Dare to Dream

I guess I’m what you’d call a realist – someone who “looks at facts and past events to predict the future” the dictionary says. I very much make sure we live within our means and I don’t go dreaming of crazy exciting things to happen! I was brought up in a family where if you wanted to do something – you saved for it. Hire purchase or any loan (except for a mortgage) was an absolute no go and if you couldn’t afford it, you didn’t get it. My hubby and I are a perfect match – I keep us out of debt and he pushes me to dare to dream of things that I would never think of doing. Did I mention I’m also a homebody and would happily go 12 months of the year without leaving my local suburb? I’d also happily live in the same house for the rest of my life. I’m content. I’m happy. But I could also potentially live a fairly mundane life. Which is why I’m thankful to be married to the perfect guy. He believes, he hopes and he dreams. The glass is always half full for him and nothing is ever impossible. There are always new goals to be set, adventures to be lived and dreams to be fulfilled!

Just over a year ago we celebrated being married 20 years. Months earlier he said to me we should do something really special for it – go away just the two of us, to somewhere amazing. “How about Queenstown?” He asked. “Yeah right!” I replied. We didn’t have spare money… and I could think of many things we should do with the money if we did get it. I’m also quite practical like that. But we came up with a plan (definitely a dream I’d call it) and we began to save any extra money as we could. On the week of our anniversary we got on a plane and headed to Queenstown! It was an incredible few days travelling around Wanaka and seeing sights and places we’d never been to. We truly loved every second we were there and the whole time I was grateful for marrying a guy who would dare to dream.

This month our eldest son leaves home to live in Christchurch, where he will be studying for two years. As parents you raise your kids with the vision that one day you will unleash them into the world and you pray you’ve done an okay job – both for their sake and for the sake of those who will live with them! Even before they were born we would talk about how we would be raising kids who would one day be responsible adults and how we would always keep that goal in mind. The long term goal. People say that day comes quicker than you expect – I can’t begin to tell you how my Mama’s heart feels with the idea that our boy will no longer be with us in such a short time. But I know it’s for his best.

So – my hubby had another dream. He’d always wanted for our family to go to the Gold Coast – to experience the theme parks and have a memorable time together. In my realistic ways, I’d tried to tell him why this couldn’t happen. How most families don’t get to do this and that the first time I’d been to the Gold Coast (or Australia!) was for our honeymoon! Maybe they too could experience this exciting place for theirs one day? 😉 But no. He had a dream and last year we realised the time was ticking away, as the reality that our son could be leaving home this January hit us.

So we began to plan, to believe, to dream. To save! After 18 years of being a stay at home Mum and volunteering alongside my hubby pastoring, I began working part time for the church. We decided we’d lived on not much for 18 years, why not keep doing so and save what we could. Although, it was amazing to buy our kids shoes when they needed them or a haircut – which were previously things we would put off until “the next pay packet.” Then I needed an operation. Then it didn’t go to plan and our hope for going away in September faded. Then Pete needed an op. Then I had to have my second one. We began to wonder how this would happen… but knew we would get there eventually! After my second op in October was successful the dreaming could become a reality. We booked our tickets to the Gold Coast.

So, before our son disappears down South – we are going to live out this dream! We’ll be jumping on a plane and heading to Auz for a week of theme parks, sunshine, ridiculous heat and probably a lot of ice cream! I’ve stopped telling them how much everything will cost (they tell me that’s killing the joy!) and will just enjoy every single moment of us being together. Because sometimes we have dare to dream and make memories together. Because before you know it, your kids are grown and gone.

XXX

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So Long 2018 – Welcome 2019!

At midnight on New Years Eve, we stand out the back on our deck to usher in the new year, watching fireworks in the distance with friends. I remember a few years back, turning to our friend beside me and saying “Thank God we can close the door on this year.” I truly meant it and was relieved it was over. It had been a particularly difficult 12 months, with my Father in law passing away in the middle of it and us wondering multiple times how much more we could we could take. But we kept walking forward and learnt that sometimes you have to keep doing just that – taking things a day at a time, one step after another, always believing that the best is yet to come.

