On My Heart (A Series)… The Stuff They Don’t Tell You


In the weeks leading up to my heart valve surgery, I was told many things. I was told what the procedure would look like. I was told that while the average hospital stay is 10 days and the average recovery time is 8 weeks, most of that was up to me and how I responded. I was told I would be sore, and that feeling normal again would probably take somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-6 months. I was told my odds of survival and the odds that I would outlive my valve. I was told the valve would come from a pig or a cow (turns out it was a cow).

There are things I wasn’t told. There are things happening to me now that I was not prepared for. Would it have made a difference had I known?

At the hospital, right before my surgery, one of the nurses referred to my little sister as my daughter. It was irritating of course, but she is younger than me, runs half marathons on the regular, wears athletic wear most of the time, and had done her hair and makeup. I also decided to let my hair go naturally gray during COVID, while her natural gray is still brown. I also had been awake all of the night before and my low oxygen levels and high heart rate over the past several months hadn’t been kind to me. So, I gave the embarrassed nurse a pass.

A few days following my surgery, my husband Charles and my bestie since grade school (both of who are OLDER than I am) left for the night after a nice long visit. The night nurse came in and said I had nice kids. I asked her when she had met my children. She wasn’t able to stop her reply, “Wasn’t that them?” The question mark was still hanging in the air when she realized her mistake. There is nothing you can say to that, and she didn’t try. I tried to make a joke of it but the tears running down my cheeks did not help.

Nobody told me that the surgery would age me 20 years and I would fail to recognize my own reflection.

Charles and I drove to Houston this weekend. Well, he drove, I rode. It took about 6 hours and the ride was comfortable enough. Prior to even knowing I would be having heart surgery, I had promised my daughter that I would come stay at their house and take care of their son and their dogs while she and her husband went on an anniversary trip. I intended to keep that promise. All my grandkids (from my daughter and son) had activities in Houston I wanted to attend. My oldest and youngest grandsons had baseball games, my granddaughter had an orchestra concert and a horse riding lesson, and my middle grandson had a football game. It would be a busy weekend, mostly of me sitting and watching.

Friday evening, as I exited the shower before leaving for the concert. I noticed an old lady in the full wall-sized mirror in my daughter’s bathroom. She was a shriveled up shell of a person, like an old raisin. She looked 80 years old. Then I realized she was me. My knees buckled and I spent the next fifteen minutes in the floor, weeping into my towel.

I enjoyed time with my kids and grandkids so much. I supervised Charles as he dug and placed native plants into my daughter’s flower bed. We enjoyed meals together and it was just a low key weekend, but something felt off. I just didn’t and don’t feel like myself. I hurt but I’m not sure where the pain is coming from. I imagine it is what people with chronic pain or autoimmune diseases feel like. I cannot get comfortable. I am uncomfortable in my own skin all the time. I realized that, if I didn’t have hope that things will definitely get better and one day in the future I will feel great, I wouldn’t want to continue to live. If the way I am feeling was what the rest of my life was going be, no thank you. Hope for something better is what keeps me going. I know people with chronic illness don’t have that hope and I wonder how they manage to get themselves up in the morning.

Nobody told me that the surgery would take away my joy and optimism.

I understand this is a situational depression based on the fact that I am now physically 80 years old and cannot seem to find joy in simple things lately. It is rainy today and all I can see is gloom. My pre-surgery self would have seen what a blessing the rain is for the trees and plants getting ready for winter. But now, I’m watching the flowers fade and go to seed and it makes me even sadder. There is only one cardinal flower left on the vine. Winter is a necessary season, and it is coming soon. Pre-surgery me understands this, but this person I am now just cannot bear it.

Nobody told me I would lose my appetite and taste.

Nothing tastes good and I don’t want to eat. Normally, I love to cook and I love to eat. Cooking healthy, good quality food is something I do for myself and for Charles. I love watching him enjoy what I cook for him. He can cook for himself and often does. But, pre-surgery, it was something I loved to do. Now, I have no appetite and the only reason I force myself to eat anything is so I can take all my medicine. There is nothing worse than nausea on an empty stomach. I have always loved food, but right now there is simply nothing to love.

Nobody told me I would lose myself or my place in this world.

I don’t know who I am anymore. Poor Charles he tries really hard to keep me engaged. He invites me to walk to the mailbox or visit the chickens. He makes sure I eat. He is doing a great job. He can only do so much with the impossible hand he has been dealt.

