A month (and an hour and ten minutes) ago my mom died..
I have never gone this long without hearing her voice. I know that seems like a no-brainer, but I have probably gone three weeks without talking to her before. Stretches like that weren't unusual. But never a month.
My mom officially died of a stroke. But there were contributing factors. One of which was an atrial septal defect in her heart--a hole in her heart that allowed blood clots to bypass the normal clot filtration system and go to her brain, thus causing the stroke.
If only the doctors knew about this heart problem before the surgery...
When I learned about this, I silently vowed to myself that I would insist on having my heart thoroughly checked out before having any kind of surgical procedure again.
After Christmas, I had my annual physical. Upon hearing about my mother's death, my physician was very inquisitive about the causes. Because holes in the heart can be genetic, he listened hard to detect a murmur in me. We tried all kinds of positions and activities - sitting down, lying down, up-side-down, jumping up, and crouching down. He did not hear one. Still, just to put my mind at ease, he got me an appointment for an echocardiogram before the new insurance year rolled around.
The next day I went in for an echo and a bubble study. It was interesting in and of itself, but also interesting knowing it was the exact type of test my mother had just a couple of weeks before while she was in the coma.
I didn't get the results back until last Friday.
I have the same defect.
The doctor recommends heart surgery to close it.
I meet with the cardiologist next Monday. I expect his recommendation to be the same. The procedure should be able to be accomplished through a catheter going through an artery--no need to open my chest up or anything.
Justin's a bit of a worried mess about it all. I'm pretty chill about it, though I feel like Edward Bloom from the story Big Fish who saw his own death in the witch's eye. A clot would go to my brain and I would have a stroke, same as my mother...same as my grandmother. But really, now that we know about the heart defect and we can correct it, that scenario is being erased and my end is being rewritten.
Upon learning about my mother's heart and her subsequent stroke as I sat by her side in the hospital, I felt angry at her body. It had betrayed her. It had betrayed us all. It is not an unfamiliar feeling. I felt (and sometimes still feel) that way about my own body that refuses to get pregnant. And now I just discovered another way my body was ready to betray me again.
But a friend said to me that my mom saved my life. I am glad Ryan said that because I hadn't thought of it that way. I suppose she died because it was her time and all that, but her death pushed me to have my heart checked out. Now I will have it fixed and it will never be a worry. And my diagnosis is prompting all my siblings to have their hearts checked in the near future. More lives might be saved. Part of me wonders if she had any say in how she died. And if any part of her spirit knew that her death could prolong her children's lives, I know that should would have chosen to lay down her life.
All I know is that I will not die the same way my mother did. Her death has quite possibly saved my life.