Welcome back to the story of my time of empowerment and awakening as a result of my trip to the cardiac care ward. If you missed any of the first four chapters I offer you links to hear the whole story before you embark on this fifth chapter. Here they are:
Part One – Putting my Heart to the Test
Part Two – Asking for Help
Part Three – Trusting the Process
Part Four – Growing the Heart
And now onto Part Five – Another Hidden Gift
After the period of bed dances, celebrations and tears of joy, it was time to prepare for discharge from the cardiac care ward and my re-entry into daily life. At some point in the next hour or so I was going to have to face that fact that my life going forward needed to change. I also needed to accept that while I would be very happy to be telling people that I had a healthy heart, that I would also have to admit that I am not Superhuman and that I let my exhaustion and my anxiety get the best of me. I was surprised how little that idea bothered me. After continually getting praised for showing my vulnerability in the last year it has gotten much easier to do exactly that.
I tried hard to sit still but the adrenaline rush from my test results was still pushing my energy level up to a false high. I also knew that I was not too far from an energy and blood sugar crash. The floor nurse asked me if I wanted her to try to get a plate of food for me. I probably should have said yes, but instead I told her I would wait for my wife to arrive and see if we were going to get food from someplace else. She told me that I would probably be better off with food from someplace else so I felt endorsed with my choice. As the seconds turned into minutes and the minutes turned into portions of an hour I began to question my choice. I really didn’t want my first meal as free man to include plastic plates and whipped jello. I was going to hold my ground!
I think my visit from Dr. Lee the super healer came to a conclusion around 11:00 a.m. and it was now approaching noon. Christiana was on the road back to the hospital. I was getting restless. I tried turning on the volume to the TV so I could hear the words of the Seinfeld episode instead of just seeing the pictures. The current episode was one of those collages with short snippets from multiple episodes all pieced together into one highlight reel. When a show is in current run those episodes always seem to offer a best of the best feeling. In re-runs they don’t seem to make any sense. I turned the TV off.
I wanted to take off the hospital gown and clean up and shave, but unfortunately I still had six cables attached to my chest and a IV port sticking out of my arm so that idea was off the table for the moment. I began to fidget with my backpack; the one that I carried out of the house on Tuesday morning when I went to work expecting to go home that night. I also fidgeted with the shopping bag of my stuff that Christiana brought to the hospital; the one I needed when I didn’t go home. I guess I was packing for departure. There was really nothing that needed to be done but I had to do something.
When I was done with the unnecessary packing I began to organize things on the bedside tray table. I re-positioned my rose quartz heart and my toothbrush and comb. I got rid of the empty styrofoam cup from last night’s shared orange Pellegrino water. There really wasn’t much to do in my 300 square feet of real estate, but whatever I found to do I was going to do the shit out of it! I was shifting back into Jim mode.
Christiana arrived about 12:30 p.m. I was so happy to see my lovely wife. I was also happy for the distraction. She was wearing navy blue pants, high heels and a blue t-shirt. She had dried her hair just a little bit so it was wavy and not pulled back. It was the way she was wearing her hair on the day I met her on St. Patrick’s Day 20o6. I’m stunned to think that it will be ten years next St. Patrick’s Day. I paused for an instant and wondered how fast the next ten years will pass and what my life will look like in 2025. I smiled at the thought of the possibilities.
Christiana instantly recognized my growing anxiousness. She asked me if I wanted her to go to the desk and see what was taking so long. I told her that I had made a pact with myself that I would wait until 1:00 p.m. before I would summons a nurse and ask what was taking so long. I didn’t want to be that guy that was the perfect patient the entire time he was in the hospital but then complained right before he left and made everybody remember the negative side, not the kindness and humility. At 1:00 p.m. and one second I pressed the call button for the nurse.
The floor nurse came in to check on me. I asked her if she knew what progress had been made in my discharge. I told her that I felt like it had been about two hours since super healer, Dr. Lee had told me I could go home and come back in a year. I was beginning to wonder if I might still be here when that anniversary came up. In classic nurse speak she told me that, “Hopefully the paperwork would be arriving pretty soon, but that sometimes it takes a while to get everything together.” I noticed every single open ended window in that statement. The fact of the matter is I knew that was the exact answer I was going to get. I just needed to get it and be done with it.
About fifteen minutes later the Shirley Temple curly haired doctor with the nice energy came back with my release papers. Christiana complimented her on her awesome hair and her kind smile. I told here she was my favorite doctor of the whole group because her bedside manner had a calming presence. She smiled even bigger and said, “Thank you. We don’t hear stuff like that very often. I really appreciate it.” I found that a sad fact to discover.
She then told me in a few minutes the nurse would be in to disconnect my heart monitors and take out my IV so I could clean up and leave. I thought to myself, “Finally an answer with a specific time line!” The next ten minutes passed like they were ten days. I asked Christiana what it was like outside since my room had no windows and I hadn’t seen daylight in over 24 hours. She told me it was the perfect day. I looked at her with her wavy red hair. I thought about the new lease on life I had just received. I knew that I would feeling the sun on my face in minutes and I said to her, “It is indeed the perfect day, isn’t it.” I walked over and gave her a kiss.
When I was finally disconnected, I went into the private bathroom and used the moist towels to give myself a sponge bath. I brushed my teeth and wet down my hair so I could re-comb it. Except for the bruises running up and down my arms from all the blood letting, one would never know I had just spent a day in a half in the cardiac ward. I was really no worse for the wear.
After I cleaned up we grabbed my back pack, the shopping bag and the other few things we had with us. I double checked the hospital bed just like I you would double check a hotel bed right before you leave the room to make sure you didn’t leave anything precious behind. Even though I had just checked the bed, I paused for one more second and put my backpack on the ground so I could double check to make sure Angry Bear was safely in tow. He was, so we left the room.
