After Open-Heart Surgery, I Chased a Lifelong Dream – Kveller
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After Open-Heart Surgery, I Chased a Lifelong Dream

My husband and I have shared a dream for nearly seven years—a dream that we’d someday own a shore house in Cape May, New Jersey.

The dream seemed unreachable, at least for the foreseeable future. It would be at least 10 years until my husband could consider retirement and we would (hopefully) be financially comfortable enough to take the plunge. It was far too early to throw our hat over the fence.

Yet, every time we’d go to the southernmost point of New Jersey and listen to the waves crashing on the beach, browse inside the quaint shops, and stroll by the big, beautiful, old Victorian mansions that give the magical town its unique personality, we’d talk about how amazing it would be to own our own little slice of heaven. “Someday, babe, someday,” he’d say. “We just need to be patient.”

And then a seemingly unrelated event took place that changed everything. In January I was diagnosed with a-fib and told I needed heart surgery.

Scheduled for early April, the somewhat routine surgery of repairing my mitral valve took a terrifying turn for the worse. After the surgery, a bleed occurred that the surgeon could not get under control. Several hours after the “minimally invasive” surgery (where they slice into the right side of your right breast rather than going in through the chest), I was rushed back for an emergency open-heart surgery.

While being transported to the O.R. on a gurney by the surgical team, I was dangerously close to death. Aware of what was happening, I felt surprisingly calm, though a sense of melancholy washed over me for my parents and husband who were anxious and worried they might lose me.

I survived the operation and the bleed was repaired, but with the addition of the emergency open-heart surgery, my healing time increased from a few months to six-to-12 months.

Now, nearly six months later, I’ve changed. I feel cheated, as if something’s been taken from me. Never again will I have my “perfect” unscathed body. I will always have scars and, unfortunately, probably a certain amount of pain. I’m lucky and grateful I’ve lived to tell the tale, but it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. It was supposed to be one relatively easy procedure. But as the Yiddish proverb goes, “Man plans and God laughs.”

The ordeal changed something in my husband as well. Normally, a patient man who does things at the right time when all the ducks are perfectly aligned, he had an epiphany. Though we’re both still relatively young, he became acutely aware of how fast the clock is ticking and that there are no assurances we’ll be able to do the things we dream of “sometime in the future.” This is common knowledge, though it’s not how most of us live. Rather, most of us prefer to wait until “someday” when we’ll have enough money or the kids will be grown or we’ll have the right job or we retire or…

Three months after my surgeries, we traveled again to our favorite place for the Fourth of July holiday weekend. I was still in a great deal of pain, but doing my best to powerfully move forward. At a bar at the hotel we were staying at directly across from the beach, something shifted in my husband. While enjoying cocktails and listening to a young, talented band doing excellent renditions from bands like the Grateful Dead and Neil Young and the Beatles (smart kids!), he had a breakthrough.

“We need to make this happen,” he said. “Sooner than later.” I knew what he meant, and I agreed. The following day we were planning, once again, to see a few properties with a local realtor who we’d been working with for well over a year. Whenever we were in Cape May, we’d drive around, look at properties for sale, and sometimes have her show us a few. This was supposed to be nothing more than another one of our “look and dream” endeavors.

In our realtor’s office, she shared pictures and information about the properties we’d see. We tempered any excitement we might be feeling, since we knew we weren’t ready to pull the trigger. We needed more money. We needed more time. But, that was OK. It had become our norm.

The first few properties looked good on paper, but didn’t “wow” us. The last house, a two-bedroom bungalow on a nice corner lot, seemed far too small. We almost didn’t bother seeing it, but our realtor convinced us to take a look since the home was in good shape and there wasn’t much else on the market.

Walking through the door, we instantly knew it was “the one.” My husband, who is not fond of parting with his money (nice way of saying he’s cheap), said, “Let’s do it!” It reminded me of words of wisdom my mom imparted years ago: “If you wait until you’re financially ready to have kids, you’ll never have them.”

Fast forward to today: We just returned from a week of fixing up our slice of heaven. Every decorating detail lovingly considered; each paint stroke carefully placed. The result is beyond our wildest dreams.

Tragedies can turn your world upside down, but they can also propel you to do things you didn’t think possible. At least “not yet.” One of the greatest things about this purchase is looking forward to spending quality time with our children (and hopefully in the not-too-distant future, grandchildren!) laughing, hugging, playing games together, hanging out at the beach, and building new memories.

I’m here to tell you dreams really can and do come true. Sometimes you just have to be brave enough to throw that proverbial hat over the fence.

Toss it. Go ahead. I dare you.

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