I open up my blog website in hopes of putting words down to describe the last few months of our lives. I sit here in a recliner, against a long row of floor to ceiling windows, at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center waiting room, staring blankly at the screen in front of me. I'm trying to find the words, but I don't even know if words can do the last year, let alone all that has happened since October 1st, 2020 justice. But, I will try.
The year that everyone hoped for that nobody saw coming. My husband and I rang in the new year on our living room couch among a small get together at our house. We "cheersed" to a year of new possibilities. We hugged. We kissed. We said this would be the year we would get pregnant and/or have a baby. And again, like everyone, we felt confident that 2020 would be our year.
The new year began during my most challenging school year to date. I was stuck in trauma mode everyday at work. My job caused me great anxiety due to the unique challenges I faced each day. I would get to work, immediately get triggered, and spend the entirety of my work day in survival mode. I would come home completely exhausted and go right to the couch to lay with our dog, Abbie. I prayed for reprieve for the school year. That if it was a possibility that it could get better, that it would.
Well, then coronavirus happened. The world as we knew it changed drastically. The evening of my most challenging school day yet, I would find out that not just my school district, but all schools across Michigan would be closed indefinitely due to this pandemic.
Amidst the uncertainty, I enjoyed the break from work for my mental health. I tried to make the best of quarantine by focusing on my diet and exercise, baking, spending lots of quality time with my husband, and cleaning and organizing the house.
4 weeks into my workout program, around the beginning of May, to our surprise and after over a year of trying, we found out we were expecting. This news excited, yet terrified me. (I share an entire blog post about our first pregnancy experience here).
The anticipation of wondering what it would be like to finally have a baby came to an abrupt end just a few weeks later when we found out the pregnancy was not viable. It was a blighted ovum -- meaning, I was impregnated, but it was not a good embryo. There was no baby growing inside me.
After how long it took to conceive the first time, this felt like a huge let down. I felt angry with God. I couldn't understand why God would allow a pregnancy to happen in the first place if there wasn't even going to be a baby.
I spent my 30th birthday on June 1st with Jared at my in-laws' cabin up north in Alpena. Sick because I was still technically pregnant. And waiting to miscarry. Wondering if it would happen. And when. While grieving.
Well, because my body wouldn't miscarry naturally, I ended up needing a procedure on June 16th to remove the pregnancy. I got to the operating room and stared up at the bright lights, grieving what I had so hoped this pregnancy would be for us. Grieving that this embryo never had a chance. Thinking of my husband, and wondering what the future held for us.
The rest of the summer was spent healing for us. We finished up our basement to make a nice home office space. We finally got the exterior of our house painted; something we had been wanting to do for years. We stained our back decks to coordinate with the new house colors. We also took a trip to the Smokey Mountains for the 4th of July. It felt so good to hike 5 miles to a waterfall with my husband just 3 weeks after suffering such an unusual pregnancy loss and surgery. Although we still grieved, we looked forward to what was to come.
October 1st: I woke up in the morning with a light fever. At the time, I was also nearing the end of my cycle, so even though I was concerned, I didn't think too much of it, as my temperature tends to run higher at this time of the month. I took the day off work to be safe. The protocol for COVID testing at my work was a temperature of above 100.3, or if I was showing any other symptoms. At this point I had not been showing any other symptoms. I just had a low grade fever in the low to mid 99s.
October 2nd: I received a text while at work from my husband that he was not feeling well either. Panic immediately set in, and we both scheduled COVID PCR tests together for later that day at a local urgent care near our house.
We sat in the waiting room together filling out paperwork as we waited to be called back for our tests. At this specific urgent care, you see a doctor who exams you if you go in for a COVID test. The last question on my sheet was, "Are you pregnant?". I leaned over to Jared, and we met eyes as I checked the box that said, "unsure". I knew we would find out soon enough, either way.
We were called back to the same room at the doctor's office. Jared got checked first. He sat at the edge of the table as the urgent care doctor listened to his heart. "Did you know that you have a heart murmur?"
I immediately blurted out, "Yes!" I always knew Jared had a loud heartbeat. I knew it sounded different than mine. He was so young, active and healthy though, that even though I had some concern about it, I knew given his age and health that it most certainly was not serious.
Jared got down from the table, sat in the chair beside me, and said, "I think I am going to throw up." I assured him that murmurs are common, but that it would be a good idea to set up an appointment with a cardiologist soon to be safe.