As 2018 came to a close, I looked back over the year (as we humans often do!) and pondered the many blessings and precious moments I’d experienced. Sure, there were rough times – some of the roughest we’d had as a family – but among it all there were moments to treasure and dreams that had come true. I learnt a lot – about myself, God and the fact that how often the difficult times we walk through in fact turn out to be the greatest blessings.

Recently I read how someone had just been told they needed to get a pacemaker to help their heart. They wrote “why can’t I ever get any good news?” Within me I wanted to scream “Don’t you get it? You just did!” For this person, the worst news they could have heard that day was that they would be getting this metal device put in their chest to help their heart work well. Having just walked where they are about to walk, I wanted to tell them that they are standing on the verge of a great miracle which could potentially change their life. But when we are standing at the beginning of a journey (or in the midst of a very long one) it is hard to see where the road will lead. It’s hard to see that the very thing we dread is in fact our lifeline. Our chance at health. Our chance at living a long life.

I wonder how often the crisis that seems to be unfolding before our lives is actually the very thing which will bring us incredible appreciation of life. I’ve learnt priorities and perspectives change in the face of adversity. You learn to value the small, seemingly insignificant moments – realising that in fact they are the things that matter. In the taking of each breath and living life alongside loved ones, these are the moments to treasure. That God, family, friends, church – all these things are like water in a dessert or sunshine after a storm. These are things that will last and we will carry with us into the days and years to come.

So I want to encourage you today, to not feel dispondent with the giants that lay before you. That situation. That illness. That relationship which has broken down. We all walk forward into 2019, carrying things from yesterday and last year which we would rather not bring with us. But sometimes out of those things – are what will bring us the greatest blessings, the greatest conversations and the greatest strength of character. You are stronger than you think and you will overcome even the toughest of challenges.

Our family on the last Sunday of 2018 at church together.

One of the greatest blessings we have as people, is not doing life alone. We have an incredible heavenly Father who we can talk to about anything at anytime – and He is there listening intently – His ear inclined to us. We also get to do life with other people, to love, laugh, have fun, enjoy moments of craziness and reach out a hand to those who need it. What a difference it can make for others to know that their scary mountain before them isn’t in fact bad news – but a doorway forward to an incredible life.

Look forward to 2019 with me – there will always be shining treasures splashed along the pathway before us. We just need to keep watching for them.

XXX

 

 

 

Pacemaker Op 2 – 8 Weeks On and Pacing Well

When people ask me how I’ve been since my second Pacemaker procedure – I tell them I’ve been amazingly good. I actually can’t quite believe the op has worked and I’m out the other side. Recovery has been a lot better, probably because I’ve had my pacemaker on since I came out from anesthetic and the fact it’s all worked has put my mind at ease.

Although I’m not sure I’ve quite gotten my head around it all even now, 8 weeks on. Each night as I lie in bed I carefully turn onto my left side, preparing for the jolting to begin but nothing happens. As I carefully lie on my stomach, I am amazed that my body doesn’t start ‘hiccuping’ in time with my heartbeat. The op was successful and with every day that passes, I’m so incredibly grateful.

I’ve realised how much it had been hanging over me for months. Actually for a couple of years. To be free of ops (until I need the unit changed when the battery runs flat in some years time) and to look forward with no impending operations is incredible. I mean, you try to carry on with life and switch off to the upcoming appointments and talk of procedures, but somewhere at the back of your mind it’s there.

New placement of Pacemaker and three internal leads coming from unit (note there are extra leads that were from an ECG on the outside of me).

Last week I had my Pacemaker check and all was good. Thank God. She would turn up the different voltages on leads and there was no jolting. Wow. I’d been having some strange sensations with my heart at home, which would make me feel awful and start to cough (like I couldn’t get my breath). She said they could alter one of my settings (turn off an automatic check it would do every 8 hours on one of the right leads) and this would hopefully stop that. So far so good! It’s still a bit crazy having someone connect a computer to your heart and alter settings. I think I’m slowly getting my head around that though!

