This morning, I awoke with a sense of relief since I did it without coughing or wheezing.
I felt rested and refreshed and ready to face a week filled with therapy clients, writing, and handling PR for two clients who have hired me to help get their projects out into the world—one a movie, the other a CD of kids’ music.
I am looking forward to a gathering of friends this Saturday, some whom I haven’t seen since the pandemic began. I am eager to celebrate my grandson’s one and a half year birthday on Sunday. When he turned one in January, it was a small party for immediate family. Now it will be outdoor play time for family and friends who adore Dean. Both events lift my spirits in anticipation. Both do my heart good.
When my head touched down on my pillow on Wednesday, I wasn’t feeling that way. It was as if a hulking creature was sitting on my chest, so that my lungs felt like an accordian that couldn’t expand to its full capacity. Wheezy, pennywhistle breathing, rib-shaking coughs. Uh-oh. It was a pattern I have lived with since I was a child diagnosed with asthma. At its worst, it had deteriorated to displacing ribs several times and lying in a hospital bed on oxygen with pneumonia in 2018. For weeks afterward, I slept in a recliner chair since I couldn’t lie flat.
I was not about to let that happen. I took a body-mind-spirit approach, looking at all the factors. It occurred to me that after a year and a half of mask wearing (despite being fully vaccinated), I took it off when we were on vacation in Rehoboth Beach. Apparently the face covering did more than keep COVID-19 at bay; it also kept away all other kind of germs as well, since I was in restaurants, stores, and on the boardwalk, sans mask.
My son noted that I was huffing and puffing when walking up even a slight incline and needed to lean on my grandson’s stroller and wagon when I was pushing it. I convinced myself that it was just good exercise, when it was also solid support for me.
I always seem to find a way to avoid appearing weak…at least in my mind. He admonished me for my reluctance to schedule an appointment with my cardioligist who I haven’t seen since 2019 when I took a stress test that did not please me, as my endurance had taken a dive since the last time I triumphed, being able to stay on the treadmill for 12 minutes.
Two years ago, I lasted maybe three minutes and needed to have an injection to stimulate the heart rate I would have had if I had been able to keep the pace. Seriously bummed out after five years of workouts that included structured cardiac rehab and then my own routine at a gym and in the past year and a half in my living room turned gym.
I had myself convinced that I was sailing along smoothly, no longer identifying as a cardiac patient. After my son threatened to call my sister, who had two heart attacks and was diagnosed with COPD, to compel me to schedule an appointment with my heart doc, I did. An additional boost came from a friend who himself has had heart attacks, open heart surgery, a stroke, and cancer, and is still living to tell about it.
In a recent phone call when I told him I was resistant to carry the label of cardiac patient, he said, “Buddy, you will always be a cardiac patient.” I realized at that moment, it doesn’t need to rule my life, but instead, inform and guide it. I need to ask myself daily, “Will this make my heart happy?”
I have noticed that since early 2020, I have become more of a homebody, of necessity. I have been working from my dining room table, seeing clients via telehealth. I have been socializing on Facetime. I have attended workshops, gatherings, and spiritual services on Zoom. I have not facilitated Cuddle Party and offered FREE HUGS events.
I have learned how to take care of my own touch needs since, until recently, I haven’t been around others. While I miss social interaction at times, I have also said no to invitations I would have usually jumped at. This past Saturday, I was invited to an annual (clothing optional) beach gathering that I had gone to a few times. The thought of traversing hot sand while wheezing and then hacking my brains out was not appealing. The other (which ended up being rained out) was a pool party. Instead, on my Physician Assistant’s recommendation, I lounged in bed, taking antibiotics, cough meds, and my immune-stimulating supplements, while staying hydrated. There was a whole lot of luxurious napping going on.
Yesterday, feeling ever so much better, I ventured to the Bucks-Mont Pride Fest in my area where I meandered the grounds of The Abington Arts Center, listened to music, ate my favorite spinach pizza from Jules, hugged a few people (not the 100s I might have in the “before times,” since I am pacing myself). I met Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta who is running for the senate, along with his partner, Dr. Matt Miller and definitely hugged them.
What occurred to me for the 50 gazillionth time, is that these turns of the calendar pages have brought with them the gift of slowing my pace and helping me to catch my breath. I also catch myself saying things like, “I’m going to jump in the shower,” or “grab lunch.” Instead, with conscious awareness, I say that I am going to enjoy a shower or a meal. My pace has slowed dramatically. Sometimes I fear that aging is slowing me down, which I fight mightily. I much prefer making it a conscious choice.
I am learning to breathe out the past and all of its expectations and baggage, which I have toted for too long, and breathe in the present moment, with its infinite possibilities. I am slowing down to let life catch up with me.
“What can we do but keep on breathing in and out, modest and willing, and in our places?” ~ Mary Oliver