October 3rd: Jared and I were having a decently normal morning as we spent the weekend awaiting our COVID-19 PCR test results. While he was busy on the main level of our home, I went upstairs to use the bathroom, and thought, "Hell, I will just take a pregnancy test real quick to get this over with." Although I expected it to be negative, a part of me was hopeful for a positive. So I peed on the stick. Waited. And then within a few short seconds that second line began to appear.
I grabbed the pregnancy test and ran downstairs to Jared. The test was still changing, but it was a clear positive. We threw our arms around another, and I burst into tears. Pregnancy after pregnancy loss is a strange thing. You feel equal amounts of joy, with equal amounts of fear. I kept saying over and over, "I wasn't sure if I could get pregnant again!" I called up my mom crying. It was unbelievable. In the midst of waiting for our COVID results, there was joy. An unexpected joy. We were so happy.
October 5th: I awoke early that morning to a text that my grandfather, my grandpa Mario, had been admitted to the hospital. He was having concerns about his blood pressure, and while there, he received a positive COVID test result. My heart sank, and I felt like I was going to throw up.
In the meantime, I checked my email to find that I had new test results awaiting me from Beaumont Labs. When I opened them, I wasn't surprised to find that I too had tested positive for COVID-19. My husband began losing his taste and smell the day before. The first thing I did that morning when I woke up was shove my face into the tropical candle on my nightstand to find that, I indeed, had lost my smell completely. As a pregnant woman, I knew what this meant.
Jared and I spent the day making phone calls to work, speaking with urgent care, as well as officials from Oakland County. Up until this point, we thought we had been so careful. Never going out to eat to local restaurants, only doing carry out, and if we saw people, it was usually just a group of 2. When the weather permitted, we were of course outside. How could this happen to us??
We spent the following week tired, with aches and pains, dealing with cold like symptoms, on and off low fevers...Jared even began noticing heart palpitations for the first time. I prayed that even though the baby was teeny tiny, that it would not be affected by this virus.
October 9th: We found out that Jared's grandma Ann, whom we all call Nana, who had been on hospice care since the end of May, was not doing well. She was no longer eating or drinking, and was beginning to swell all over. Even though we were apprehensive to tell anyone about this pregnancy so early (because of how our last pregnancy went), we knew we had to tell Nana about this baby. She felt so badly about our loss over the summer, and each visit she would ask me if I was either feeling morning sickness yet, or when my next period was due to begin. I would smile and assure her that I would keep her updated.
Well, the time came for me to give her that update. We Facetimed Nana with the help our cousin Katie who was visiting Nana to tell her that were pregnant again. With this news, her face lit up, and I could hear her say, "How wonderful." We knew Nana didn't have much time left. You could see she was tired, at peace and ready to go home. We told her how much we loved her. We waved and blew kisses over Facetime. "Goodbye Nana, we love you."
2 days later, on October 11th, our dear and beloved Nana passed away. We grieved, but in ways that grief was cut short when my grandpa was readmitted to the hospital with more significant COVID-19 symptoms on October 13th.
I was back to work that week, as my quarantine had ended. I was on pins and needles, praying for my grandpa's health. Praying with all of my being that he could make a recovery from this. He had pre-existing health conditions which made COVID hit his body so much harder. We were all so scared, but I tried to remain hopeful.
October 16th: Although Jared and I, again, had apprehension about telling too many people about this pregnancy too soon, we felt it was time to tell my grandpa that we were expecting. We called him on his hospital phone. With an IV beeping in the background, I told him I was pregnant again. He was so happy that he thought I was joking. He felt so blessed by the beautiful news, as he said. He told me that the baby would either look like my late father, Kevin, or myself (I look like my dad, so he seemed pretty confident this baby would look like a Shalawylo). He thanked me over and over for sharing this news with him. It brought me joy to hear to hear his joy.
October 19th: I woke up and was getting ready for work like any other day. As I was packing my lunch, I got a severe pain that went searing through my entire abdomen. I curled over in my kitchen over my lunch box on the kitchen island and knew something wasn't right. I didn't have any bleeding or spotting thankfully, so I wasn't too worried about the baby. But still, I knew something was wrong.
I felt so badly about possibly needing to miss more work after my COVID leave, that I took a couple Tylenol and tried to push through the pain and attempted driving to work. I barely made it a few miles from my house when I felt like I was going to pass out from the pain. I called my principal to let her know what was going on and turned around and went home.
I climbed into bed and the pain was so bad that I couldn't even turn from my right side to my left. Jared and I decided it was time to take me to the hospital. Based on the location of the pain, we were thinking either a ruptured ovarian cyst or appendicitis.
