Personal Statement: My thrice broken heart


Published March 10, 2009

I am awakened by a green nurse. Her features are blurry and her voice is distant. She has four eyes. She makes me repeat my name. I fail the first test. I can talk now that the breathing tube has been pulled from my windpipe, but my voice is harsh and barely audible. I think I just swallowed sand coupled with a handful of nails. I am sweating. I am freezing. I am lifeless. The sound of the machine next to me is familiar and I hate the sound. I see four dazzling bags hanging quietly on a metal pole beside me. I can’t read the long words printed on them. I realize where I am. The busiest place on earth. The ICU buzzes around my mechanical bed; beeping machines conduct the orchestra of stressed nurses and diligent physicians. A diluted panic starts to spread over me. Numb tears stream down my colorless cheeks. I don’t deserve this. You would think after the first two they would stop this torture.

My first open-heart surgery was at five months old. The second was at two years old. This agonizing pain was because I was born with a tiny defect: a hole in my heart, which required that a hard, carbon heart valve be inserted into my tiny body. I underwent my third heart surgery at 15 years old — the day I recount here — to get my heart valve replaced and a defibrillator to match. After this day, I will have two new beautiful scars, both of which you would probably stare at unabashedly if you saw. Huge scars that are mementos of three heart surgeries before my 18th birthday and a lifetime of medical examination. You’d think living with a congenital heart defect, I’d get used to it. But you never really get used to it.

The effects of the morphine being pumped into my veins won’t allow me to comprehend my surroundings. I feel groggy and slow. I notice two thick tubes protruding from my stomach while a brown liquid seeps into a bag at the foot of my bed. I want to vomit. I can’t imagine what the liquid is, since I haven’t eaten anything in 30 hours. I still want to vomit.

I command my wrists to twist around so I can see what is pinching me. The reaction is delayed; moving my hands takes about two minutes. Three IVs sprout from my bruised wrists, and one of them doesn’t even lead to anything. The thickest IV needle springs from my neck. I can’t move my head to the left because of it. My chest throbs and my mouth hangs open. My arms are being pulled in opposite directions by an invisible force. My back burns from having been contorted into an unnatural position during a 12-hour surgery.

I look down at the stitched skin running down my chest to my belly button. Steri-strips seem to hold my body together. I want to rip them off. I look like a monster or a raggedy doll that has been stitched haphazardly after too much use. I ask the nurse some questions. She just smiles and tells me to sleep. Her smile is the same one I saw before I went to sleep in the first place. I don’t make sense. This fact makes me cry again. I am convinced that I am trapped in someone else’s body. I am screaming but the nurse just automatically smiles, then walks by. No one can hear me. My pain becomes dull and constant. I must accept that this will never be over. My eyelids won’t open all the way.

The only thing I want is water. I would sleep on the street for the rest of my life just for a puny glass of water. I beg the nurse — she gives me ice chips instead. I don’t want to die anymore. The last one slides down my throat, dropping into an empty stomach. My parched esophagus thanks me.

My glazed over eyes can’t read the time. I assume it’s the afternoon since every light is shining directly at my eyes. It’s 3 a.m. — medication time. A syringe is inserted into the I.V. through my neck. I can feel the thin liquid seeping into my bloodstream. It’s cold and wet. I hope it will dull the pain burning in my shoulder blades so I can sleep. I can taste the medicine. My eyelids droop and I fall into a dreamless sleep. I thank God for this false escape.

I wake up again abruptly. My nightmare is reality. It’s been around six hours. I shouldn’t have woken up. I look around and see something I have been missing. I recognize the shiny pupils and white teeth of my mother, father and sister. My beaten-up heart swells. Everything in the room vanishes. My manipulated insides and stretched open chest stop throbbing. The tubes from my stomach and catheter disappear. The beeping machine stops beeping. The blurry clock stops ticking. I forget that I have a congenital heart disease in the first place. They are all I can see. They are all I want to see. If it weren’t for the morphine, I would smile. Tears are the only reaction I could muster. Tears of joy, tears of happiness, tears of fear and tears of love. My mom is crying, too. I don’t understand why. I don’t care that for the next two weeks, I would be fighting to walk, and it would be painful for me to sit up straight for a month. I can’t feel the bottom half of my body but I can’t care less. I don’t care how many times in the future someone will ask me what the long, pink line down my chest is. I don’t care about how if I don’t take my medicine regularly after this day, I could be at high risk for a stroke or heart attack. All I know is that the people I love the most are holding my limp hand and sitting right next to me. I know that life is truly beautiful. After this point, I will know that my battle is conquerable. At this moment, I have never felt luckier. I am the luckiest girl in the world.

—Elyana Twiggs is a reporter on The Michigan Daily's News section