Thrive Through Change
Thrive Through Change.
It was this title of a Yoga Retreat that intrigued me. And it was this retreat that Facebook reminded me of today, as I had shared a post expressing enthusiasm and gratitude for being able to attend this retreat, four years ago today.
Not only was it my first yoga retreat EVER, but it was also my first time being away from my three year old son. My family and I had been navigating through some difficult challenges and changes and so I thought, how perfect this will be for me. I envisioned this retreat to offer me some clarity on "thriving" through our recent changes. NEVER, in a million years, did I see my biggest challenge yet to arrive, to come exactly the day after I returned home from this retreat. The universe was about to throw me it's biggest curve ball.
There is a difference between survive and thrive, and this was one of the main themes presented in the retreat that weekend. When I hear the word survive, I think of our most primal instincts - that flight/fight response mode that allows us to do whatever is necessary to survive. But what do we do after the initial survival?
Depending on what crisis we survived, we might go into a state of shock, denial, or depression. We may spend hours, days or even years lamenting on why the event even happened to us. We might be left feeling wounded - bruised, beaten, or completely shattered. And sometimes, it can leave us feeling hopeless. We may have survived yes, but maybe it took so much away from us that we aren't certain how we could possibly go on with life. And that even if we did, we might feel like it's impossible to go onward with the same zest and joy for life we once had.
So to thrive is what is beyond survival. To thrive requires that we pick up all of the broken pieces to figure out how we want to put them back together. To thrive is to put them back together in a way that is stronger, more resilient and perhaps even more beautiful that it was before. It is to take what we survived, what we endured; and apply it to our growth - allowing us to thrive through change one step at a time.
I allowed my eyes and heart to open wider that retreat weekend. I allowed myself to process the difficulties we had had after my husband was injured in a car accident prior to this and unable to work for months. As we were both self employed at the time this hit us tremendously hard. As owner of a yoga studio, I made very little money and it was my husband's occupation as an electrical contractor that afforded us to pay our bills. We had decided to move into the back of our yoga studio (into a small storage room ~350 square feet), with no kitchen or bathroom (other than the bathroom for the studio) with our 2 year old son, 4 dogs and parrot (we could not afford rent for a house). We always do our best to be self reliant and so we were stubborn in finding a way to make this work - we were doing what we needed to do to SURVIVE. Our living situation in and of itself was most difficult, but we prioritized our focus to be on the togetherness of our family. We had each other and it didn't matter where we were, so long as we were together.
Fast forward 9 months to me coming home (to our small room) from my magnificent and glorious retreat weekend. I found an exhausted husband and to my embarrassment, I was finding slight satisfaction in this. I figured our child and animals had wore him out and that through this, he might find a greater appreciation of what I went through on a daily basis. He did tell me that he didn't feel well, that he just felt very tired, and by 5pm that evening he went to bed (which was a bed we all shared together).
I awoke to the sounds of screaming at 4am that following morning. I got out of bed and found him writhing on the couch in agony inside of the yoga studio. He was curled up in a ball, gripping pillows and his chest saying he couldn't breathe. I kept asking him what was wrong and he said he was having a panic attack. Just 11 months prior to this I had taken him in for emergency care with a situation similar, but not as bad as this, and he was told by a cardiologist that he had suffered a massive panic attack. And that panic attacks can mimic heart attacks.
Not for one second did he or I think he was having a heart attack (he was only 41) and he was insistent that he would be fine in a few minutes. I was scared. I wasn't certain that this was a panic attack (I thought panic attacks eventually stopped) and while part of me wanted to rush him to the hospital, we were also scared of going to the emergency room at the hospital, have it turn out to be nothing and then having to pay a bill of several thousand dollars that there was no way we could afford. We discussed it back and forth, in between his screams and attempts to draw breath, whether or not to go. And in between the times that some of his pain would subside, we decided to wait until 7am when urgent care opened. Mind you that during this whole time, we also had our 3 year old son to be concerned with who was still sleeping in the back room.
Oddly enough, while neither of us thought he was having a heart attack, I remember during one of the episodes when he couldn't breathe, running into my office and grabbing a book on mudras. I was remembering that there was a "Life Saving" Mudra I had learned about and stories of it helping people during a heart attack. I opened the book and after finding the mudra, he could not do it himself so I grabbed both of his hands and held his fingers in the way the mudra called for. He was in so much pain that he would often break from my grip and I literally had to use all of my force to start the mudra again and hold it for him. At some point things subsided enough that he decided to shower and as it was now getting closer to 7am, we woke our son up and left.
