On Friday afternoon, September 14th I was busy lawyering away at my desk on K street in downtown DC where I’d been for nearly 20 years.
At that law firm, that is, not at the same desk.
(although it often felt as if I’d been chained to that desk forever.)
3 days later – on Monday, September 17th I was flat on my back on a stretcher in the emergency room of Washington Hospital Center in a part of DC where lawyers usually did not venture unless they were very, very ill.
My defective-since-birth aortic valve had decided that this was a good time to become severely infected.
When a team of 7 doctors huddles around your ER stretcher to consult with each other, you get the sense that the news will not be good. If I had any sense at all.
Mostly I was in and out, with sepsis floating around my body and a rapidly dropping blood pressure. My husband later told me I asked the huddled doctors if it was too late to seek a 2nd opinion, Johns Hopkins anyone? No one responded.
I have not been back to my law firm since that Friday afternoon in September; the last day I lawyered. My instant retirement was completely unplanned.
I had just turned 60; having worked full time for 33 years. Retirement was then a cloud on a fuzzy horizon. Both my husband and mortgage company seemed very happy with my regular paycheck. My adult kids had long ago made their peace with it. Mom, the lawyer.
What me, retire? What would I do next?
And then it was right in front of me; staring me in the face. I, the consummate planner, the one who disliked surprises, hated being the last to know, was facing the biggest impromptu challenge of my life.
Sparing you the more gruesome medical details (which I will save for a fun post at another time), I spent most of September, then November and December of that Fall in the hospital, watching multiple doctors flit in and out of my room (totally ignoring the “please keep the door closed” sign as n/a) to tell me in somber tones how rare my condition was.
“We don’t often see this.” Not the least bit reassuring.
After two surgeries ( pro tip: when they tell you the 2nd surgery will be much more extensive than the first, don’t ask for specifics), countless “this won’t hurt” procedures, mistakes, large and small, I came home with a new valve (kindly donated by a cadaver of unknown origin) for months of recuperation.
At first, the cards and gift baskets (too much fruit, people!) arrived steadily.
Then they tailed off. My girlfriends visited when they could, but they were busy with their jobs and lives.
So it was down to me, sitting in the dining room, with newspapers, coffee, our 2 rescue terriers,
the mailman at the door and my IV pole.
No one wants a lawyer who travels with an IV pole.
It took me awhile to figure out what others probably knew.
I was not going to be able to return to my up-to-now life as a law firm lawyer.
This is the story of what happened next.
And what happened before next.
Because the only way I can live forward is to sometimes look back.