My Life: From Surgery to the Starting Line

This guest column is written by Kendra Mittermeyer, administrative assistant at DailyBurn. Follow along on her journey towards health, wellness, self-improvement and the perfect push-up. (If you missed the start of the series, catch the beginning here, and her first major feat here.)

Road Heart
Photo: Pond5

You know what’s not cute? Jogging. Jogging when you stink at jogging. Jogging when three blocks in, you’re pretty sure your spleen is about to give birth to Daenerys Stormborn’s Dragons.

So what could possibly make this special time better? Why inviting your boyfriend to witness (ahem, join), of course! No need to keep that gremlin-gait a secret, no no. Now my fella, my lifetime buddy pal, gets to join in the spectacle. But who says that extreme sweating and sputtering can’t be the stuff of great romance?

Me, I do.

Romance is, however, wanting the next 65 years with the same person. But the thing is you have to be around for the next 65 years to actually share it with that someone. I’m not saying I’m so unhealthy I’m libel to croak crossing the street. But we’re not fools either. We all know the choices we make today affect tomorrow. Sixty-five years is a great goal, but it’s also ambitious. And frankly, Sean and I have some work to do in order get there.

I started dating Sean when we were 19 years old. Within the first six months, I began attending his yearly cardiologist appointments. It was scary and bizarre and also remarkably normal for him. Having been born with a congenital heart defect, he was accustomed to stress tests and echocardiograms. We knew a surgery would be necessary at some point, but that frightening prospect was kept to the horizons. We mostly focused on the present — classes, friends, graduation, jobs, apartment hunts. Life stuff, kid stuff.

About three months after we moved in together we were told the time had come. The cardiothoracic sweet spot of not too soon, not too late was approaching. Pull out the calendars folks, let’s schedule in some open-heart surgery!

We had about a year from that point, before the big day. This is how I would describe that year: Immediate panic and stress. Order Chinese food. Decide to get as healthy as possible, as soon as possible. Order Chinese food. Re-commit ourselves to healthy habits every Sunday night after 48 hours of gluttony and television. Mondays are hard. Order Chinese food. Really get our act together for a few days. Walk two miles to the green market to buy fresh, virtuous vegetables. Feel like rock stars. Turn on television. Resolve to make a spectacular, healthy meal tomorrow. Order Chinese food.

As the date grew closer, we vacillated all the more hysterically between living up to the aforementioned lofty ideals (properly nourishing his body) and blind terror (ordering Chinese food). Scared, stupid, and so very human.

Regardless of how ill or well we prepared, the days flew by and the year passed (as they tend to do), and we had to face the surgery.

Sean did beautifully. There was air in the world again.

I got him back home and we followed the doctor’s orders to the letter. Anything I could find with vitamins and iron — I was cooking it. Swiss chard, broccoli, sweet potatoes, organic steak… I was the Bobby Flay of cardiac recovery meals.

He continued healing like a champ and we spent weeks playing Scrabble and streaming Netflix. At this point there was also a good amount of Oreos happening. Sean’s not a huge milk drinker, but he does dig it as a tool for cookie-soggification. The man was re-growing a ribcage, whatever means necessary when it came to calcium intake, am I right?

The sad truth was that once the panic subsided, we relaxed. Or rather collapsed. We were so wiped by the experience and so palpably relieved to be through, that we slipped back into poor health habits. The mindset was akin to something along the lines of: “We made it! We’re here; we’re safe. All fingers and toes and pulmonary valves accounted for. And now we shall never leave this couch, this blobby sanctuary of safety and goodness, ever again.”

That manic vice-grip on our lives has subsided now. We’re a year out, officially. We can look to the future for what feels like the first time since we’ve known each other. Living in the present turned into a lifestyle of burying our heads in the sand. The ostrich life was what it needed to be at the time. But thankfully, it’s over now.

So what’s more different than sitting on your bum, remote in hand?

Jogging your face off.

Better to look foolish chasing a goal than sitting around scared, right? In a fit of frustration for where we are now and ambition for where we want to get, we decided to forcibly root out fear and laziness. And so we signed for a 10K this November (or as we call it, a sloth-ectomy).

It was ridiculously simple. We googled “New York City races” and picked the Prospect Park Fall Duathlon, an event that miraculously takes place within walking distance of our home. (That’s right, I am willing to train and participate in a race, but I am not willing to take a train in order to participate in a race. We are easing into this, people!)

It’s rather brilliant, though. We have to hit the pavement now, because we’re committed to it later. I’m committed to a lot of things I want to come later. It feels great to finally be taking steps to get there.

We get to choose what life is now. Not doctors, or worried moms, or bodies that mustn’t be pushed too hard. It’s all possible, and it’s all ours to chase down.

Every time Sean strides ahead of me I think, “Damn you! You medical miracle, you!” as I race to catch up.

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