Pacemaker xray (again ignore extra leads showing at the bottom of xray from external ECG leads I had on after operation)

I had a slight “argh” moment a couple of weeks ago, when lying in bed one night I noticed my pacemaker had moved up by my collarbone. To actually see the outline of it and be able to feel it, is not what you want really! More problematic, is the fact that when I lie on my left side, I can feel it digging in. The day afterwards my monitor by my bed started flashing, showing it was uploading something to the hospital, then the following week it lit up saying I needed to call the hospital. Argh! After talking to them, they reassured me that it moving shouldn’t effect how the pacemaker is working and my last downloads had been fine (also getting your head around the fact your heart info gets downloaded to a machine by your bed is also a bit to get used to!), so that was a relief. I’m just learning to live with it moving a bit. Again… an odd thing!

Side view of Pacemaker and that special new left lead going into my heart!

So we are heading towards Christmas with great speed! I would say in the past two years, my outlook on life has changed. A lot. I don’t think I’ve ever taken my life for granted as such, but you definitely savor the moments and days more, after walking through a health situation like this. You learn to let go of what isn’t important and are thankful for any time you have with family and friends.

Next month, our eldest will be leaving home to go and study in another part of the country (how will this Mums heart manage that one?!). You realise life keeps moving, carrying on into new seasons and with that comes change. Some change is exciting and full of new adventures. Other change is challenging and scary. But no matter what the change, it’s important to embrace it and make the most of each lesson and step along the way. This is how we grow and become more of who we can be. This is how we learn to lean on God when things seem too overwhelming. This is how expand our love and appreciation for each day that we are given and the gift which that is.

Lastly, a special thanks to my family, friends and church who have walked with me and supported me through the past couple of years and especially the last 6 months. It’s been a journey I would not have chosen, but one I am thankful I’ve walked. I love you all. Thank you.

XXX

 

 

 

Op 2 a Success! 11 Days on… Thankful Beyond Words!

7am arrival at Hospital for my Op. Thankfully first on the list this time and not much waiting!

It’s been like day and night. That is the comparison between my first operation for my pacemaker going in and this last one Friday week ago. From beforehand meeting with nurses and my cardiologist, to walking into theatre, to waking up, to sleeping at night – each moment so much better than the last. But the main difference would have to be waking up and finding out that the procedure had worked! They managed to replace the third left lead into my heart with a new one and get it into a great position. Success! No more jolting! Can you believe it?!

My AMAZING friend Halina and I before going into theatre.

I had reached the point of knowing that it was the right thing to do, to try and stop the phrenic nerve stimulation I’d been experiencing. But going back in, to face another general anaesthetic, another op and another recovery again, was not something I’d been looking forward to. Especially without the certainty that it would work. I was incredibly blessed to have my friend there who works in Cardiology, chatting to us beforehand and then walking with me into theatre. She literally held my hand as I was poked with needles and as I went under. She was there in recovery (although I don’t remember any of that) and visited me later that day in my room. To have someone you know with you who understands what is happening, is amazing. She smiled through it all and was such a reassuring presence.

Asleep after op completed, back in my (quiet!) room.

Afterwards, I repeatedly asked my husband and staff “has it worked?” The thought of being able to lie on my side or stomach, or bend over and laugh… and not be jolted was incredible! I think I’m still in shock that it’s worked and am so very grateful to my amazing cardiologist and the team. From the moment I woke up I felt better than last time, having gone into it healthier and having my pacemaker on helped. Going home, I walked out to the car (last time I was in a wheelchair) and a week later I managed a walk around the block!

The next morning, still hooked up to the heart monitor but feeling so much better than last time. No tears this time around!

After the op I was a lot more swollen and bruised than last time, due to the fact they had to cut through scar tissue and make the incision a bit bigger (to get the pacemaker in and out). However things haven’t been as sore in other ways… last time whenever I sat up it felt like a big heavy weight in my chest pushing forward. This time that only lasted a day – I guess my body is used to my device being there now. My shoulder isn’t in as much pain as last time and they were really careful this time to not cause any more damage. I’m still managing my pain a bit with meds to keep on top of it, but I have energy and feel so much more like me.

