Sunrise on Saipan
From my studio window I can see the thick clouds blocking the sun’s first rays as they appear to the East over top of the open Pacific. It’s 6:15 AM Saipan time and I’ve already been up for an hour or more.
Up until today I would have told anyone interested in listening just how happy I am to be alive. The feeling is indescribable really and quite often it comes over me after a momentary flash that all too quickly reminds me how my chest was just cracked open and my heart stopped in order to fix my tricuspid valve. The jubilation is heightened by the fact that this very recent event forced me into thinking about my own death as a real possibility for over 6 weeks before waking to good news and words of a life expectancy no different than any other relatively healthy 40 year old.
Today for the first time in a long time, almost as suddenly as the those images of myself retracted on the operating table appear in my mind, I’ve had thoughts that perhaps it would just be easier if I wasn’t here at all.
The reasons are multiple, the rational non-existent, yet the feelings very real.
I half joked with friends before leaving LA that it would take about 3 days upon returning before the feeling of missing everything so much would be replaced with the overwhelming realities of not only being a father of two less than three years of age but also those of an artist / environmentalist whose decisions of the past few years, including that of starting a new business, have put a strain on family and finances.
Touching down to overwhelming responsibility.
On Thursday morning at about 2AM I cleared CNMI customs after a long long day of travel including an 11-hour flight from LAX to Tokyo, a 4-hour layover and a 3-½ hour flight to Saipan that was extended by an hour as crew on the tarmac attempted, to no avail, to fix the entertainment system. Other than the wasted hour it didn’t matter to me much since I was out like a light for that one and just happy to be home when it landed safely.
My wife met me at the terminal and after a short 5 minute ride I walked in the door only to find my daughter up with her Nana waiting for Daddy to come home. Looking so much taller and with her hair now once again in her eyes she played just a little shy for a moment before picking up right where we left off and the long awaited hug for daddy became reality!
After a few hours sleep the first morning was spent watching her and her little brother, marveling in the changes drastic to me yet subtle to those around them. He’s almost walking, quick as can be on all fours and literally always happy and easily amused. She’s a well-spoken, strongly independent 2-½ half-year-old toddler who is nearly always well behaved but as with most her age, quite capable of having monumental meltdowns for no particular reason.
The first sign that perhaps expectations of a lingering joyous return were a little high was the fact that, less than 12 hours after touch down, my first dive almost seemed anti-climactic. The anticipation had been intense. Three months earlier I didn’t know if I would be able to dive again. Now just over two months from surgery I was back in the water doing what I love but it didn’t overwhelm me with joy like I thought it would. As I sit here a couple of days later, on a hot afternoon looking out towards the open ocean, I have little desire whatsoever to go diving or to do anything else for that mater.
I force myself to remember the jubilation of being alive. Why does it escape me now? I sit with a view of a tropical paradise yet I feel no joy. I am “home” yet I wish I were not here. I have been given a gift of life and while others struggle to hang on I am sad and overwhelmed. I think of little Rudy and know what I feel is just not right.
Rationally I also know there must be a period of transition and adjustment. I know it will take time to settle in and catch up. For over three months the focus has been on my health while my family’s world has been turned upside down. I’ve seen my kids all of 4 days in the past 2 months, the last of which they and their mom (and Nana) have been functioning perfectly well here at home without me. In the days prior to surgery it was a necessary to come to terms with the thought of what it would be like for my kids to grow up without their dad. I didn’t like the concept but ultimately I found peace of mind knowing they would be fine in the care of their wonderful mother and an extended family that would ensure they are loved. Now this thought that once brought solace brings feelings of uselessness. It’s exacerbated by the non-rational 2-year-old mind that has gotten used to mommy doing everything.
In retrospect being on my own in LA for the past 6 weeks has made for a relatively easy task when it comes to distracting oneself from thoughts of responsibility while concentrating on physical recovery. Now as I return to Saipan and turn the page on this journey feeling pretty well physically I realize that the mental ups and downs are probably here for a while. The awesome task of putting my life back on track and picking up where I left off seems overwhelming. I thought perhaps I had escaped the often talked about Cardiac Depression that catches up with patients having major cardiac surgery but perhaps not. Less than a week ago I marveled at how easy it was to feel alive and happy, now I wish I could have captured that feeling in a bottle or better yet a tank.
For those of you coming into this little open heart surgery discussion a little late you can find all the posts easily by clicking on the Open Heart Surgery Labels at the bottom of this post or by clicking on the links under open heart surgery over on the right hand side of the blog. Those ones are listed in chronological order!