As we walked out through the sliding glass door I stopped and turned around and took a picture of the room. I had no idea why because it was unlikely I would ever show it to anyone. I just wanted to remember that moment in time when I was handed back my freedom with a new lease on life. We walked down the hall to the elevators and said good bye and thanked the nurse at the desk.
While we were waiting for the elevators Christiana realized we had left an entire salad from the night before in the nurses refrigerator. They were kind enough to put my name and room number on it and hold it for us when we decided we didn’t want it that night. Christiana had reminded me of it about an hour ago when she suggested that I should eat it while I was waiting for discharge. She knew there was no way that was going to happen but she suggested it just the same. We probably could have just walked away and left the salad behind, but by that point we had such a history with the salad so we figured we should carry it home. I remembered a line I heard in the restaurant business for the first time many years ago, “Only old people take leftover salad home.” I was still content with our choice regardless of the potential labels.
My first breath of fresh air and the sun on my face was worth every second of the wait. There is a feeling you get when you finally get to the hotel on the first day of your vacation after a full day commute. It is a feeling of pure joy, excitement and opportunity. It is the feeling you have before you start counting in your head how many days of vacation you have left. That is how I felt when I walked out the doors of Northwestern Memorial Hospital on that Wednesday afternoon. That feeling lasted about 3o seconds and then something else took over. My hunger!
The caged tiger in me had been set free after all the pacing and I was ready for the hunt. So many options! We usually go to restaurants within our company so we can use our discount but today we wanted to do something out of the ordinary. Out of the ordinary and close!
After about five minutes of wandering we decided on Grand Luxe Cafe. We decided on it mostly because we had never eaten there and also because they have the most amazing chocolate chip cookies. The ones that are right in between crispy and chewy and right in between salty and sweet. Even though I had never eaten in the restaurant, I had carried out the cookies many times. I’ve never had a bad one yet.
We had to wait for for about ten minutes for a table even though they were only half full. I know the drill. I have to do it almost everyday when we are staffed lightly between shifts. I still didn’t like the wait in that moment in time. It made me wonder if we made the right choice. Christiana recognized this right away. She knows me all tool well. She asked me if I wanted to go someplace else. I considered it, but before I could act they called our name and took us to a nice booth looking over Michigan Avenue. I took Angry Bear out of the bag and set him on the table so he could survey the situation. He approved. We ordered some South African rose wine. Things were beginning to look up.
Our waiter brought us a bread basket and we ordered a mini chicken taco appetizer. We continued the conversation we had been involved in through the whole discharge process, our walk to the restaurant and our wait in the lobby to get a table in the half empty restaurant. In this whole process one of the largest parts to process for me was the part of considering my own mortality. To some degree we all face our own mortality on a daily basis. The topic casts a larger shadow on certain days and in certain periods and this was one of the periods.
In our situation my mortality is a sword that cuts with many edges. I am married to a woman who is almost twenty years younger than I am. Our hope is to live many years into the future together, influence the lives of many others and hopefully be great parents someday down the road. That makes me a very lucky man and it excites me on so many levels. It also terrifies me at other levels. If the law of averages plays out I will quite possibly leave this lifetime before my younger wife does. That thought carries weight for both of us. I have fears about how hard it would be on Christiana if I died well before she did. I’ve seen this movie play out in my own family where my father died when my mother was only 54. I’ve seen it play out more recently when my dear friend Richard died when his wife was only 50.
I then asked Christiana if finding out that my heart was healthy was as empowering for her as it was for me. I was searching for validation that we had received information that was going to be enriching for BOTH of us. The answer she delivered offered more empowerment than I expected or ever could of dreamed of. This is what she said:
“I knew the entire time that I was driving down to meet you at the hospital that everything was going to be okay. I had a deep sense of knowing that you were taking a course of action that you needed to take but I knew you were going to be okay. There were a few moments when I would have a fear pop up that would make me wonder if I might never see you again. What if when I got there I was taken into a room and I got the, ‘I’m sorry to inform you Mrs. Herbert…’ speech?”
“I realized that if that happened I would be really sad. I would become part of a sorority that I don’t want to belong to. The same one that you mother and Richard’s wife Rhonda belong to. I also realized that if that happened….that ultimately even if that happened….I would be okay. That I would have the support system I needed. That thanks to the last year of our lives together in particular and thanks to the work that we’ve done over the last eight years that I would be okay.”
“I realized that even if you were gone from this body in this lifetime, that I would continue to do the work that we set out to do together and that I would have the confidence that even in that great pain, that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be. I have it on good authority that we will always be together in this lifetime and forever…”
I sat at the window table at the Grand Luxe Cafe and looked at Christiana as she finished what she had to say. My heart grew even larger than I ever could have imagined it could grow. In my quest to find some answers about my confidence and empower myself, I had no idea that the by product would also include empowerment for my twin flame, my soul mate and my partner in this lifetime and all others going forward.
In all contrasts and challenges there are hidden gifts. This 36-hour adventure to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital ward was beginning to look a lot like Christmas morning to me. I was the five year old boy wide awake in my bed waiting to hear a noise from my parent’s room so I could go racing down the stairs and begin tearing the paper off the gifts that would be the rest of my life.
We sat looking out over Michigan Avenue on the most perfect of perfect days. I poured another glass of South African rose into each of our glasses. Any guilt I had over ordering wine with lunch immediately after getting out of the hospital was now gone. I was in the moment like I had never been before in my entire life. I was ready for the next big changes. I was ready to slow down my activities for the express purpose of watching our abundance speed up. After months of talking about the avalanche that is coming in our lives, we had just been handed our brand new set of skis.