I have a good support system. Family and friends have been wonderful for the most part, reaching out with a “Just checking on you,” or “How are you feeling today?” These sentiments are really all I need in order to know that I haven’t been forgotten and that at some point I will be welcomed back into my social circle. When you are isolated and cannot get out, and you know the world is going on without you it can make a person feel lonely. I have received unexpected messages from people I barely know who want to share their experience (either personal or family) with their heart issues. But, some family and friends I would have expected to hear from have been completely silent, and I guess that tells me what I need to know there, too.

I do have the hope that things will improve sooner rather than later. Meanwhile I will nap when I am tired and will look for small things I can do to improve my mood. I’m going to have my haircut today. I see my surgeon tomorrow and will ask him if I can have a bath and if he can do anything about the numbness in my left foot. The CEO of the company I worked for has given me access to the underground parking garage so that, when I do return to work, I won’t have to walk through the elements to the building. I will graduate from Oklahoma City Community College in December and, if I keep my head on straight, I will graduate summa cum laude. I’m going to cook a vegan casserole for dinner and pray it turns out well enough to eat.

10 comments on “On My Heart (A Series)… The Stuff They Don’t Tell You

  • April , Direct link to comment

    Diane I’m so sorry you are feeling the way you do..I’ve not had heart problems but I do have leg problems from the 2 car wrecks I was in..here lately I’ve not been getting sleep because of them hurting..I need help walking to the stores..life is just not the same anymore…I will be 69 next year and some days I feel like I’m 100..just know you are not alone..if you ever need to talk just send me a message…love you

    • B. Diane White , Direct link to comment

      Thank you April. I know I am not alone. I know other people have even greater hardships than me. I hope your leg problems continue to improve.

  • Diane Johnson , Direct link to comment

    Diane, praying for your mental, emotional, and physically healing. May He restore your body and soul, may He give you back your joy and confidence as well as your physical health. God Bless you.

  • Claire , Direct link to comment

    Dear Diane – Thank you for sharing how you are feeling. I’m sorry that everything feels so sucky and rotten. I can only offer my presence with How Things Feels Today. I have found, for me, that sometimes going from minute-to-minute, and hour-to-hour, is the right span of focus. Being outside, properly bundled or covered for sun or chill, helps me. Breathing in fresh air helps. I so so hope for you to get bath privileges. If it feels right for you, I found that telling my nurse how I was *really* feeling helped. I wish you moments of ease today.

    • B. Diane White , Direct link to comment

      Thank you Claire. Today was much better. So, yes, as the 12 steppers say “One day at a time.”

  • Monica Williams , Direct link to comment

    I’m so sorry you are having such a struggle! I know there is the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” coming soon. You will emerge from that tunnel like a butterfly from its cocoon and will be more beautiful and full of strength and energy! I am speaking it into existence and will pray for that to happen! I can relate to a few of the things you mentioned and not being happy with your reflection in the mirror is very difficult! Hugs to you my friend!!

    • B. Diane White , Direct link to comment

      Thank you, Monica. It is a rollercoaster of emotions. I know everything will work out, but I’m so impatient.

  • Jay Estes , Direct link to comment

    Hey Diane! Long time. Too long! I’m sorry to hear about all of this, and you have my heartfelt prayers for a faster recovery.

    For some reason I am reminded of a writing of yours from maybe a decade ago. About an orchid you had or something. It was delicate, beautiful, and troubled… not doing too good, I forget why. But you wrote a series about how you developed a “patient approach” to nursing it back to life. It was sensitive, and clearly not what it was made to be, but it was getting by, and your approach to nursing it back to health was just checking on it everyday, caring but not doing too much. Not interfering with the course of its recovery.

    I don’t even remember the end of that story, so I hope it’s not a bad analogy, but I think there was wisdom in that approach. You’re a beautiful creation, caught where you weren’t intended, and it’s kind of serious. Maybe try to be patient. Breathe, relax when you have too, and focus on aiming at an outcome that will put you back where you always were when you can.

    You’ve been through a big ordeal, it doesn’t mean you can’t recover fully.
    patience. Just let it ride when you have to, work at it when you can. It’s going to be OK. Keep us entertained with your notes too- we need them. 🙂


    • B. Diane White , Direct link to comment

      Hi Jay!. Unfortunately, that orchid died. It was actually dead before I took it home, I just didn’t know it. Root rot. Get them every time

      Haha, just kidding. The orchid is doing fine. It was a great analogy. Time and patience and not so much fussing. That is exactly what sick orchids need and what sick people need, too. Thank you for your support.

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