So, I’m extremely grateful and aware that I live in an incredible day and age. Two days ago, Earl E. Bakken, the man who invented the first wearable, battery-powered pacemaker, died at the age of 94. He and his brother in law founded Medtronic (the worlds largest medical device company) in 1949, as a 25 year old electrical engineering student. At the age of 8, he had become fascinated with electricity after seeing the 1931 movie “Frankenstein”, how incredible that a movie like that sparked a curiosity within this young boys mind. In 1957 after a patient died in hospital during a blackout, he was asked to come up with a solution, as people in those days with pacemakers were reliant on being plugged into the wall with vacuum tubes. Thankfully after discounting the idea of using a car battery (I don’t fancy carrying one of those around with me!) he came up with a 4 inch box which would be taped to a patients chest. It’s obviously improved incredibly over the years, to the intricate internal boxes we have today. Funnily enough, he later went on to need two pacemakers himself. “So I’m glad I invented the company, or I wouldn’t be sitting here” he said in 2010.

Earl E. Bakken, aprox 1950, working in the garage where Medtronic started.

As I read about this amazing man, who started off tinkering with electronics in a garage, I felt a sense of huge gratitude for people like him who stepped out and tried something that had never done before. The CRT pacemaker device I have, was only invented in more recent years and wasn’t around when I was younger… I’m glad for the timing of this invention.

So today I sit here recovering, blanket on knee, cat curled up beside me and cup of tea at hand. I now get the benefit of my pacemaker working with no side effects and once I’ve recovered from surgery I will be up and out doing things! I am in awe and grateful. I’m thankful too for every single prayer prayed, every thoughtful message, card, flowers, gifts, gentle hug, meals… and for my incredible family and friends who just kept on encouraging me and loving on me through the tougher moments. It’s strange to look forward without a sense of something hanging over me, but instead to feel free to dream, believe and know I could do things I couldn’t 6 months ago! Health is a gift. A God given one. One I will never take for granted.

9 days on… with best friends Symon and Kristy. Thankful for their visit from up North… even if I’m still looking pale! 😉 Let’s blame the lighting…

Don’t ever underestimate that thought. That dream. That idea. That crazy out there concept that you’re not sure will work. Give it a go. It might just save lives one day… maybe even your own!

XXX

 

Pre-Op… Again

Today was Pre-Op… again. I can’t quite believe that this Friday I will be back in theatre, having an op on my pacemaker… again. Going in to the hospital first thing this morning, was a bit surreal and it’s all becoming quite real… again. There are too many “agains” for my liking. I got to have an ECG again. Another lot of blood tests again. Another meeting with an Anesthetist, a Head Nurse and a Cardiology Registrar… again. It would be great if we could continue doing the fun things in life over and over – but leave the less desirable things as a one off! Having a pacemaker and 3 leads put in should definitely not be something you do over and over again!

But here we are, the week of. Walking forward in faith that this will be a success and that sleep will become easier with no jolting from my left lead. I discovered today that the pain I’ve been experiencing in my shoulder since my last operation isn’t the norm – hopefully meaning I won’t have to go back to stage one with that again. My physio will be pleased! As I met with the medical staff, we talked through the procedure again and I got told some more information about this op which wasn’t really what I wanted to hear. Just when you think you’ve got it sorted in your mind, more comes up.

I remember last time around, there were some days walking through this journey that would leave me feeling flat. After the op there were some weeks! But yesterday I was determined to remain positive and keep my eyes fixed heavenward. Some days it’s more of a battle to do that than others. Today was one of those battle days. In among it all, I figure it’s okay to have those “moments.” The ones when tears well up and you need to reach out for the hand of the person next to you. Cause we realise that in these moments we don’t need to do life alone, God puts others around us who will walk the journey with us. For that I am incredibly grateful.

