My Quarter Century Milestone
I started writing this in November of 2012. I never finished it and obviously never published it. I just took some time to fill in some blanks and figured I would send this out, as many people probably don’t know this about me.
This has been a very odd afternoon for me and I’m going to do a few things I do very infrequently.
The first thing I am doing differently is that I’m going to take the time to think and write, instead of rushing through like I typically do.
You see I started thinking about my heart surgery this afternoon and realized that…I never really think about my heart surgery.
It’s weird. I got to a point where I just didn’t ever think about it. It didn’t limit me in anything I did, so short of someone asking me what the huge scar was on my chest I never really had a reason to contemplate it. Since my Achilles tendon issues have kept me from playing basketball over the past handful of years, I never really have a need to be shirtless so people noticing the big zipper on my chest went from minimal to nonexistent.
I really don’t know the whole story but I’ll tell you what I do. My parents have filled in a lot of the blanks because I forgot a lot over the years. Thinking about it now this is likely due to the fact that it was pretty traumatic time for me and I must have started blocking things out as a coping mechanism.
I believe I was diagnosed with an Atrial Septal Defect at age 5 by Dr. Devito in Concord, and I think I had the surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital in February of 1987 when I was 7 years old.
This is all really fuzzy but I’ll give it a go. They gave me oral sedatives. They didn’t stand a chance. I was running and fighting with all my might. I was not the average 7 year old, mind you. For my age I was in the top percentile of both height and weight (what of my husky pants, eh?!?!) and I was the fastest kid in my class. I probably put down 3/4 of a gallon of milk per day at that point. That’s a lot of frightened and furious flub to finagle onto that little stretcher.
They finally slowed me down enough to hit me with a needle. Not sure how long I fought after that, but I’m confident in saying that everyone involved earned their pay that day. As much as I battled, eventually I was corralled and brought into custody. I remember rolling down the hall on the table and a flurry of people around me with a lot of big machines.
This is weird, things are coming back that I haven’t thought of in decades…
I remember the mask being put on and then the bright static tv starts playing in my brain. And then..it…goes……BLACK.
No clue how long I was out. I know the surgery was multiple hours, maybe 5 or 6. My parents can fill in the blanks. Maybe I’ll come back through and add their edits if anyone cares.
They made a large incision down the center of my chest, sawed through my sternum and opened all my ribs exposing my chest cavity. At some point during this process they hooked me up to a heart-lung machine and that magical little (or big from what I can vaguely recall) machine kept me alive as they performed the procedure.
Not sure if I remember waking up. I do remember bits of the post-op room. Pretty much everything I remember sucked.
I remember a nurse coming at me fast and without saying a word, she ripped the tubes out of my abdomen. This entailed cutting not only the stitches holding them in but the skin as well, and then grabbing the tube and RIPPING it out. She then proceeded to do the same thing to the other tube that was inserted inside of me. I didn’t remember it at the time, but I assume that there was at least one other person there to hold me down because that was one of the shittiest experiences of my life, and I promise you I have had my fair share of shit.
I also remember when they took out the catheter. That also sucked horribly. Hurt, but that wasn’t the problem. The issue was that it felt like I had to pee soooo bad. I’m talking 5 game beirut winning streak bad, but it would just never come. I sat pointing at a little bucket in agony for so long to no avail.
I don’t remember much of my time in the recovery room. I know I was in the hospital for multiple days, maybe up to a week. I must have spent most of the time in that room but my memories of it are minimal. I vaguely remember my parents and maybe had some visitors, but that’s about it. I beleive they said that there was a major outbreak of some sort within the hospital so there was significant worry that my weakened immune system would be severely compromised, but I guess that never came to fruition.
I know it was during this time that the final aspect of the hospital stay that I remember came into play. The tubes and the cath are solid memories, but they don’t compare to how vivid this one is. I suppose partially because I was likely much less medicated and more than a day or two removed from living off a machine, thus more alive in general.
My dad and I went into a room and the doctor told me to sit up on the table against the back wall so he could look at my bandage. He put his hands on the bandaging and proceeded to RIP! TEAR! SHRED! YANK! Whatever word you want.
It SUCKED. So much so that the new found peaceful ways I had adopted since being put into my regular recovery room imploded upon contact with my oncoming fury. I guarantee you he has never had a 7 year old react the way I did. I punched and kicked that dude with absolutely every ounce of aggression in my scared and angry little(ish) body.
