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Living with Death

My gallbladder saved my life.

I wanted to share a journey with all of you, a journey that began sixteen years ago and still continues.  I want to share the journey of living with the idea that you are going to die because the mind will not allow you to accept that notion.

It all began sixteen years ago when I was sitting with my boss and he was filling me in on the new job title I was to be given. I was finally going to be a full-time employee with benefits!  Suddenly I felt a horrible pain coming through my chest and I thought I was having a heart attack. I excused myself thinking how silly that was, it was probably gas.  I put cold water on my face and sat down for a few minutes to see if the pain would end, and sure enough, it began to subside, although I could still feel it.  How silly of me, I laughed to myself and by the time my husband got there to pick me up I felt no pain.  I called the emergency room while my husband napped and told them what happened, asking if it could have been a heart attack, but they couldn't tell me anything but to come in next time.  I decided to put the entire incident aside and assume it was the stress of taking a new position mixed with gas from the enchiladas I had made for dinner the night before.

The only problem was that my chest pain did not disappear. It continued and I found myself in the emergency room several times a week with gripping pain and no explanation. Finally, my cardiologist admitted me to the hospital and he had them run an ultrasound on my gall bladder, and sure enough, I had a huge gall stone that was causing the pain. However, in the course of checking out everything I was found to have a cardiomyopathy in the left ventricle.  Somebody told me they called it the widow maker because it was mainly a man's illness.  I was devastated. I asked my cardiologist if I could go back to work and continue my normal life, and he said sure that was fine. I told him that I was afraid to drive across the desert to visit my mother because it was so isolated, and what if something happened. He looks at me and tells me I should be afraid because I had a very sick heart.  My ejection fraction at that point was 44, not all that bad but not what I wanted.  Apparently, there are three things my heart could do. It could get better, get worse, or stay the same and for a couple of years it stayed the same, then slipped to an ejection fraction of 40, and a little over a year ago it was 30-35, which is heart failure. My mother died of heart failure, and I was afraid, so I asked my cardiologist if the pacemaker didn't work and the pills didn't work, how long did I have. She explained that if I had cancer that was as bad as my heart was, she would tell me to get my affairs in order.

That was 13 months ago, and I'm still alive, but I have noticed a lot of things that are getting worse.  My latest tests showed that I have had at least one heart attack, maybe more, but that didn't seem to be what caused the heart failure. It doesn't matter what caused it, what matters is how I spend the last days of my life.

As I mentioned, my mind won't accept my death.  I hear the words but they make no sense, sort of like when you feel about thirty years old in your mind but when you look in the mirror you realize you are in your sixties and not young.  It's a shock.   I have learned a lot of things since my diagnosis, some of which I'd like to share with you.

I have learned to be patient with others and myself. Nothing rattles me anymore, I simply accept whatever comes my way with a smile because I know it doesn't really matter if I'm happy or not with current circumstances, I can't change them so I may as well go along with them.  I laugh more, realizing that all the things people take so seriously in life usually do not matter in the long run.  I have spent hours on my art creating pictures to post for others to see and I've published a book on Amazon.  All and all, I think I have figured out what every member of the family truly thinks about me and how they really feel.  I have learned that acts of kindness are all that really matters because the only thing in life that is important is love, and love drives us to help others put a smile on their faces. I can't wait for the final journey home, a place where I can see those who have passed before me, feel genuine love, and see beauty beyond belief. 

I am ready to go home now with peace of mind.  I hope someday maybe you get the chance to experience what I have these last months.

Denise Willis
Denise Willis

I have a bachelors degree in accounting, and a masters degree in psychology, but art and writing have always been my love.  I have three grown sons, and recently, I finished a novel of around 200 pages finally posted to Amazon.

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