We got to the hospital, and I had to spend the entire day at the emergency center alone. They did the first ultrasound and found free fluid in my abdomen. I felt less worried about this once I saw the tiniest little baby and the flicker of a heartbeat on the screen. I was only 6.5 weeks along, but I cried hearing the sound of the heartbeat for the first time. I texted Jared from the hospital bed and said, "There IS a baby this time! I even got to hear the heartbeat!" Even though we were separated in this moment, we felt a new connection knowing we were quite possibly actually going to have a baby this time.
The rest of the day was followed by a series of ultrasounds. They couldn't do a CT scan on me because of the pregnancy, so ultrasounds were the only way to rule out appendicitis. After meeting with a surgeon who examined me and felt my belly, they felt safe enough to say it more than likely was a ruptured ovarian cyst and that I could go home if I was able to keep down food.
Jared picked me up from the hospital that evening, and I spent the next several days, including our 2nd wedding anniversary on October 20th, lying on the couch or in bed, recovering from the severe abdominal pain, while also battling a debilitating migraine and early stage morning sickness. I was in such a state where I wondered if I would ever be able to feel normal and walk around the house again.
Jared, being the amazing husband that he is, took such good care of me. Encouraging me to eat and drink, even though I had gotten to a point where I couldn't even hold down liquids. Eventually he put in a call to my doctor who prescribed anti-nausea medication. This helped combat the migraine and morning sickness and I started to turn a corner in my health by the end of the week.
October 25th: A couple days prior, my grandfather had been moved to hospice at Troy Beaumont. His health, although not getting worse, wasn't getting any better. We felt the best way for him to heal would be if he was able to see family. As a COVID patient, the only way to have visitors was to be in hospice. We were thankful that my mom, a healthcare worker, was able to find this loophole.
The morning of the 25th, I received a devastating call from my mom that my grandpa was not doing well. He spent the evening prior visiting with my brother and talking to him about the last political debate. As Colin was leaving, he asked him to shut off the lights so he could sleep. My grandpa did get the sleep he so desperately needed, but to our shock and sadness, he greatly declined that night. His oxygen levels dramatically decreased from being in the high 80s the day before, to the mid-60s. He didn't have much time left. In a panic, I threw on clothes, brushed my teeth, and Jared and I rushed to Troy Beaumont.
I had to wait for special clearance to be able to go up to my grandpa's room to see him. When I got to my grandpa's bedside, all I could think about was how special this man was to me and how thankful I was to have been able to live with him for 7 years. He and my grandma filled a special and stable role in my life while I was going through tough family changes in early-mid college. They provided me with a home, love, meals, and lots and lots of joy. I wasn't ready to let go of my grandpa yet, but I knew his body ready. I touched his hand and said goodbye.
30 minutes later, as soon as we got back to my car in the Beaumont parking structure, my aunt called to say my grandpa had passed away. I couldn't believe the legendary grandpa Mario was actually gone.
October 30th was to be the date of Jared's original cardiologist appointment with Dr. DeGregorio, who came highly recommended to us by my grandpa. My grandpa suffered a major heart attack in 1990 and had the utmost respect for this doctor. But, in light of my grandpa's passing, this ended up being the day of my grandpa's funeral. We were both so nervous about needing to reschedule this important appointment, but we didn't have a choice.
We spent the days following my grandpa's funeral grieving the loss of our dear grandparents who passed away just 2 weeks apart from one another. We had finally made to it November though. After how October went, just surviving the month felt like a victory. We knew that November HAD to be better for us.
November 9th: It was finally the day I could have my first ultrasound with my OBGYN. My first one was cancelled, since I had been in the hospital that day for the ruptured cyst. I prayed so hard for this appointment. We needed good news.
After our first pregnancy loss, ultrasounds can be nerve wracking for me. I laid down on the ultrasound bed and held my breath as the tech began looking for the baby. I turned my head to the left, and there it was on the screen. A happy, bouncing baby at just 9.5 weeks gestation. The baby was so active that the ultrasound tech was having a difficult time getting some clear images. I didn't know a baby so small could be so active. I needed this joy, and I know Jared did too.
As soon as I finished, I texted Jared the ultrasound photos and a video of the baby where you could see the heart beating. I couldn't wait to get home to show him the photos.
When I got home, I ran up to his office and handed him the ultrasound images. We hugged and kissed and my eyes welled up with tears. After a year and a half of trying with a pregnancy loss in-between, we were FINALLY having a baby together. We felt so blessed and so happy to be able to share in this experience together. Finally. What a gift. A gift we knew we needed. A gift that would help get us climb our biggest mountain yet.
