As many of you know, February 1st was National Wear Red Day. This day, on which we are asked to wear red clothing, was created by the American Heart Association (AHA) in 2003 in order to spread awareness and raise funds to help fight the #1 killer of women in America: heart disease. Taking place on the first Friday of the month, this day is also used as a kick-off to February, American Heart Month. The goal of this movement is to educate women about their risk for heart disease and help expand scientific research on heart health.
To my knowledge, much of the AHA’s work seems to focus on cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. In actuality, even though I have congenital heart disease, I am no more at risk for such an event than any other woman. But still, this movement is about women with heart disease and, technically, I am one of those women, so I do feel a personal connection to it.
As a woman with heart disease, then, I think during this month when we are asked to focus on our hearts, we should take the time to celebrate them as well, maybe even those that aren’t in the greatest of shape. Today, I’d like to pay a little tribute to my heart, to my poor, deformed but perseverant heart. She deserves this post all to herself.
I spoke with a friend the other day, a friend who happens to work in the field of psychology, about the emotional issues I have with my heart and her defectiveness.
“I’d love to see you attack your heart like an enemy,” my friend said.
I sat quietly for a moment, thinking of what he had said, and was surprised to feel a wave of guilt run through of me.
“How could I turn on her?” I thought, “My heart who has hung in there with me through it all.”
I genuinely felt sad at the thought.
Because my heart is not my enemy.
Sure, she is bigger than she is supposed to be and has had more than one hole repaired. She may be facing the wrong way and sitting too far to the right. And she is part cow, part human, and part metal. She is one screwed-up organ, but not my enemy.
You could say she is the root of many of my problems. She is the reason I had issues with panic and anxiety through most of my twenties. She is the reason I often feel fatigued and then guilty for my lack of energy to share with my daughter. She is the reason I have often felt regretful that my husband, mother, sisters, and others have had to spend many hours of their livings taking care of me or visiting me.
She has definitely been a burden in more ways than one, but how could I call her an enemy?
She has sat through several catherizations and ablations and three open heart surgeries while she was poked & prodded, sliced & stitched. And when those surgeries were complete and she was called back into duty, she pumped as strongly as ever. When she received her first set of new valves, she kept them working for five years past their expected expiration date. The many times she was overtaken by an arrhythmia or rapid beating, she fought her way back to a normal rhythm, even sustaining jarring shocks from my defibrillator.
She is certainly not an enemy. At the least, she is an excellent employee, but I like to think of her as a friend. Really, she has stuck by me through thick (like the wall of her right ventricle) and thin.
So, I declare today to be Honor My Heart Day. I am proud of you, heart. I am proud of you and all your battle wounds: your scar tissue, your patches, even your slightly bionic valve.
Today, I salute you. Thank you, my friend, for all you’ve done.