It has been three weeks since my heart transplant and everything is going very well. I have had three successful biopsies which show no rejection of my new heart. Yes, there are side effects to all the medications that I am taking like shaking, insomnia and in my case everything making me cry. Yes, I am temporarily a diabetic and checking my blood and giving myself insulin shots several times a day is a pain. And yes, having to stay away from sugar and carbs is presenting myself with a dietary challenge. Yet, all in all I have nothing about which to complain compared to the gift of life that I have received. I feel very good for someone who had a heart transplant a little over three weeks ago.
With all of this good news brings with it a new found security and confidence that life can and will go on and at some point I will be “normal” again. To that end, Michelle and I decided this week that it was time for us to venture outside the friendly confines of our private sanctuary. Up to this week the only time I left my house was to go to Tampa General for my weekly biopsy. So, we took the step to attempt little trips just to test out the waters. We started with a visit to my dad. I talk to my dad everyday on the phone and he did manage to make it up to Tampa one day while I was waiting for my new heart. Other than that brief visit my dad had not laid his eyes on me for over a month. So, One afternoon we headed over for a visit.
Whenever I ride in a car, for the first six weeks after transplant, I have to ride in the back because I can’t risk being in the front seat if the air bag deploys in an accident. That would be very bad news for my yet unhealed sternum. So, driving over to my father’s house was very different as I sat in the back watching the world go by. I was still a little foggy on this day, which sometimes happens, so the visit wasn’t very long. I found myself feeling tired shortly into the visit, which was followed by anxiousness, which was quickly followed by needing to exit. It was nice to see my dad, but when it was time to go I had to go. By the time we got home about all I could muster was the strength to get on the couch and take a nap. Outing number one, short and sweet, but a success.
Outing number two came a few days later. This one was a little bigger, but I wasn’t feeling as foggy on this day, so we went for it. Michelle and I headed down to The Service Club Beach, in Venice to watch the sunset. We picked this beach because it has a large board walk with several isolated picnic tables that would insure that I could keep a safe distance from people. This distance would allow me to steer clear of germs, of which I am a huge germ-a-fob right now. With the amount of immune suppressants and steroids that I am on I can very easily catch a common cold that could send me back into the hospital. We found the perfect spot, I pulled out my phone and put on my “Key West Day Dreaming” playlist and we just sat there and soaked up the beauty of a Gulf of Mexico sunset.
Then it happened. A gentleman was walking back up the boardwalk from the beach after the sun had gone down and he heard my playlist. He came over to our picnic table to talk to us because he had lived in Key West most of his life and he recognized the music. Now here I am faced with my biggest fear, a stranger who is breaking my safety bubble and all I could think about is if he is feeling a little tickle in his throat or did he take cold medicine today because he woke up with a fever. He was a very nice man who spoke with us for a few minutes and then moved on. Yet, I don’t think I took a breath the whole time he talked with us. We waited for a few more minutes and then we made our way back to our car. Outing number two, a little longer with one little hick-up, but another success.
On the fourth of July Michelle and I decided to go big or go home. So, we went to see an afternoon showing of the movie about Elton John called “Rocket Man”. We figured it would be a pretty safe time to go, one because it is Venice and the movie theater is never crowded and two, it was the Fourth of July and most people would be out doing other things. Even with all of this rationalization, this was still a big step for us. We packed up all of my medications, we brought all of my insulin supplies and yes (don’t tell anyone) I stashed diabetic snacks in Michelle’s purse and simply bought a bottle of water to drink. I steered clear of anyone as Michelle bought the tickets and the drinks. There were only about five other people in the theater with us so we sat all the way up front away from everyone. Michelle brought her antiseptic wipes and cleaned off the seats and we settled in for the movie.
Everything was going smoothly until about half way through the movie when I had to go to the bathroom. I sat and sat and thought and thought, can I make it until we get home? The answer was a resounding NO! So, I leaned over and announced to Michelle, as if I was heading out to explore the darkest regions of the Congo, that I was heading to the bathroom. Down the long hallway I went and then out to the public restroom. I stood at the entrance for a moment because this would be my first venture into such a place as this since leaving the hospital. I must have looked a little crazy as I stood there contemplating what I was about to encounter. I breathed deep, went in, did my business, washed my hands and back to my seat I went. As I settled back in a sense of accomplishment came over me, like I had just passed a major test. When the movie ended we simply sat there until the credits ended and the lights came back up as to insure that we would be the last people leaving the theater. As we walked out to the lobby we were greeted by a theater employee who presented us with a free gift of chocolate covered pretzels as a Fourth of July thank you gift for coming to the movies. I held that little bag of chocolate covered pretzels as if it were some kind of trophy. Outing number three, a lot longer and riskier, but another success.
Never before have we had to think about the things that we encountered in these small outings this week. This whole heart transplant thing has certainly given us a new perspective on life. It is amazing how much mental energy it takes right now to simply go out into public. I know that this will get better as time goes on and I heal up and my medicines gets balanced out, but for right now we celebrate the simple things. And if I can leave you with one closing thought, from my somewhat skewed current perspective. Please make sure that you try to stay away from public areas when you are feeling sick and at the very least, don’t ever leave a bathroom without washing your hands! All of us immune suppressed people trying to venture out into some sense of normalcy thank you.