry from all the drugs I was given, but otherwise the same as before. I went to a follow-up appointment with my cardiac electrophysiologist and he said, “Just live your life.” I left his office, wondering how exactly I was supposed to do that. The months that followed my cardiac arrest


remain vague in my mind. I was in a fog, undead but not alive. I slept without dreaming. I smiled without feeling. I went through the motions of my life, but I wasn’t really there. I tried to stay positive, stay thankful, stay happy-but I couldn’t. I tried to comprehend what had happened to me, what was wrong with me, how I could have lived with this for 24 years and never showed any symptom. It all just seemed like a cruel joke.


Then one morning, I woke up and I remembered my dreams, something I hadn’t done for months. Suddenly, I could imagine a future with me in it. It may not be the future I had imagined, but no matter. I jumped back into my life. Finally, I was living the life I was given a second chance at. I was back and not just the same as before, but maybe even better, even stronger. My close encounter with death had given me an incredible resilience, a confidence I never knew I had. A dear friend wrote me and said I was a bright contagious light that touches everything around me and chases away all the darkness and this became my motivation.


Eleven months after that fateful morning, I was lying in bed, just waking up, listening to the sounds of the birds and the construction at the house down the street. Then something happened that had never happened before. Inside my chest, a jolt of energy. My body lifted off the bed and my arms jerked. In just a second it was over, and I laid there thinking, “Holy Sh*t! I’m not dead!” And in that moment, I realized what a glorious thing this device is. He slept peacefully next to me. I said, “Honey, I think I was just shocked.” Then life went on. We sat under the walnut tree with our coffee. He leaned over to smell me, then said “well, you don’t smell like bacon”, and for the millionth time, I fell madly in love with my husband. Just before my cardiac arrest, I had painted, for the first time since I had graduated from art school, over a year before. I left the unfinished painting


on the table for him along with a note explaining the plan for the piece, ending it with “ps. Thank you for making dinner. And for being the reason I wake up every day.” This small scrap of paper torn out of my notepad sums up my life. He is an amazing man. He is the reason I wake up every day, figuratively and now literally. He is the reason I am painting again. He is the reason I am living my life as a person, instead of a person with a heart condition. It’s as if the wonder of my marriage is the universe’s way of compensating for the unfairness of my health. Did I ever imagine I would survive a sudden cardiac arrest? Of course not. But I also never imagined that my life could be so wonderful, and I can finally see that.


There isn’t a cure, a magic potion that will make this go away. It’s manageable, but it will be here my whole life. And so will I. I LIVE my life. I am here, present in each moment, and I plan on being that way until my days are over. However I go, whether it is from the small chance I can’t be brought out of an arrhythmia, or my device malfunctions and doesn’t fire when I need it, or a complication from surgery, or a car wreck, or cancer, or a bear attack, I will be living, really living, until that day comes. There are many things I would like to achieve, but I’m not going to spend my life solely focused on getting there. I’m not going to waste a second regretting what I haven’t done yet, what I didn’t do good enough, or what I will never do. Putting too much focus on the future or the past robs you of the present moment, and that’s not a life at all.


Because life isn’t permanent…..and that is what is so beautiful……and our only shot at happiness is finding that beauty in each moment. Each moment carries with it the power to change everything, and some moments turn our world upside down, and life becomes divided into two parts, “before” and “after.” My sudden cardiac arrest was that moment for me. My heartbeats are now “data” and I set off


metal detectors, but the most profound change in me is how I look at the world. Today, I woke up and the sun was illuminating the tiny hairs on my husband’s neck as he slept beside me, and it was so incredibly beautiful. I felt a kind of contentment I never knew was possible. This strange and simple beauty, this magic in the ordinary……this is what I almost missed. This is life, wonderful and heartbreaking, but always amazing.