Turning Over a New Leaf

Endurance in another time

On a walk earlier this spring, I noticed the dried Queen Anne’s Lace on the hill and was caught by its still delicate, intricate pattern. It had endured the ice, winds and snows of the winter past and still had its fragile beauty facing the sun, as if it could renew itself then and there. I could see myself in her: hanging on, enduring my pandemic isolation with a similarly faded heart. The delicate, intricate patterns of life had surprises, though, as I was to find out. 

I walked through the Emergency Room doors on my own last Friday evening at 6:15 pm. It had been 19 years since I was the patient in an ER. For 21 years, it was my husband, and we always were there together. Now it was just me.

The world seemed to be revolving more slowly. Time had forgotten how to move at its appointed speed. Yet I was calm, my face covered with the required mask as I reported to the front desk after having placed a red sticker with the white letters, “FRIDAY” on it, proving my right to be there.

I had been living all day with a level 7 pain in my left side and back. The triage nurse had urged me to go to the ER in case I had a kidney problem. I drove there reluctantly but would be rewarded for my wisdom. Just not in the way that I expected.

Everything around me was muted. There were only about 10 people in the huge waiting room. Excellent physical distancing. Then, through the large double doors, I was ushered into the life center of what is emergency.

Bloods drawn, doctors, nurses, a nurse practitioner, registration. I lay quietly on the gurney in my own little cubicle, answering questions, being poked and prodded, feeling the blood pressure cuff huff its way tight on my arm.

It was so unexpectedly quiet.

And so was my mind. Unexpectedly. I just lay there and waited for the next thing. I have spent my life projecting all the “What if?” questions that I could think of in this kind of scenario. Not this night.

For the first time that I could think of, I was living in the present moment – the present minute – for hours on end. No fear. This was not like me. But I was really liking this new me, too. Grace had arrived.

A midnight CT scan of my heart revealed some signs of narrowing, restricting blood flow. (Oh, that’s why my last Nordic pole walk found me breathless and wondering if I could make it back home…!) The problem was my heart! Who knew?!

I was discharged late the next morning with a prescription for Imdur that acts like nitroglycerin, keeping my arteries open for freer blood flow. Monday was the first day that I could try out the new me. I did not cover myself with honor!

Calm, brave me had become skittish. “What if?” showed up again. I waited to see how the new drug would affect my blood pressure. The lovely “present moment” that I had found had been lost.  An imagined Martha, collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk, took over.

That night, I gave myself a talking to. I was tired of living with a dark cloud hanging over my head. This was not a dark cloud! This was a new opportunity to take ahold of life with some of that old gusto that I’d put in a closet weeks ago. 

I became bold as I fell asleep. But first, I gave this newly discovered heart of mine a name. I needed to befriend her.

Because my heart holds my mother close within, I gave her my mother’s high school and college nickname, “Gussie,” which came from her birth name, Gustuson. “Gussie” had guts. She was lively and free and loving and creative and it was she who taught me how to love with all my heart.  So Gussie it is.

When I launched myself into the sun Tuesday for my first walk, I said to this heart of mine which has served me for nearly 79 years, “Okay, Gussie, this is it! We’re in this together, kid!”

And she beat strong and firm as I strode with confidence, no longer in fear but in expectation. Every moment was the present moment; every step was the present step; every beat was a celebration of a renewed life that can now unfold. And I said, “Thank you, Gussie!”

The work that I have done since January to train my brain to live in the NOW had born fruit without my even realizing that it had arrived. Meditation of various kinds, spiritual contemplation and prayers,  listening to wise voices that invite life into this moment have carried me here without my realizing that it was growing, bit by bit. Arriving at just the right moment. You know how that goes, right?

I’ve turned over a new leaf, my heart and I. Even the pandemic no longer has me in its grip. I will live carefully and watchfully, but no longer in fear. For now, I am well. I am happy. I am content. I am excited about the life I have.

I am gaining a Cardiologist next week. I rather feel as if I’ve “arrived”! Only an elder would say that.

The future comes, but not before its time. My heart and I have plenty to do in every present.

And Gussie and I are very okay with that!