A man can very easily become institutionalized. After close to two months of living at Tampa General Hospital, I experienced this reality. My normal was that someone was assigned to take care of me in twelve hour shifts. Every couple of hours someone would come in and check my vitals. When the medicine on my IV tree was running low, someone would show up and change it. If I wanted to get up, someone came to help me. All of my meals were brought to my room. Any time I had a need I simply pushed a button and someone showed up. I found myself in a new normal of being totally cared for. Now, understand that this wasn’t the Ritz, but all in all, I was very well cared for. I settled into my new routine and it became my new normal.
In a blink of an eye I found myself at home. No vitals every couple of hours. No twelve hour shifts of care-givers. No permission needed to get up. No meals delivered to my room. It was just Michelle and I and our dog Dooney. It was just our big comfy couch and our comfortable bed. It was just our shower and our kitchen. It was glorious, but it was also a new normal. Change is hard. Even though I had come home ten days after a heart transplant in wonderful health, I found myself having to adjust to my new, non-institutional, normal. I found myself asking Michelle for permission to do everything. I found myself afraid to do some things out of the concern that I would hurt myself. After all, I couldn’t get out of bed without someone present and now I was able to do whatever I wanted to do. I had to adjust to a new normal.
My thoughts turned to people who spent a great deal more time in the hospital than I did. I thought of an inmate who had spent their entire life in prison, just to finally get parole and have no idea how to live as a free person. I thought of all the simple pleasures of living in my own home, with my own schedule, making decisions on my own as to how I will spend my time during a normal day. All of the things I had taken for granted for fifty two years, were now a treat. Just getting up off of the couch and walking across the house to use the bathroom was such a blessing. Not just because of the fact that I wasn’t able to do something so simple in the hospital, but also, as I walked across my house, I felt a young, healthy heart beating in my chest. I looked down and my ankles weren’t swollen. I didn’t have a medicine pump in a fanny pack around my waste. I had a new life.
There it is. I had a new life and part of this reality scared the you-know-what out of me. The other part made me cry because of how happy I was. These two realities battled inside of me and I came to realize the source for my fear of change. I fear change in those times when I am living between two normals. I was living between the normal of my former life and the normal of my new life. I had one foot in the patterns of a life lived by a man who has heart failure. My other foot was in the life of a man who has a new heart. The former I knew very well. I had daily medicine changes, no showers just baths, weekly dressing changes for my port, no salt in my diet because of water retention and being out of breath when walking. The latter I knew nothing about. I am like Pinocchio, for I have no strings, no fanny pack of medicine, no water retention, but I do have medically induced diabetes, the shakes and cramping as a result of some of my medications, and a whale of an appetite. Most of which will be changing in the months to come as my medications get balanced out. I have to avoid physical contact with people, outside of my family. I have to wear a mask when I am around crowds. I have to sit away from people at a restaurant and above all, I have to constantly wash my hands. Here is the kicker, everyday that I live into my new normal I realize that I am one day closer to having to adjust my life to another new normal sometime in the future.
When you are young, change just slides off your back like water off of a duck. This is because when you are young you embrace the reality that change is life. When you are young, your body, your job, where you live, the friends you make, the money you earn, the routines that you develop all change in the blink of an eye. When you get older and settled into your ways, you begin to find comfort in your normal. Thus, when you encounter a new normal, especially one that is not of your choice, it manifests fear. It is in these times that I thank God for my faith. I thank God that my identity, my being, isn’t defined by my normal. If I didn’t have my faith in Jesus as the basis of my life, my identity, the foundation of who I am, I would be tossed about like a wave on the shore in the midst of my changing normal. I have come to appreciate the fact that I am a child of God, no matter what my normal. This doesn’t mean that I don’t experience fear in the face of change, but when I do I have my faith to lean on and remind me that I am so much more than any new normal. I have learned that regardless of what life hands me, I will always be a child of God. And that has given me all the comfort I need in my new normal.