Editor's Note: Jillayn Hey, a Mayo Clinic patient from LaCrosse, WI, sent this story via email.
I recently read an article titled; "Want to Heal? Tell Your Story. Narrative medicine boosts our bodies and souls", Utne Reader (Sept.-Oct. 2009). The basis of the article is that through telling our personal stories of illness and disease, we assist in creating a new story of wellness that facilitates healing and in turn directs a person towards recovery. This is just one aspect that "Sharing Mayo Clinic" provides. It is not only an opportunity for many patients and perhaps future patients to tell their unique stories to work their way towards health but it also provides a voice for its employees to share parts of their daily work which I know must include joy and sorrow as some of us become well and some of us unfortunately do not. In my opinion, this is just another area that Mayo is ahead of the curve in caring for its patients and obviously their employees as well. That said, here is my story:
I was a patient at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in March, 2009. I had minimally invasive robotic surgery to repair my mitral valve which had become so leaky that it had been actively causing damage to other areas of my heart for a long time. Learning that I needed surgery to repair my valve came as a big surprise to me. Although I had been experiencing many symptoms for several years, I still felt very conflicted about surgery, yet in the end, after Dr. Suri explained that it was safe and that a repair was in fact durable, I knew it would provide the best possible outcome for me. Recently, I came across my discharge summary from my surgery and hospital stay at St. Marys. One statement has stuck out above all of the medical jargon written by the surgeons and various nurses who cared for me, and that is this; "patient's stay was unremarkable". Well, although things went fairly smoothly after a difficult surgery, I would like to say that there was nothing unremarkable about my experience with Mayo.
From the moment I arrived on the morning of surgery I felt cared for. I use the term care because it best describes the actions and attitudes of the staff at Mayo. Knowing that I would have my heart operated on was very difficult for me. It is the center of me where all of my feelings reside. I felt overly protective of my heart and even though I had decided to go through with surgery, I was still so nervous. However, shortly after being checked in, I spent time with a nurse who sensing my anxiety, was so reassuring and nurturing that I was immediately able to let my guard down and relax. This was so helpful in transforming my overall attitude prior to surgery. I can't remember her name but I will always remember her face. She was the first in a long line of people to care for me during my stay there. This was something I didn't expect.
When I awoke from surgery it was late in the night. I was scared and in pain and I felt like I had tubes and lines everywhere. The ICU nurse was so compassionate and he obviously understood how exposed and vulnerable I felt. During the night, he continually reached out to me and again cared for me with the utmost dignity and respect. I remember feeling so fortunate to have been able to have this surgery there. I knew that I was in the best place possible. The care I received was remarkable. As the night progressed and I was able to identify where I felt pain and what was going on, I noticed something amazing; for the first time in over a decade, I did not feel pressure in my chest or feel my heart thumping away like it had for so long. I felt completely different amidst the pain and fogginess post surgery. I could not believe it! This too was remarkable.
I had surgery six months ago. As part of my recovery, I write this note from a beach in Mexico. My life is very different now. I am able to walk 5-7 miles per day and have even started running, well, jogging anyway. Six months ago, I could barely walk a mile without feeling like I had to sit down from feeling so winded and tired. This morning I ran four miles and I have a stamina that I have not known for a very long time. My repaired valve has given me a sense of well being that I never knew was possible. While I have mentioned all of the positive things I must also share that this has been very challenging both physically and emotionally. I have had to deal with infection, depression, and some other minor residual issues, but now, overall, I feel fantastic. I feel well.
I have experienced a fair amount of grief and loss in saying "goodbye" to my old self. It has required me to reconcile that for many years while I was symtomatic, I missed out on a lot of things. I didn't realize how awful I felt until I didn't feel that way any longer. This too has been part of the process of healing and recovery; feeling sad for what has been lost as well as letting go of the fear that I felt deep inside about my health. For me, I have had to weed my way through some sadness and tears to get to where I am now. I continue to look for the balance between remembering what was and appreciating living in the moment.
Dr. Suri and his team did something extraordinary for me when they repaired my mitral valve which has made an incredible difference in the quality of my life. In his concern and care for my overall wellness, he also encouraged me to make some very necessary lifestyle changes which I have been able to do in part because of my repaired valve. Now, I am finally keeping up with my four, very energetic kids. For me, this has all been very remarkable and these people at Mayo have been woven into my story.
Today I try to look forward as much as possible and as I approach my 41st birthday I am filled with gratitude to those at Mayo who cared for me so generously. They too are remarkable!
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