November 20th: Jared's rescheduled cardiologist appointment with my grandpa's former cardiologist, Dr. DeGregorio, was that morning at 10:00am. On his way out, Jared came down to the basement to let me know that he had made a fresh pot of coffee upstairs. I was on a virtual meeting with my principal, so I smiled, nodded and waved goodbye; not really giving it too much thought. It was just a normal work from home day for us. We were both so oblivious to what would be coming.
2 hours later, Jared texted me: "Are you on your lunch break?"
"I will call you in a bit."
And 2 minutes later, he did.
I held my breath upon answering Jared's call. I had a feeling after reading his text message that something serious had happened. He told me that the cardiologist listened to his heartbeat and sent him for an immediate ultrasound of his heart. He said that his ascending aorta of his heart should be 3.5cm. If it is above 5.5 they recommend surgery. His was over 7, so Dr. DeGregorio had already put in a call to his friend, a top heart surgeon at U of M, to meet with Jared that evening. Jared had a severely large aneurysm in his thoracic aorta. "It sounds like I may need surgery today or in the next few days. U of M should be getting in touch with me shortly."
With my lunch starting to burn in the toaster oven, I leaned against the kitchen counter in complete and utter disbelief. It knocked the wind out of me. This was the very last thing I expected.
My husband. My sweet, sweet husband who came into my life at the most pivotal time to help me heal from the death of my father just 4 years ago has a fatal aneurysm in his heart and needs almost immediate heart surgery? How could this be? How?? This isn't right. This isn't supposed to happen to him. Jared. This isn't supposed to happen. How could this be happening? We just found out less than 2 months ago that we are finally having a baby after a devastating pregnancy loss over the summer. The father of my child. Our child. My love. My sweet, sweet love.
As I waited for Jared to get home from the doctor, I made some phone calls: to my work, to my mom, to my best friend. I also threw on comfy clothes and a pair of tennis shoes. We didn't know what that day or the coming days would bring. Through the tears and uncertainty, I knew that I needed to be strong. I needed to be strong for my husband who has always been so strong for me.
I saw Jared pull up in my car on the driveway. For the first time in a long time, I had butterflies in my stomach seeing Jared step out of the car. Everything changed in a matter of a phone call for us. I knew we would never be the same after this. How could we be?
As he approached the back door, I thought, "What do I do now? What do I say? Do I just hug him? No matter what I need to be strong."
He walked in the door. We met eyes for the first time since finding out Jared would need surgery on his heart very soon. He continued on into the kitchen to put some things down, and I walked towards him. We embraced each other for a long moment. It suddenly didn't even feel like it was our own lives that we were living. I had only just reached 11 weeks of pregnancy the day before.
I asked him if he had called his parents yet. He said he hadn't, so together, we told his parents about his cardiologist appointment with Dr. DeGregorio. The appointment that I assumed would put our minds at ease about his heart murmur. The appointment that completely broke and would forever change us.
The rest of the day was spent on the phone with U of M. Giving and receiving information. Sending over files. Scheduling appointments.
Our virtual appointment with Jared's heart surgeon, Dr. Himanshu Patel, was scheduled for 4:30 that evening.
At 4:15, Jared got out his laptop and opened the Zoom meeting. I sat across from him at the kitchen island so I could listen and take notes.
Dr. Patel confirmed that Jared did in fact have a very large thoracic aortic aneurysm, that he was recommending open heart surgery in the next week or so (it would be slightly delayed due to the Thanksgiving holiday). Based on the size of the aneurysm and how stretched his aorta was, Dr. Patel also thought Jared would most likely need an aortic valve replacement. We discussed different aortic valve options, mechanical valve or pig valve, and the pros and cons of each. The doctor also mentioned that if Jared needed work on his aortic arch, that they would have to induce hypothermia during the operation. He wouldn't know for sure until they get inside.
I took as many notes as I could, holding back tears. As soon as the meeting ended, we just looked at each other in disbelief, took deep breaths, and I broke down. We hugged for a long time. We just couldn't believe what was happening and so fast.
We called Jared's parents right away to tell them about the consultation with Dr. Patel. Jared felt so overwhelmed and didn't know how to tell his parents about what we had just learned. With Jared sitting across the kitchen island from me with his head laying down on his arms, I told his parents everything Dr. Patel had just told us. I tried my best to just focus on my notes so I could get through telling them about the invasive heart procedure that their son was about to endure.
As soon as we got off the phone, I drove Jared to U of M in Ann Arbor so he could have a CT scan done.