The past few weeks I’ve been living out the verse from Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” As the days count down towards this op, I want to make the most of the minutes, hours and days I have! We never know how many moments we have before something crops up and I’ve learnt this year to not take my days for granted. This time around I have energy (thank you pacemaker for pumping my heart in sync, giving me oxygen!) and can actually get things ready before I go into hospital. My hubby thinks I’ve gone a bit crazy with the organising – but I just wanted to be more on top of things this time. I’ve counted my days and I’m using every minute I can and appreciating the highlights of life, alongside the mundane.

If only it wouldn’t take heart issues and operations for us to count our days and gain wisdom on how to live our lives well. Even the most boring of moments become precious – who knew carrying washing baskets or driving could be such a blessing?! Rolling over, washing your hair or sleeping in your bed… all small insignificant things – but so valuable for our well being. So through this time, I remain grateful. For the small boring every day tasks that I get to complete and for each moment I get to be a part of.

I’m slowly surrounding myself with small things of beauty, which I hope to remember to focus on when I’m recovering in a few days. When you’re feeling down, to be able to look out and see plants flowering, hear birds chirping, or see a sequinned cushion glittering (yes, I may have bought another one…), it all helps you remember that there is beauty amidst the ashes of life. In a few days I may feel “flat.” Let’s be honest, I may feel a lot worse that “flat” – but I pray I remember to lift my eyes and be continually thankful for each blessing that comes my way. Each and every small one is significant.

XXX

My Pacemaker Journey – The Countdown Begins (again!)…

Daylight saving is here and the days are getting longer! The sun is out, the blossoms are falling from the trees and again I’m reminded that time just keeps moving. Yesterday I got reading glasses for the first time! Argh! How did this happen?  The very thing that was working well in my body, has also decided to weaken and I can no longer hassle my hubby that I have perfect vision! Another reminder that we must value our health, as the years truly are moving on and with them come new “friends” like glasses.

Despite time moving fast, weeks can feel like an eternity when you’re waiting for news. I think I’m getting better with the waiting, perhaps patience is slowly developing in my life? Perhaps…

I finally received the call I had been waiting for, telling me when my next operation would be. In two weeks I will be heading in to hospital for a lead revision on my pacemaker, where they will take the third lead out and replace it with one going into a different vein. This lead which is hitting my phrenic nerve (which connects to my diaphragm giving me  ‘jolts’) is still bothering me, meaning sleep isn’t great at night. I’m gradually getting my head around another op, although with each passing day, it becomes more real again!

To explain the technical side of it all (I know some of you love that), when they put my pacemaker in 4 months ago, they used quadripolar leads, which have 4 electrodes along the end of each one. These are great, as they give multiple pacing options, meaning that if they aren’t getting great capture on one electrode, they can try another. It also means that if one (or more) of the electrodes is causing phrenic nerve stimulation (as in my case), they can generally reprogram the pacemaker to use other electrodes. Unfortunately for me, with my third left lead (the tricky one to get in), they are getting phrenic nerve capture (ie ‘jolts’) on poles (electrodes) 1 and 2 and no capture at all on poles 3 and 4 (which could be due to scar tissue). So the options to make this lead work have been few and despite turning down the voltage we are still having issues. Hence the need to do another procedure. 

Or… to put it more simply -I’m still getting jolted, and the only option left is to physically move one of the leads that is on my heart to a better location 🙂

We are really praying that this next operation works! Especially that they will be able to get a new lead into the last possible vein, otherwise the next step will be open heart surgery (which they would do a few months later to limit risk of infection). I’m aware going into this that there are no guarantees, but we remain hopeful. I guess I’ll know when I wake up after the op whether they were successful or not.

So, for the next couple of weeks I’m determined to make the most of every day!  I’ll continue to keep my eyes on the long term goal – a healthy and full life with a pacemaker which is working, while not being jolted! Hopefully that will help keep this next “glitch” in my life, remain in perspective!

