A Resolution to Keep Celebrating the Small Things
I was hospitalized following my heart-lung transplant in 2018 One of the biggest emotional burdens was experiencing the passage of time, which was most notably marked by the holidays. Halloween was first, quickly rolling into Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. These were all difficult days spent with my immediate family, who made a tremendous effort to travel across the country to be with me.
My setbacks were serious and frequent, and I was making very little progress toward a life away from a hospital bed, which made each significant date devastating in one way or another. But the hardest holiday was New Year’s.
I distinctly remember waking up around 1 a.m. because my ventilator alarm triggered. My nurse entered the room to check on it. “Oh, you’re awake!” she said quietly, seeing my open eyes by the light of the machines surrounding me. She checked her watch before whispering, “Happy New Year!”
I offered her a small smile, unable to speak due to my trach. She exited once the machine beside me had settled, and I glanced around the empty hospital room. My mom was sleeping a few miles away in our rented house in Palo Alto, California, and the rest of my loved ones were back home in Minnesota.
I was struggling with prolonged bleeding in my newly transplanted lungs, and I was still so weak that I could not even push myself up in bed. It seemed impossible that these months of tragedy were rolling into the next year. I had never felt so helpless or alone.
The approach of a new year can be thrilling, but it’s also daunting for those who feel stagnant. In my fifth month of hospitalization with no indication of discharge coming soon, this feeling was magnified to an excruciating extent. But I’m feeling the echoes of it still.
COVID-19 has isolated me once again and stilled my life in new ways. Plus, my health is struggling amid winter, which is becoming an annual recurrence. All of these setbacks trigger the trauma that lives in me from that time. As I view many people’s highlight reels of the year on social media, it’s hard not to feel like my life is lacking so much of what I had hoped for when going into transplant.
Still, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come. In viewing a photo from Christmas Eve this year, my mom and I noted that I look the most like myself since transplant. Three years later, and I’m still recovering those pieces of personhood that were lost, rejoicing with each step I take as I move on with my life.
It all serves as such a profound lesson — both the time I’ve gained in this fight, and the perspective I get to choose through it all. And although there is grief in what has been lost, there is also rich joy in celebrating the smallest of things. I truly can find myself in the middle of a cup of coffee, or a good belly laugh with a friend, marveling at how wonderful this life is, and how fortunate I am to be living it. To sleep in my own bed and to feel even remotely comfortable in my body again are rare luxuries I do not take for granted. I’m so grateful to know the spectrum of it all.
I’m not sure yet how I will be spending New Year’s, but I do know that, barring some major misfortune, I will not be spending it in a hospital. Instead, I’ll be eating good food while reading or maybe doing a puzzle, with close family nearby. It’s difficult to articulate the visceral relief this provides me, in contrast to those past months.
I’m not much of a New Year’s resolution person, but I will work hard to keep celebrating these little joys as long as I have them. Even in this season of compromise and sacrifice, these personal victories are so greatly cherished, given where I’ve been.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.