The drive to Ann Arbor felt long. It was dark outside already. I felt so much. So so much. Anger. Disbelief. Grief. Frustration. Hurt. Sadness. Fear. Uncertainty. But beneath that, was love. An undying love that I had for my husband, Jared. I would do anything and everything for him. I would give him anything. I would give him the world. I would do my best to love him and take care of him through this. I would move mountains for him if I could. My love.
When we got to the hospital for Jared's scan, I sat in my car in the parking garage and started making phone calls to update my parents. It felt so surreal to talk about this out loud with people and the mountain ahead of us.
The days following were spent doing research on aortic valves. With lots of hugs, cuddles and massages in between.
On Monday, November 23rd, we received a date for Jared's open heart surgery. It was to be scheduled for Wednesday, December 2nd at 7am. Sitting on the edge of our bed together, I cried. It made this all feel even more real. We spent a long time hugging. I just couldn't believe we were going this.
I spent my nights lying awake watching Jared's silhouette. Watching to make sure his chest and shoulders were rising and falling in the dim light of the window by our bed. Touching him and listening to his heart beating. Touching my belly and thinking of our baby. My beloved. I prayed. I prayed for his health. I prayed for his heart. I prayed he would get through each day leading up to his surgery. That we could get through.
One specific night, I kept having nightmares that Jared was having trouble breathing. He was either near me, and I couldn't do anything for him, or far away calling for me, and I still couldn't do anything. I felt completely helpless. These nightmares kept me up even more than I already was.
While lying awake thinking about how horrible these dreams were, I heard Jared start hyperventilating in the bed next to me. I immediately thought my nightmares were coming to fruition and panicked. I sat up over Jared and started rubbing his chest. "Jared! Jared! Are you okay??"
His eyes opened after a few long moments, and he just stared at me. He said, "Something's wrong, something's wrong." Once we was awake a little more, he realized he had been having a night terror. I put my head on his chest, and his heartbeat sounded steady. He said in his dream, he couldn't breathe. He was trying to call for me and say my name but couldn't. We held each other close as I told him I had been having the same dream he had been.
We were both terrified. I massaged his arms, back and head until he was able to fall back to sleep.
Genesis 2:24. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh."
Marriage. Oneness. I never fully understood this verse until we were forced to walk this road. Until we were faced with mortality. While expecting our first baby.
Almost overnight, I understood what it meant to fully become one flesh with Jared. One flesh. His fears equaled my fears. His pain equaled my pain. His sorrow equaled my sorrow. And in the moments of joy, his joy equaled mine. We were one. We were in this together.
As Jared made phone calls to people throughout the week, I would overhear him talking about our CT scan results, our surgery, and later in the hospital, getting our bed moved to a different unit. He knew I was in this with him, every step of the way. His heart was mine, and mine his.
We started praying more together. A lot. More than we ever had before. Before dinner. Before bed.
We prayed a lot for Jared's aortic valve. We knew a mechanical valve would mean a longer healing process, with more long term side effects needing to be on blood thinners forever. More restrictions. We prayed so hard that he would be able to keep his own valve.
November 30th: A day of appointments for both Jared and I.
We left the house around 10:30am to head to my 12 week ultrasound. Leading up to this appointment, I prayed so hard that baby would be good, healthy and strong through everything. We needed the baby to be okay so we could go into Jared's surgery focusing solely on Jared and his health.
On the way to my ultrasound, we received a call from the hospital saying that I could attend Jared's consultation appointments for the day, but that Jared would not be allowed any inpatient visitors during the entirety of his hospital stay. We tried so hard to get me to be able to visit Jared while in the hospital, given our unique circumstances: a young, expecting couple who both already had COVID within the last couple months. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything that could be done. I was devastated. But I knew we did our best.
We held hands as I cried the rest of the way to my appointment.
I sobbed the entire time as I sat in the waiting room at my doctor's office. I could see other patients looking at me. I wanted to be able to just tell everyone, "I'm having a baby and my husband is having open heart surgery in 2 days, and we just found out 15 minutes ago I won't even be able to see him while he is at the hospital."
Still in tears, I walked back for my ultrasound and told the tech I was having a really hard day. I was still crying as I laid down on the ultrasound table. The tech put her probe on my belly. And there was our baby. Bouncing around and happy, as usual. The tears came to a halt as soon as I got to see our baby. Jared and I Zoomed from our phones so he could be there for the ultrasound. Joy in the darkness.
I left that appointment with more photos of the baby. I ran to my car and was so excited to show them to Jared. I got inside and handed them all to him. We looked through them together. We locked eyes and kissed. Our baby. Our flesh becoming one. Our future.