So much so that I soon learned that what he had done on the top 3/4 of removing the bandage was actually him being very nice. He apparently had enough of the viscous onslaught of portly pre-pubescent rage and really decided to remove the remainder in a big hurry in one fell swoop.
That SUCKED WAY MORE! The bottom 3″ of my scar is probably 4 or 5 times wider than the rest and much more pronounced still to this day. The black arrows in the picture below show you the length of the scar. Notice how from this crummy pic you can only notice the much more significant bottom portion that I just mentioned. The red arrows notate where I have little scars from the tubes that were providing whatever sort of life saving goodness mentioned above.
As far as I know I was playing sports within weeks of leaving the hospital. I may have had to take antibiotics going to the dentist when I was young, but I can’t recall having to do that for at least 20 years.
I didn’t know until a couple years ago how much of a toll it really took on me psychologically in those days. My mom told me recently that I used to wake up all the time SCREAMING at the top of my lungs about not letting them take me and kill me. I think she told me some other things affiliated with that time-frame but I have no recollection of any of that.
What I remember is being back in action. I started playing sports: I believe Karate with Jeff Hardy at Bodyworks was the first organized athletic thing I did. I took swimming lessons, played soccer, baseball and then at 8 picked up basketball.
As you may or may not have deduced from the previous paragraphs, I was a bit husky as a youth. I moved really well for a big kid, but that wasn’t what I was interested in. I wanted to be a good athlete, not just a good athlete for a chubby kid.
So around 12 I started working out. My dad got a little weight set for the basement. It was the 1″ bar, plastic filled with concrete for the plates and the screw on collars. We’d play with that stuff a bit and I’d do pushups and ab work every night before bed. Once in a while I’d join him on a run, but that was never really my thing.
This pretty well coincided with when basketball had taken over as my year round sport. I played for hours every single day. No joke I played from 1-4 hours/day from the time I was 12 until I graduated college at 24, typically 6-7 days/week.
At 15 I started to lift and was seriously addicted at 16.
I dabbled in track my Jr and Sr years, but that was more for social reasons than anything else. Even with my less-than-optimal commitment, I qualified for the state meet in multiple events. All of the hard work I put in the previous several years must have paid some dividends.
I ended up playing in college and actually did pretty well. I was undersized for my position but I prided myself on being fundamentally sound and always being in shape…and I brought it hard every single day. Practice, pick up game or intercollegiate game it didn’t matter. I brought an intensity to the floor no matter what the situation. At least an hour per day lifting, at least an hour per day shooting, 2 hour practice and maybe a bit of pick up if the opportunity arose. I worked incredibly hard and never once did my heart ever give me any problems.
Why am I writing this? I’m not exactly sure and I really don’t have an eloquent way to close this out.
Partly because it is something I have avoided talking about for most of my life. In one way this has been somewhat eye-opening to force myself to think through this.
Another part of the reasoning is that some people probably didn’t know this about me (I’ve had 5 other surgeries and a bunch of broken bones to boot). I tend to keep personal things rather tight to the vest. I’ve been meaning to share a bit more with people and just never seem to do so. I figure this is as good an opportunity as any to do some sharing, as my freshman English teacher used to say “sharing means caring”.
I think the primary reason is to show that you don’t have to give up on what you love and that hard work is a universal means of accomplishing what you want. I am fortunate that my parents encouraged me to get right back out there and be active. There was never a reason to feel like I was “special” or “different”. I had some unpleasant shit happen and then it got fixed. No need to feel sorry and no need to sit around and make excuses.
My situation isn’t as severe as many; I know people that have endured more and gone on to accomplish more. I do think, however, that it is a good indication of someone not settling and applying consistent effort to overcome. Did I accomplish everything I set out to as a kid? I don’t have any NBA rings so as far as that goes I suppose not. I did work really, really hard and to be honest achieved more than what most people thought I could.
I guess what I would like is that this help someone, anyone. If one person reads this and decides that they are not going to let whatever difficult situation they have encountered dictate what they do, than I am happy and taking the time to write this will be worthwhile. I mentioned it before and I’m sure I’ll mention it again…
You can overcome nearly anything with hard work and sacrifice.
If you have a story that you think may help someone else, feel free to share it in the comments below.
Thanks for reading.