"You can die with surgery, you can die without surgery and if you do survive which is 10%, you can be paralyzed, lose your memory or your speech." These words were spoken to me by Dr. Tomas Salerno, Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida. It was Good Friday, a full moon and my 58th birthday. By the grace of God and Guan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Compassion and Mercy, I survived and lived to tell the story many times.
I had suffered a Type A and Type B Aortic Dissections, a tear in the aorta from chest to pelvis, resulting in a stroke, heart attack and paralysis. I was in Kingston, Jamaica, on a Fulbright Teach/Research Award at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts and staying with a friend. Thanks to Guan Yin, I was home and my friend was at home and found me collapsed on the floor in my room. any step along the way, from being taken to a nearby small hospital to be stabilized, to the largest hospital for tests, to be airlifted to Miami, to surgery, to surviving surgery, to recovery, I could have died yet I survived without any residual effects. It was a catastrophic event with a miraculous ending as I was told innumerable times by doctors, nurses, family, friends and complete strangers. I experienced compassion and mercy by one and all.
I thank God and Guan Yin every day for their blessings. Never in a million years did I think that I would ever have emergency open heart surgery. That only happened in books and movies and, yes, fact is stranger than fiction. This April 6, 2016 will be the fourth anniversary of my rebirth. I will be sixty two years old but I tell everyone that I will be four years old. It is Jeannie BR or Before Rebirth or Jeannie AR or After Rebirth; it was almost biblical in proportion.
After a year and a half of extreme fatigue in mind, body and spirit, I felt I was finally waking up in mid September, 2013. Less than a month later, a challenge arose. My niece's 94 year old grandfather had cataract surgery and in a small family, I was the only one available and became his caregiver by default. I was still in recovery and tired but I took on the challenge. I, also, knew firsthand what it meant to need care and to be shown compassion.
I am in a Caregivers' Support Group since July, 2014 and a Women's Heart New York support Group which I helped to establish since December, 2014. These groups are invaluable because we share our experiences, knowledge, information and compassion. We know that we are not alone on this journey called life.
I am now a geriatric care specialist after caring for the grandfather for two and a half years. I have navigated through his doctors, his medications, his medical insurance, his long term care insurance, his falls, his emergency stay at the hospital, his home health aides, all the while keeping up with my medical issues and life in general. My artwork has always sustained me and continues to give me the greatest challenges, inspiration and joy.
I have seen the grandfather change slowly as he has the beginning signs of dementia. After all, he will be 97 years old on March 22, 2016 but is amazingly strong and vibrant. No one believes he is that age and his primary care doctor has stated that he can live another ten years.
I have thoughts of mortality, of the grandfather's and my own. I feel that is only natural in the course of one's life and considering what I have experienced. I was so close to an end yet my spirit chose a new beginning. I was shown the compassion and mercy of Guan Yin. "There but for the grace of God go I."***
By the grace of God and Guan Yin, may we all live happy, healthy lives of prosperity and creativity for many, many years to come!!!
***John Bradford (1510-1555) an English reformer and martyr. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London and burned at the stake on July 1, 1555.