We snapped a quick photo together with an ultrasound photo during a brief moment of pure joy. Then left to head to Ann Arbor for the rest of Jared's tests and the in person consultation with his doctor.
Once the Frankel Cardiovascular Center at U of M came into view, I broke down. I tried to imagine Jared being there alone without me, knowing all he was about to endure. Although we were grateful for the opportunity to have Jared's heart fixed before it got worse, it still felt like we were living a bad dream. We are too young to be dealing with this. We should be focusing on getting ready for our baby. This was all too much.
We parked in the adjoining parking structure and walked into the Cardiovascular Center together. As Jared went back for his tests, I sat in the waiting area and had a phone session with my long time, amazing therapist, Renee. It had been years since we spoke, but it was so good to have her support, words of encouragement, and have all my feelings validated during this trying time.
Eventually it came time for us to meet with Jared's heart surgeon, Dr. Patel. Thankfully, Jared's surgery was scheduled as a thoracic aneurysm repair and valve sparing procedure. The doctor felt there was a 50-75% chance that Jared would be able to keep his own aortic valve. We clung to the hope that his valve would be salvaged. We left hand-in-hand scared, but encouraged. We were so ready for Jared's heart to be fixed. I felt confident in Jared's surgical team to fix the heart of the man who holds mine.
The last couple days leading up to Jared's surgery were spent making preparations. Getting the house ready, doing laundry, packing hospital bags, reading through paperwork, filling out paperwork, mentally preparing for me not being able to be at the hospital, holding each other and praying. My love.
We drove to Ann Arbor the day before Jared's surgery. We were fortunate that Jared's parents booked us a beautiful Airbnb 10 minutes from the hospital owned by their former business partner. Jared and I would stay here together the night before surgery, and then I would stay on here with my best friend while Jared is in the hospital.
December 2nd: 2 months to the day that we took COVID tests and discovered Jared's heart murmur, we left the house at 5am to head to U of M for Jared's open heart surgery. Through the anxiety, we both felt at peace. This is where we were supposed to be. Although the days ahead would be long, at least Jared's heart would be better.
We got to the hospital and walked to the surgical waiting area and stood in line together as Jared checked in for his surgery. We were the youngest ones there. I stood there, a young pregnant wife holding a pile of bags, doing my best to continue to remain strong for my young husband. The receptionist handed me a ticket with Jared's surgery case number and the possible duration of the surgery: 9.66 hours. I glanced at it and slipped it into my pocket, hoping and praying that his surgery wasn't going to last that long.
Once Jared was checked in, we sat for a brief few minutes together in the chairs in the waiting area. Holding hands. At this point, there weren't really any more words that could be said. I told him he would do great, and how much I loved him. I told him I would be thinking of him every second of every day while he is at the hospital; while we are apart.
The nurse came back just a few minutes later to get him. We hugged each other for the last time before surgery. As I watched him walk away, I prayed all would be well. And it would be.
My dear friend Charlotte, who lives in the UK, called me shortly after Jared went back to pre-op. This passed the time leading up to Jared's 7am surgery start time. She prayed over us at exactly 7am. She prayed for Jared, his surgeons, the surgery itself and his aortic valve.
The rest of day at the hospital for me was spent trying to rest on a recliner in the waiting area, attempting to nap, making phone calls, responding to texts, talking to my mom and Jared's parents on the phone, writing and doing my best to nourish my body. I promised Jared I would take care of myself and the baby.
Although Jared's surgery was expected to last anywhere from 8-10 hours, at 1:30pm, 6.5 hours after Jared's surgery start time, I saw Dr. Patel walk through the OR doors towards me. I didn't even have time to be nervous about meeting with him to find out the outcome of the surgery, because it was like he had just unexpectedly appeared in front of me.
Right away he told me that the surgery went well. They replaced the aortic root and ascending aorta.
"Was he able to keep his valve?" I asked. This was one of our top hopes and prayers for this surgery.
"Yes, and it looked really good."
I put my hand on my heart and eyes welled up with tears. I thanked him for being able to spare Jared's valve. "He's going to be so happy", I said over and over.
I asked about his aortic arch, and Dr. Patel said that was fine too. They didn't need to do the hypothermia inducing procedure. It was quite possibly the absolute best case scenario that we could have ever hoped for in this situation. I cried. I felt such relief. My husband's heart was finally fixed.
He said Jared was being kept for observation in the OR for another hour before he would be brought to ICU. I planned to stay at the hospital until I knew Jared was okay and settled in his room in the ICU.
