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My spiritual journey through surgery

After becoming a grateful heart transplant recipient in 2001, I never imagined I would have my chest cut open again, 16 years later. I recall (with incredible regret), an insensitivity I committed just a year or two after my transplant surgery. I was in the waiting room at the heart clinic for my semi-annual checkup when another woman, also a transplant recipient, was sharing how she might have to undergo another surgery. My reaction shot uncontrollably out of my mouth, “It will be worse a second time because you know what’s coming.” I immediately regretted my blurt, the poor woman already looked terrified enough. Suddenly the nurse called her name. Before I could regroup and apologize, she hurriedly ran into the clinic for her dreaded appointment. I thought about that comment a lot in the weeks prior to my second open heart surgery just 8 weeks ago on August 2nd. Quite unexpected, an aneurysm of the aortic root was discovered during my routine checkup. That, along with a severe leaky aortic valve meant another open-heart surgery. If I chose not to do the surgery, I would be at high risk for an irreparable rupture of my heart.

Parts & Repair It was all so surreal to receive this news because I had no symptoms. I felt fine. I had no symptoms prior to the surgery so it was challenging to convince myself that this was the right and necessary thing to do. “I feel great, so sure, go ahead and cut my chest open.” Somehow, I had to come to terms with that.

I knew the physical suffering that would ensue the first few weeks post-surgery. I had to let go. I had to trust the doctors, the imaging, the surgeon. I had to let go of control in every way. I had to call in favors from lots of people. Being so self-sufficient and independent, this was challenging and humbling. I finally found a moment to creep away into a private corner and cry. There was no way out, just surrender. After the waves of emotion ran through me, I felt a calm acceptance wash over me. I became very introverted. I couldn't watch or listen to anything aggressive. No more news, no YouTube, no conflicts. I encased myself with protection in every way I could to prepare myself for the act of aggression that would (I hoped) lead to my healing. My chest was about to be cut open...a very vulnerable experience. I felt like a turtle. I wanted only to cover myself with a protective shell, meditate and stay close to God.

Miraculously, I had a world class surgeon, my loving sister, a great team of support and just about everything one could want to make an exceedingly difficult situation as easy as possible. I entered the unknown. The morning of the surgery, Dr. Trento gave me a warm hug. "See you on the other side." I said, whatever side that would be, I didn't know. After the first 4 weeks of misery, anesthesia fog, and complete dependency on some very caring friends, I crawled my way back to health. Now two months post-surgery I feel amazingly well, am back to work seeing clients and immersed in cardiac rehab to rebuild muscle mass. It worked! To my surprise, recovery has been much easier this time. There’s no extreme immune suppression. I went under the knife in good health rather than in heart failure. My heart function is improved and my vitality reflects that. Lessons learned As always, I try to find the deeper meanings, the spiritual lessons and growth opportunities inherent in extreme life-threatening and survival situations. And this time, it’s no different, except to say the lessons feel rather ordinary. No gargantuan epiphanies, just a slow dawning of the state of the mental space between my ears and how I am “thinking” on a daily basis. I feel accepting of the fact that I absolutely do not have control over my destiny. As a result, I feel less fearful and at peace with things over which I have no control, including how others interpret my motivations. Whether I am “loved” or “hated” I feel more neutral and that is oddly relieving. We’re never alone The most challenging relationship for me is still the one with my Divine Beloved. Something feels slightly different there, too. During the first 5 days of post-surgery hell, I knew I was being held. I couldn’t feel it, I just knew. The knowing didn’t bring me any experiential highs. What it did provide - I didn’t feel alone. I didn’t feel a need to have a spiritual high. Knowing, I am not alone, was enough. That knowing is different. The desperation of needing a spiritual experience in order to have faith has lifted.

I remember a client once asked me, "Laura, how do you know what you believe in is true?"

I responded, "I don't. I only know how it makes me feel for believing it." What a relief.

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