As I drove home from an unsuccessful cardiac rehabilitation session, I was reminded how many times I have been on the road to recovery. With more than 15 plus surgeries, you would think I would get used to the fact that I am never ‘normal’ and whatever is ‘normal’ when someone is recovering is probably not going to be my experience because of the many different circumstances that I’ve endured. I’m complicated and therefore my recovery requires tweaks that aren’t per the usual.
I don’t know why I would assume things would go smoothly this time around when they haven’t ever really been that way in the past. But I did, which probably explains the tears of frustration on the ride home from what should have been my first ‘workout’ since the open heart surgery to replace my deformed aortic valve.
Long story short, due to my lymph node removal from the breast cancer surgeries, taking my blood pressure requires that it’s done on my leg and not the usual arm. But the cardiac rehabilitation people weren’t used to doing it that way. I encounter this often, so I am used to teaching them how to put the cuff on my leg and taking my blood pressure. But for whatever reason, every time they took my blood pressure it was sky high – once it showed 208/117 which if you know anything about blood pressure, this is super duper high. Because during the rehab session, the nurses need to take your BP a total of 4 times, this wouldn’t work since I couldn’t even get a decent reading to begin any type of exercise.
As any breast cancer survivor who has had many (or all) lymph nodes removed in both arms, blood pressure readings can’t be done in the usual way on your arm because of the threat of lymphedema. Therefore it’s taken on your lower leg. But I’ve learned that when you take the BP on your leg, the numbers are usually higher. Cardiac rehab requires your blood pressure to be under a certain number in order to begin the workout. Mine, as you can imagine, is not within range.
I get a certain ‘white coat syndrome’ every once in awhile when I’m going for my twice yearly tumor marker check up with the oncologist and my blood pressure can spike, but after the blood draw, it usually subsides. I’m not good with blood draws or needles of any kind. I tend to almost faint which isn’t fun. Not for the clinician, nor for me. You’d think I’d be used to it by now being that it’s been part of my routine for over 20 years, but my body has her own mind and does what she wants. Now that I know it’s a heart thing, there’s not much I can do about it. Just ride the wave…stay afloat and keep going.
I was trying on fall clothes the other day with my sister. The scars on my chest are very visible as any open heart surgery survivor knows. Perhaps they’ll soften over time like the others, but in the meantime, they’re raised, angry red and obvious. Much of my clothing is v-necked which shows my latest scar. She was baffled that I would wear something that might show a bit of my scar instead of covering up to hide what’s happened to me. But it’s all a part of me. The tracks of my tears, my experiences and I don’t want to hide anymore. I want to help. I want to be comfortable being me.
Perhaps people will find it ugly to see my scar. That’s ok. Because lucky for them, they’re not me. They don’t have to live with it or the constant pain. But me, well, I’m on the road to recovery…one baby step at a time…