Thanks for your love, support and prayers through this crazy journey! I’m forever thankful for the incredible people around my life, who love on us as we walk forward step by step. It truly means a lot and makes a difference. Until my next update…

XXX

 

My Pacemaker Journey – 3 Months On – Here We Go Again…

Our huge plum tree with its many blossoms

Where I live, Spring has arrived! It’s a beautiful time of year, watching the blossoms on our plum tree bloom with the beginning of a new season. My husbands parents have gorgeous lambs being born and all around there are signs of new life. Each September as I see the blossoms appear, I’m reminded that our wedding anniversary is just about here and it’s time to celebrate another year of marriage. This past year has been a crazy one and this month has been no exception, with my hubby ending up having an hernia operation and then our son cut his head open two days later! As I sat there at A&E for a second time in a matter of days, I wondered what was happening with our family! But we’ve made it through and are still smiling and laughing!

As we celebrate 21 years of marriage next week, I’ve been reflecting on how illness can put pressure on a relationship, like nothing else. We’ve walked through many challenges over the years (as we all do), but I wonder if any of us really know the full ramifications of the words “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health” as we stand at the alter to get married! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret it for a second. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I feel blessed every day that I am married to this amazing man. But the truth is, sickness is rough to walk through and hard to navigate as a couple. When you’re the one unwell, it’s humbling and difficult to rely on someone to do the most basic of things  – when you’re the well one, it’s awful watching the other go through pain, being helpless to take it away.

A week ago, we found out that we would be walking this road of surgery again with my heart. Its round two of a pacemaker operation. Which means more no driving, more sleepless nights, more horrible pain, more no showers, more stress on the family, more recovery time and more learning how to be there “in sickness and in health.”

I knew it was probably on the cards that we’d have to repeat the procedure again. With each appointment I had, where they couldn’t adjust my pacemaker to stop jolting my phrenic nerve, I figured they might have to change the position of the third lead. But it’s still hard to hear. Logically, I know this is the next step. It is the best step for the long term. For the rest of my life. But there is still this small part of me which thinks “I don’t want to do this again.” I don’t want to go through the op, have the third lead pulled out, a new lead fed in to my vein, to wake up from the op in pain and go through another recovery period. But sometimes we do what we don’t want to do – because it is the right thing to do. The best thing.

So, sometime in the next 6 weeks or so, I will be back in hospital to go through the procedure again. There were originally three veins they could try to feed this left lead into, the first vein was no good, the second vein is where they placed the lead last time (but is hitting the nerve), the third and final vein is the one they will try this time around. My cardiologist is hopeful it will work, but there are no guarantees. If they can’t get it in there, the next step will be open heart surgery – which will definitely work – but will be extremely painful with a difficult recovery. So, we are praying that this works!  The other alternative isn’t appealing.

The upside of going into this a second time, is that I know having the pacemaker working is changing my life! I can breathe easily again, I have a renewed energy and it’s extended my life span (a fact I hate being reminded of but am thankful for). I also know that scars heal, the pacemaker doesn’t stick out of my chest in a huge lump (truly I’d seen pictures no one wants to witness!) and I’m at peace with the fact that a little box paces my heart 100% of the time. Some people take years to get their head around that. So I’m thinking mentally it should be easier than last time. That’s got to help right? Physically they said it will be roughly the same as last times recovery and I’m hoping emotionally it might be a bit easier.

Peter and I one year ago, celebrating 20 years of marriage in beautiful Wanaka

So, we will get there! As a couple we will get through it. And as a family we will pull together once again! Any pride that is left within me, will get chiseled away again, as I learn to say “yes” to help from friends and family once more (I really don’t like accepting help!). At the end of the day, this is all about continued new beginnings and chances at a long life. One thing is for sure, this process continues to make me grateful for each new day and every milestone reached. It makes me grateful for the teenage guy I met at 13 and the young man I married at 20. We didn’t know then the path we would be walking out today, but God knew and brought us together for such a time as this. We’ll keep walking out the “in sickness and in health” part of our vows and be thankful to be celebrating 21 years!

XXX