I gave it about an hour and a half before calling back to the ICU from the waiting room phone. The charge nurse immediately reminded me that I couldn't see Jared. I told her, "I know. I have been told this a dozen times this week. I just want to know that my husband made it to his room okay before I leave the hospital." She said he got to his room about 15 minutes before I called. She also said that they were going to keep him sedated and on a ventilator until 7pm before trying to ween him off the sedation meds.
I hung up the phone. The tears welled up. I packed my bag and gathered my things. On the way to the elevators, I walked passed the Cardiovascular ICU. Crying, I paused and just stared at the doors. I felt so close to Jared, yet so far. He was just beyond those doors in front of me, but I knew I would not be allowed back in the hospital or seeing him again until he was discharged. I felt completely broken and helpless. My husband, the love of my life and other half, is sedated and on a ventilator and will be for most of the evening, and I am being forced to leave him here. Alone.
I got to my car and broke down. I cried uncontrollably. I wanted to be strong. But the pain of leaving Jared in this moment was unbearable.
I knew it would be. It was my most dreaded moment leading up to his surgery. I envisioned it over and over. Cried thinking about it. And here it was. I was living my most dreaded moment. I was supposed to be with him. I had to be. I needed to be. I didn't know how I was going to physically be able to drive away from this hospital. Drive away from Jared. After having just gone through the most traumatic thing he has ever gone through.
I called my mom who helped calm me down. She assured me that Jared was right where he was supposed to be. That he was okay. That he would be okay. And that I would see him again soon enough.
Once I was composed enough, I pulled the car into reverse and left the parking structure. I did it. I don't know how, but I did it.
I got back to the Airbnb and spent some time with Jared's parents. Once they left, I took a long, hot shower and attempted to nap.
I laid down in the bed for a long time. The bed Jared and I had just shared the night before. And couldn't nap. Since I couldn't physically be with Jared, all I could do was try and imagine him. I stared at his wedding band on the nightstand beside me, imagining what he may look like in that moment, hours after open heart surgery. So vulnerable. Unable to breathe on his own yet. I felt so sad and helpless.
I knew Jared would be okay. I was thankful the surgery was a success. But all gratitude and praises couldn't make up for the grief and helplessness I felt no longer being able to be there for Jared during the most difficult week of our lives.
Since I couldn't sleep, I got up and paced and walked around the house. I walked in circles, touching my belly and talking to our baby. I told our baby daddy's heart was better, and how I hoped they grow up to be just like him. The bravest, kindest, strongest, most driven and joyful man I know. My gift from God. The light God brought me to see me through my darkest time. I could only hope to match that light during this time in our relationship.
Minutes felt like hours as I impatiently waited for a call from U of M to tell me how Jared was doing. To tell me if he was awake or breathing on his own. I compulsively and incessantly kept checking my phone. Waiting for my phone to ring or vibrate. Waiting for a notification. Waiting to hear if Jared was awake. Waiting. Waiting.
When 9pm rolled around, and I still hadn't heard any updates, I called the hospital. I spoke to Jared's nurse who said they were going to start trying to wake Jared up soon. She said he had a bleeding issue, but that it was okay now. Bleeding issue? Where? I would later find out that he had been having a larger output of blood through the chest tubes than they would normally expect 10 minutes after coming to the ICU. They had to give him platelets to help stop the bleeding. Before getting off the phone, I asked the nurse to call me as soon as Jared was off the ventilator. I didn't care how late it was. I just needed to know that he was okay.
When we got off the phone, I collapsed on the kitchen table. This day. This day was so long. Specifically the last 8 hours. And so very hard. I was so proud of myself for how well I handled Jared being in surgery. But from 3pm on, it was unbearable. I couldn't take it. My best friend prayed with me. I don't remember what she even said. I just couldn't stop crying. I kept thinking of Jared lying there on a ventilator, bleeding. And there was nothing I could do to remedy the situation. I prayed that Jared would be awake and off the ventilator soon. And that he would be able to tolerate breathing on his own. I prayed that he wouldn't be too scared. I prayed for his heart and lungs. That was all I could do. Pray.
The following hours were met with agony with fear of the unknown and uncertainty of what the coming hours might bring. Eventually I laid down on the couch and played ocean sounds to try and relax my anxious mind and heart.
I kept my phone beside me on the couch in case the hospital called.
At 11:03pm, I heard my phone ring and saw Jared's name and photo pop up on my phone screen.
