It didn’t get old. I was still very much amused the third time I deposited a stack of postcards emblazoned with an illustration of the heart pulled from my chest seven months prior. Last February, I mailed 75 graphic Valentine’s Day cards to friends throughout the country. I dropped them off at various post offices in California and then some in Washington while I was visiting Seattle. I giggled, thinking about all the mail carriers who would be sorting through the cards and wondering what sick girl had sent them.
I stopped enjoying Valentine’s Day when I aged out of the elementary school tradition of crafting handmade cards for every student in the class. The process guaranteed that each of us would receive as many valentines as there were students in the class. In middle school and high school, it became clear that some of my peers received more symbols of affection than others. More specifically, the “popular girls” got a lot more chocolate than I did. Now, as the owner of a second heart, I feel as if I can lay some claim to a day all about hearts.
Though I didn’t have a romantic valentine last year, I did have a brand new heart that I take every opportunity to celebrate. Sending out cards was a way to thank a portion of my countless supporters, many of whom I lost touch with during the long and isolating recovery from surgery. Now when I visit friends, I often see the postcard I sent them tacked on a wall or fridge.
This Valentine’s Day, I didn’t get my act together in time to put more anatomical hearts in the mail, but I’ve been working on some good one-liners to put in a card for my boyfriend. My friend, Leilani, who had a heart transplant five months before my heart-lung transplant (and writes her own awesome blog) suggested, “I’d say you stole my heart, but too late,” or, “You make my heart swell — cut it out.”
Really, the possibilities are endless. It turns out having a heart transplant can be pretty versatile for all sorts of groan-inducing jokes (my mom doesn’t know what a “dad joke” is, so this explanation is for her). Though I didn’t get to keep the physical remains (would have made the best wedding gift ever, right?), I have images of my birth heart in various states — right after surgery and then in dissected pieces weeks later. Years of material for more gruesome valentines.
I can’t remember a single clinic visit with my family when we didn’t laugh. No matter how long the wait or how somber the prognosis, we find something funny about the experience. Sometimes the funniest part is just how bad everything is going. Once, while I was gurgling and swallowing lidocaine in preparation for an endoscopy, a nurse started telling me everything would be much better because of it. I gave my mom a pointed look of disgust. My mom burst out laughing, and then, unable to resist, I started laughing too. Another nurse peeked her head behind the curtain and jocularly asked if we had been drinking. I nodded, looking down at my cup of viscous numbing medication.
For me, being sick is more tolerable with a sick sense of humor. I have to find ways to laugh, even when my world is dark and gruesome. Thankfully, my friends and family help me do that, and I love them double for it. (Get it? Two hearts?) Creativity and humor are what keep me going, and Valentine’s Day with a transplanted heart is a great opportunity for both. Happy Heart Day!
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