I will never forget pulling into the empty parking lot of the urgent care, trying to care for our son while witnessing my husband grabbing onto his seat in my truck and calling out in agony. I kept banging on the doors of the urgent care center, pleading and praying that someone would open the door. At just right before 7 they finally did and brought us in.
Their initial reaction to my husband was to interpret that he was having a panic attack and they gave him a brown paper bag to breath into. I was never so pissed in witnessing this simple, nonchalant handing over of a paper bag as it was doing nothing for him. When it became clear to the physician that it wasn't working, they brought in an EKG machine and ran it. It was so off the chart that they scolded him, telling him that he had to calm his breath to get a good read. They ran it two more times and that was when she looked at me directly as asked if I wanted her to call an ambulance or if I would drive him straight to the hospital. I was not getting it. I asked her if I had time to drop off our son to a sitter (who lived right by the hospital) and she just firmly repeated, "Am I calling an ambulance or are you driving NOW". This time, I got the message. We flew into the truck and up to the hospital where they were awaiting his arrival.
It was like a scene from a movie, where someone shouts "code blue!" and every staff member suddenly rushes in. There were so many people flying around him and he was being rushed to surgery right away - it was then, and only then, that we were informed he was having a heart attack. As I was saying goodbye to him - he kept saying he loved me and that he wasn't going to make it. I told him, HE HAD TO MAKE IT. Our 3 year old son was held in my arms and on my hip this entire time - there was no way this man could leave me alone with this child. And as he was being wheeled away, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to find a chaplain who exclaimed she had been sent for me and my son. My world began to crumble.
It was in that moment, like a flash flood, that it hit me what was happening. I found my mind silently screaming a slew of profanities and denial.......there was no way she was there for me. MY HUSBAND. WAS NOT. GOING. TO. DIE.
I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to RUN. But there was nowhere to go! I was quietly escorted to a private room and just like that, the door was closed and it was just the 3 of us left to wait. Wait for what? Would the door re-open to them telling me my husband was gone?
I left Cody with the chaplain (who turned out to be an angel for us as she attended to Cody's needs, including playing games with him and not minding the peanut butter he had smeared all over her blue suit from the snacks that they had offered), to go outside the room and call family. Much of this time was and still is a blur....I don't remember much until maybe 30 or so minutes later, the surgeon coming in through the door.
He had such kindness and compassion on his face and had such a gentle demeanor. He began to share that while my husband's heart attack had been severe, he was confident that he would be okay. He explained that they were cautiously optimistic as my husband had quite a way to go in recovery. We learned that one of his main arteries had been completely blocked (he had been having his heart attack since early that morning) so his surgery was to first stop the heart attack and then to place two stents into this artery. He reported that the other main artery on the back of his heart still had a 70% blockage, but that his heart was too weak to do any more right then. He would need time to heal before possibly needing a second surgery and a pace maker.
He was very clear with me that if we had arrived even one minute later, that he would not have made it. In fact, the on call cardiologist for the hospital that morning had been called away to see a patient in Salinas (a city 30 minutes away) - that doctor would have never made it in time. THIS doctor, who had just saved my husband's life, had just so happened to be there, checking in on another patient of his and they grabbed him for my husband. I know that GOD had placed this surgeon there so that he could save my husband's life, and he did.
It was a long and bumpy road for us. After 5 days in the hospital, my husband was able to return home. Two days later we had another scare that rushed us to the hospital, but thankfully after an overnight stay and nothing of significance happening, he was again able to go home.
Part of his heart will never recover - the heart attack too severe and damaged his heart permanently. But it is predicted with the continued support of medicine, physician care, and healthier lifestyle changes for him to live a long and healthy life.
During my hours of prayer and tears, I began to reflect on all of what had happened and was happening. During my yoga retreat we discussed about the curve balls that life throws us - the ones that we never see coming. We certainly didn't see this coming. I realized that while I had gone to the retreat thinking it would serve one purpose, it was God that had placed me there for a far greater purpose.
My family needed me. They needed my strength. I often feel like there is no way I would have survived that event, let alone figure out how to thrive through it, had I not been at that retreat. I decided that rather than lamenting in this next devastating chapter of our lives, that I would find a way to care for my family and I was determined that not only would we survive, but that we would THRIVE.
It is now four years later. The first year was the most difficult - sorting through not only his recovery and what was necessary t
o support him, but also sorting through all of the emotions - the fear, anger and sadness that it brought us. But we are OK. We have found ways to grow stronger, to love more fully and fearlessly, and to not forget the gratitude that we have for each and every day that we are here. We still have our difficult days, we've now gone through losing our infant son that died suddenly during birth (a blog for another day), but I choose to remember all that my yoga retreat weekend afforded me. And I choose to THRIVE.