The Illness of Isolation

This is a very big day in the Miller house.  One year ago today, at approximately 5 pm, a doctor entered my room at Tampa General Hospital and asked me some awkward questions about my height and why I was in the hospital.  After he left my room my nurse hurried back in and asked me what the doctor had told me.  Since the doctor hadn’t told me anything, I had nothing to share.  My nurse then informed me that Vitamin K had been ordered, which would counteract the effects of my blood thinner.  This is the first step that would be taken to prepare me for transplant.  An hour later it was official when a Transplant Coordinator came into my room with the paperwork.  I would be receiving the gift of a new heart the following morning.

Yesterday I returned to the scene of, not the crime, but the miracle, for my one year appointment.  Oh, how the world has changed in one year!  Last year, as I spent six weeks in the hospital waiting for a heart, I enjoyed regular visits from my family and countless friends.  I was able to walk around the cardiac critical care unit whenever I wanted and I was even able to occasionally leave the unit and sit in a surgical waiting room overlooking Tampa Bay.  When the time came for my transplant, my entire family was there to send me off and was waiting for my when I woke up.  My wife and daughters were able to be with me every single moment of the ten days that I needed to recover.

My heart goes out to anyone going through a a medical situation right now.  For yesterday my wife had to drop me off outside of the hospital.  I was the only one allowed to enter the facility.  And I could only enter after testing negative for COVID-19, having my temperature taken and answering several questions.  I waited in a weirdly redesigned waiting room, because everyone had to stay six feet apart.  It was a silent place because everybody was alone and all masked up.  I never realized how much personal expression of humanity is lost when you can only see someone’s eyes.  Many people didn’t know what to do and required special assistance because they had nobody with them to help navigate the process. Then there was the one staff person whose sole job was to constantly circle the area and disinfect every surface that anyone touched.  It was a little surreal as I watched all of this from behind my mask.

After I meet with a nurse. did my vitals and had an EKG I was sent to another part of the hospital to have an echo.  Getting from the Transplant Clinic to my echo was a trip that I had made several times before, but this time the route was very different.  I had to exit the building I was in and make my way to the main entrance to the hospital. I stood outside the entrance as I waited for my turn to have my temperature taken again and another visitor pass to replace the one that was already stuck to my chest.  This one declared that I was clear to enter the hospital.  As I waited in this line several people pulled up and dropped off loved ones, said good bye at the curb and watched as they entered the queue.  My heart went out to one daughter who was dropping off her elderly father and asking the hospital attendant, that met them with a wheelchair, to make sure that someone calls her when he was done because he gets easily confused.  I will never forget watching her pulling away blowing kisses as her father looked so frail and little in his wheelchair.

The thing that most of us don’t consider, when it comes to COVID-19, is that this virus is not only dangerous to older people and others with compromised immune systems, but that it is a virus that causes anyone who is dealing with any health issue to be isolated.  There is nothing worse than being sick, except being sick and alone.  I would have probably gone crazy if I had to spend six weeks in the hospital with no visitors.  My recovery would have taken so much longer if I would have had to struggle through the days after my transplant all alone.  It was the loving support and constant presence of my family that gave me the get-up-and-go that I needed to push through the physical and mental challenges that come with a heart transplant.  All I could think about yesterday, as I laid all alone in recovery after my procedure, is how sad it is for all of the people in this hospital and hospitals around the world, that are all alone in the time that they need personal connection the most.

As we think about this pandemic, as we think about racism, as we think about the economy, as we think about the upcoming elections, as we think about the future, we are being forced to think about connections.  Isolation is horrible when it comes to illness, race relations, the economy, politics and the future.  Yet, isolation is what so many of us are experiencing right now.  May we all join together and pray for connection.  May we pray for connection for all of the people in our world who are suffering alone through any kind of illness.  May we pray for connection for all of the people who look at the color of someone’s skin, or the color of someone’s uniform, and make a harsh judgement of them as people.  May we pray for connection for all of the people who are seeking employment.  May we pray for connection for all of the people who feel disconnected from our political system.  May we pray for connection for all of the people in our world who don’t see any light right now.