It felt like a dream; I thought I was hallucinating. I answered. And it was Jared. His voice was hoarse from having been on a ventilator for 15 hours. But he was breathing and talking. I didn't know what to say but that I loved him, over and over. I told him that he was able to keep his valve. And that I loved him some more. He told me he loved me too each time I said it. He also said that it was hard to talk and he needed to rest, so we quickly got off the phone. The most beautiful and special 1 minute phone conversation of my life. I will never forget it as long as I live. My husband had woken up and was breathing on his own after open heart surgery. Thank you, Jesus.
Although I had hoped and prayed I would finally be able to sleep that night after hearing from Jared himself, I didn't. I was up all night checking my phone to make sure I wasn't missing any calls from the hospital in case there were any issues Jared's first night post surgery.
The next morning, I put in a call to Jared's nurse around 8:45am. While waiting for the nurse to come to the phone, Jared FaceTimed me from his hospital bed.
Although it was so good to see him on my phone, it was just as hard knowing I couldn't be there. He was pale. He had oxygen in his nose. Had a very large tube with smaller tubes attached to it coming out of his neck. And a pillow in front of his chest. I could see a very large IV pole beside his bed. My poor babe. He had gone through so much. All I wanted to do was hold his hand in that moment. I just love him so much.
By 2:30pm, Jared had already been tolerating both liquids and solids, had gotten his Foley catheter and pulmonary arterial catheter out. It seemed he was getting most of his medication orally instead of through the IV. He was also sitting up in his chair for meals and had gone on a walk. It was so good and assuring to know he was headed in the right direction this early into his recovery.
As the day after surgery went on, I became more and more aware of what my needs were in this situation. I needed some form of communication either from Jared or the hospital every 4 hours. For some reason, on the 4 hour mark, I would start to wonder and worry.
Although I was adjusting to our new normal this week - Jared in the hospital and me at the house with Sarah, it was hard to hear the pain and tiredness in Jared's voice whenever we would speak on the phone. I couldn't be there to comfort him, and there was nothing I could do to take his pain away. I felt so vulnerable listening to how vulnerable Jared sounded.
There were moments when all I wanted to do was hear his voice, but hearing his voice made the separation between us more difficult for me. He could only talk for a few minutes at a time; he was tired and in so much pain from the chest tubes. Our most difficult conversation was when I could hear him whimper with each breath he took. My sweet husband.
We would get off the phone so he could rest. I would lay on the couch and cry. I prayed each day would get better. For him, and for me.
And each day did get better. A little. But better.
More tubes being taken out of him. A little more conversation. A little less pain. We were getting there.
Although I hadn't seen Jared on the phone since the day after his surgery, he finally Facetimed me Saturday morning.
He looked so good in this moment, even through video, it gave me butterflies. His color was coming back. He had a little more energy. He told me his chest tubes had finally come out. I really didn't know what to say to him half the time. All I felt was pure gratitude that we could still have these moments. All I wanted to do was look at him. Not only was he still here, but we were getting closer and closer to seeing one another again. I couldn't believe that this was my husband. My strong, beautiful, brave husband.
If you know mine and Jared's story, you know that we met through mutual friends in 2012. After we started officially dating in 2016, I would always say and write that there was no way either of us could know what we would end up meaning to the other. That his joy and who he is as a person would help me through the tragic loss of my dad after a 13 month battle with pancreatic cancer. Jared gave my life meaning, purpose and something to look forward to everyday while I grieved. I always said that Jared was and is my gift from God. Our relationship was and always has been filled with so much love and joy.
Now, I look back, and it is completely daunting thinking of this road that was laid for us. This road neither of us could have imagined walking. So young. And new into marriage. And that so much would be packed into 4 years together. We didn't know. When Jared made me that first drink at his loft in Royal Oak in 2012, we couldn't know all that lie ahead for us. But God did. And I firmly believe this.
We couldn't have anticipated in the 4 years of being together, that we would get married, and then once we finally get pregnant with a healthy baby after pregnancy loss, that not only would we contract and recover from a global pandemic virus and lose 2 grandparents within 2 weeks, that Jared would then need immediate open heart surgery. But through this, I believe that we could and can trust God's provision for our lives.
It was getting COVID from a small get together at our house that I organized that led us to discover Jared's heart murmur. It was through my late grandfather that we were set up with an amazing cardiologist who happened to be friends with the top heart surgeon in the region that specializes in the specific type of surgery that Jared needed. I would like to think God had a specific plan for me in Jared's life at this very specific time.
I mostly feel so blessed and lucky that I get to be the one to care for Jared and take care of him for however long God gives us on this earth, and carry his children. He is so precious. I could cry thinking of how much I love my husband. He deserves the world. And I hope he continues to experience and receive all the goodness that life has to offer him.