Janet Sheridan: Adjusting to the new me
March 24, 2011
If you see me chugging around town getting my exercise, you might think I'm the same person I've always been. But, if you read my last column chronicling my nosedive into medical testing, you know I'm not.
I remember when I thought life meant growing up, getting married, and living happily every after. I skipped minor details — graduating from high school, deciding about college, seeking employment, choosing a spouse, being a parent — and hit only the highlights: marriage and happily-ever-after.
In constructing this fantasy, I ignored the examples of my extended family, dear friends, and good neighbors. In reality, some never marry; some remain childless, some don't graduate, some are unemployed, some fight debilitating illnesses, and some suffer life-changing accidents.
And, happy as my childhood was, my mom and dad didn't go around every day bursting with joy and tra-la-la-ing.
Neither did I.
Once married, I bumped into reality on a regular basis, never more so than when I faced divorce and its aftermath: an admission of failure and a flood of grief for what had been.
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When I began my career, I entertained another irrational illusion: I assumed I would teach happily and successfully until I died a painless death, my head slowly sinking onto a pile of brilliant student essays.
My room would be sealed and a placard hung: "Mrs. Bohart worked here so step softly and get rid of your gum." Retirement would happen to others, never to me.
Then in my early 60s, reality intervened. My enthusiasm waned. I grew tired. I loathed my alarm clock. Not wanting to offer less than my best, I wrote my letter, accepted my commemorative clock, and went home.
More recently, health issues destroyed the rose-colored glasses that allowed me to pretend I would suffer minor, inconvenient ailments but remain intact and robust as I aged. In this fairy tale, I died peacefully in my sleep after snacking on carrot cake and finishing a good book.
Then I slammed to the pavement on Sixth Street and underwent countless tests to determine why: electrodes plastered to my skin, my breath stilled as machines hummed and clanked, my heart challenged by a treadmill, and, finally, an electric transmitter ran from my groin through my heart.
As a result of the last test, I now live with a pacemaker, a bump about the size of a silver dollar under my skin and below my breastbone: a medical marvel that will, as my silver-tongued cardiologist assured, "keep you ticking until something else kills you."
I've grown accustomed to wearing an embedded mini-computer everywhere I go, though for the first week or so I fussed.
I remember walking Cedar Mountain as soon as I was cleared for exercise. Pre-pacemaker, I enjoyed the power surge of my heart and lungs on the first steep incline. This time, I worried: Was I feeling normal? Did my heart always beat this hard? If the pacemaker kicks in, will I feel it? Am I trying to do too much?
For the first couple of months, at odd moments, my eyes widened in surprise at the thought that I had a permanent, serious malfunction in my body. I struggled with accepting a deficient current because such a problem didn't fit my self-vision.
But with the passing of time, I relaxed, and acceptance of my new reality seeped in slowly, like sunlight leaking through a cloud.
I regained the normalcy of my day-to-day life and realized what a good life it is.