Our Daniel's Heart community is grateful to share a glimpse into the first family we were able to help when we became a charity! Robert and Jeanette have spent the last year (almost to the day) persevering since Robert's heart attack that forever altered their life. They've so vulnerably shared their journey with us one year later and I encourage you to take heart as you read and also give praise to God for the answered prayers and for preserving Robert's life.
Day #365 one year since discharge!
Day #547 since his heart attack
We learned early on in Robert’s journey that for every day spent in bed, it takes 3 to 5 days to recover. He was in hospital beds for 182 days.
Multiply 182 by 3 (the minimum) = 546 days and multiply 182 by 5 (the maximum) = 910 days. He has just passed the minimum and he’s not recovered yet. That is, he has not yet “returned to the state of health, mind and strength” he was in when this journey started.
Hopefully sometime long before Day #910 he will!
Recovery. is. hard. work.
The word recovery means the “process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.” Robert lost a lot: a lot of muscle mass (17% to be exact) and with that comes a loss of strength and balance. Robert’s hard work to regain what he lost has paid off with great gains. I’m glad I have video of his first efforts to walk after many months in bed. The clips remind me of where he started and I can see the great progress he has made.
Robert’s recovery included round after round of physical therapy. That was followed by aquatic physical therapy. He really prefers exercise in the pool over walking the streets, mostly because he has painful neuropathy in both feet. When he graduated from all his rehab therapies, he began going to our aquatic center 3-4 times a week to exercise on his own. It takes a long time to rebuild muscle, but after many months I can actually see the improvement in strength when he stands up. He is quicker and more stable versus the struggle it had been. Now our pool has been shut down for almost 6 weeks due to the virus so he is back out to the street to walk his couple of blocks.
Meanwhile, in August, he was sent to a pulmonologist to explore why he had repeated respiratory failure during his hospitalization. Turns out his airways are narrowed so that he only gets between 45-55% of what should be his normal capacity. Short of breath is his new normal. This too has greatly affected his rate of recovery.
February was our biggest challenge so far. Robby came home from work sick one day. It was a nasty virus that I picked up several days later and then Robert started coughing a few days after I became ill. Within about 12 hours, his oxygen was dropping low enough to put him in distress. I took him to ER where we spent over 5 hours while he received numerous nebulizer treatments and a steroid injection.
This was our first time back inside a hospital since his discharge. Can you say, PTSD? When his oxygen meter started alarming and his blood pressure monitor was beeping, I felt all the feels of being back in his ICU room. Talk about déjà vu. Déjà vu is “the feeling that one has lived through the present situation before.” The phrase translates literally as "already seen". Yep, I’d already seen it all. As it took about a week for his oxygen levels to stabilize and another 6 weeks or so to get over the cough, these were rough times for me and our kids. We all were triggered and sent backwards in our own recoveries. I think even Robert got a clearer picture of how very compromised his health really is. He was just getting over his cough when quarantine arrived with the threat of the coronavirus.
Physical recovery can be measured objectively, whereas emotional and mental recovery is more challenging to even recognize the loss, let alone any progress. Physical loss becomes mental and emotional loss because there are new limits. And limits are so, well, limiting. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not very good at accepting new limits. We were learning the limits of quarantine long before any virus had showed up. Recovery from a lengthy medical crisis is a quarantine of its own sort. I have heard repeatedly that this current quarantine is a “clarifying” experience. It helps us see more clearly our true selves, including our selfishness, fears, insecurities, priorities, and all the other areas where we are lacking. This describes the journey I’ve been on as a caregiver for this past year. A journey of self-discovery. It’s not for the faint of heart. Honestly, caregiving is a lot like bringing that newborn baby home. Suddenly, another person is calling all the shots.
Though I’ve made a lot of progress in becoming more emotionally healthy, there still is a temptation to pretend that everything is okay, to hide failure and weakness. I share here in hopes that someone else can begin to live in truth without hiding in shame for fear others will think less of them in their weakness. It is hard to lose independence, the freedom to come and go and set your own agenda. To be the one who drives everywhere, loads and unloads everything (including his walker) and puts things away.
It is even harder to admit how quickly I tire of serving, of doing the same things over and over. To admit that sometimes my anger builds as I realize I most likely will continue to do these things the rest of our life together. To admit that my endurance runs out faster than recovery happens. In the last year, I have been reminded over and over and over that I fall short. I have my own limits of strength, energy and patience. I can’t fix this.
But I have learned that limits serve a good purpose. Limits limit for the very purpose to remind us that, though made in His image, we are not God. I want to be strong; I don’t want to be weak or admit my faults. Somewhere along life, we believed the lie that we have more value if we can take care of ourselves. Solve our own problems. Not be dependent or ask for help. We are tempted to believe, as Adam and Eve did, that we can control life in God-like ways.
It has taken days, weeks and months for me to get to a place where I’m willing to let go of my plan and yield to God’s plan. Living with new limits long term is bringing me towards a place of humility, a place of acceptance that in reality I control very little.
I’ve defined humility as an elusive characteristic that emerges after going through lots of humbling experiences. I have been humbled by learning that my selfishness goes much deeper than I realized. I have been challenged to trust God at deeper levels than ever before. By embracing my limits and accepting the new limits we have on our lives, I have found rest and peace and been able to be fully present one day at a time.
Humility shows up when we embrace our limits and so does God’s grace.
Humility shows up when we are grateful for limits that make us more dependent on the
One who invites us to trust Him.
Humility shows up when we remember that Robert’s life hung in the balance week after week after week in ICU. Based on his complications, he should have died but God spared him.
I’m humbled that God has given us a full year of recovery, a year of learning the value of limits.
Thanks for joining us on this journey with Robert.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6
Jesus says, “…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3-4
To read more about Robert's health journey, visit: https://danielian5.wixsite.com