As you can see from my last entry, it’s over three weeks now since my stroke in the motel room in Puyallup, Washington. An alarming time for me, then, with little sense of what the future might look like or even if I had a future. The last words of the ER doctor before I departed the Puyallup hospital were in the form of warning. I was putting myself at “high risk” traveling back home by car at this critical time. A few days later, my cardiologist repeated the warning. Given my age and the condition of my heart, I was putting myself at “high risk” again by not taking a blood thinner, particularly now with new blood thinners on the market. This time I agreed. Pradaxa seemed an improvement over the last generation of blood thinners like Warfarin, Besides, this time around I had a much clearer idea of my heart health. Caused by weakness, or lack of resilience, of the anterior wall of my heart along with some atrial fibrillation, my heart has been operating at about half efficiency. The combination of the two prevents the blood from circulating completely through my body leaving some of the blood to pool in the heart, increasing the chances of a clot.
Having made what for me was a major medical decision – the blood thinner – my challenge now is to take even better care of my heart, giving it every chance to repair itself to the extent possible. I’m told its efficiency can be improved another 10 %. If I understand the information my pacemaker records every three months, incidences of atrial fibrillation are infrequent, a good sign. I’m also planning to have an angiogram within the next three months to check the arteries leading to my brain. And, then, my partner, Sherry, watches me carefully, making sure I rest frequently and reside in space relatively free of stress or tension. And, of course, we’re both paying attention to what we eat and how we choose to spend our time which for us is defined in terms of good music, good books and films and interesting conversations between ourselves and with others. Our time together is largely one of contentment and consequently promotes healing at every level. So I could not be in a better place as I go about getting used to these new limitations. For one thing, I don’t have much energy. I tire quickly, Getting myself to walk now is a major challenge where before I never thought twice about it and actually looked forward to long walks on a daily basis. Secondly, the act of walking is trickier. I feel less steady and less sure-footed. In addition, my left foot is numb from a previous operation. When I start hiking I will use my trekking poles. So far, walking around town hasn’t required an aid of any kind. I did walk the forest lands with Sherry near Sherry’s house Sunday afternoon (our one-year anniversary). The one and a half miles felt okay. Trekking poles worked but could probably do without them.
Another change for me following the stroke has been my view of the future. I’m still planning to dance with my partner, Sherry, to the music of a live band at my 100th birthday, but now the odds have shifted a little with new info about my heart. It’s not the high-functioning pump I thought it was. Death’s been around the corner, out of sight most of the time, but now it’s just down the block, a little ahead of me. Still, there’s little fear involved either way. the best thing I can do for my own peace of mind is to make certain my own affairs are in order. The thought of leaving friends behind makes me sad, of course, particularly my new-found joy, Sherry Chavers. She is the epitome of the woman I’ve looked for all these years, truly my beloved. But even this sadness its offset by the gratitude I feel for having found her. My recent poem “Beloved” gets at how I feel about our relationship. Even as I write this, she is making room for me in her home, clearing a closet and creating wall space.
My view about death has been changing irrespective of my heart condition. Here’s something I wrote recently regarding the death of a good friend:
So, it’s the end of one adventure and the beginning of another for Tom, and for the rest of us. When Mary told me over the phone that Tom had died, she used the word “passed”. Tom had “passed” indicating his life was continuing in some fashion, that he had “graduated” into another dimension. I find this view easier to accept as I factor in the numerous “near death” experiences that others have written about and my own experience of sensing, now and then, God’s presence within. I work hard at being focused, letting God’s loving will work in my life, often failing, unable to keep my focus there for as long as I want, too easily distracted as I go about my day. Meditation helps. So do other practices. Out of this personal effort has emerged the notion that this practice of letting God’s love work in me actually makes it easy to accept that this consciousness will continue in some form after my body has stopped functioning and ceases to be. In some sense death, an end to one life, is a beginning of something new, an adventure that we may eagerly look forward to, knowing that whatever it is, it’s enveloped by God’s continuous love.