On Having A Broken Heart…

So many things can cause a heart to break. The death of a loved one, disappointing news, or a failed romance can all cause a pain like none other — I have known all of those types of broken hearts many times in my life.

As long as I can remember, I have been tough as nails, but also I always felt that I had to work twice as hard to keep up physically with everyone else around me. I was awful at sports and I was the slowest runner ever because I would get so winded and tired. I grew up in a community where athletic prowess was valued far more than academic achievements, a sense of humor, or even kindness. I was picked last for team sports so often I eventually quit trying. I didn’t like to let it show, but the fact that I just couldn’t “do” sports, no matter how badly I wanted to, broke my heart. I was so envious of my friends who could run like the wind or play a hard game of basketball and barely break a sweat.

That particular broken heart came from feeling like a failure. As I got older, I attempted to “find my sport”. I never could. I always ended up winded, sick, and left behind.

When I got pregnant with my oldest son when I was 24, I experienced complications. I was always dehydrated, my baby always showed a distressed heart rate, and I had alarmingly high blood pressure. So high that I was put on bed rest for about the last six weeks of pregnancy. This didn’t make sense — I was young and supposedly healthy. No explanation. All of these things occurred again when I carried my second son the following year. After Shane was born, I had several miscarriages. Again, no explanation., but I knew one thing for certain — my heart was broken.

Fast forward to the past year or so. Even the smallest exertion had me drenched in sweat with an aching chest, jaw, and arm. One night I woke up in such pain, I knew that it wasn’t just me being a failure — I was sick. The right doctor started to ask the right questions and ordered the right tests. The diagnosis? I had a very broken heart, and had been walking around with it since before I was born. In 1971 there were no ultrasounds for expectant mothers, so my broken heart went undetected and misdiagnosed for 45 years. No, it wasn’t asthma. No, it wasn’t just “a harmless little murmur”. No, I wasn’t the weakling loser I believed I was.

I have what is known as an atrial septal defect. Plainly put, I have a big old hole in my heart. One of the biggest my cardiac specialists have ever seen. By all rights, I should be dead about 1,000 times over right now. I certainly should have never been able to carry and deliver my two sons. I’ve done all right with my broken heart, but it’s time to mend it.

I will undergo open heart surgery in a week in Fargo. The procedure will take about four hours, and I’ll be on the heart/lung bypass machine for about two of those hours. My chest will be wired back up and I’ll have quite a large and bad ass scar to show off this summer.

What I won’t have this summer? I won’t have a broken heart anymore. For the first time in my life, I’ll be operating at full capacity. I have lived for what I assume is about half of what will be my time on Earth with half a heart. In that first half, I have seen triumph and tragedy, success and sadness. I survived two complicated pregnancies, delivered two beautiful and healthy sons, lived through a ruptured appendix, held my own and then some in more than a few tussles, finished two 5Ks (slow, but sure), climbed the Acropolis in Greece and Red Rocks in Colorado, jumped out of an airplane, and passed the bar exam. I did all of those things with a broken heart. I’m basically Hercules.

What will I accomplish in the second half of my life with a strong and healthy heart? I think the world best watch the hell out, here comes SuperMeg… #NoMoreBrokenHeart