a circle of friends creating a loving support system

Single, But Safely Surrounded

The good news (within the bad news) is that when I was diagnosed with heart disease in 1999 and received a triple bypass, I was married.

My spouse was able to help with all the details of talking with doctors, securing medication, taking care of me at home, getting me to my follow-up appointments and making sure my two very active active golden retrievers didn’t jump on the bed for their own version of recovery care. (Actually, they were great, intuitive, therapy dogs in every sense of the word.)

Now dealing with things single

The other news (within the good news), 22 years later, as I sit squarely in middle-age at 66, is that I am now single, and have been for some time. Not bad news of course, but certainly different and not what I had anticipated.

So what does the non-partnered heart patient do when there are doctor’s visits? Medication issues? Fears that wake you in the middle of the night when you feel some kind of palpitation? Concerns about where the care will come from should something more serious arise?

It takes a village

I’ve experienced all those in my single-hood, and I can tell you I have made it through splendidly. But to do so, I have discovered that it takes a village, to coin a popular phrase. Not a large one, but a cadre of close friends nonetheless. And if one is single, it’s worth taking a look at right now.

Appointments? Picking up medication? Speaking intelligently to the doctors and pharmacist? Eh. No problem. I’ve educated myself a good deal along this cardio-journey and can take care of myself there. But I have experienced my share of so-called night-fears (and terrors) when I was sure I needed to go to the hospital, sure that a cataclysmic “event” was right around the corner.

I don’t have a spouse or significant other to wake in the middle of the night. But I know for a fact I have people on the other end of the phone who I can call at any time, even if I’m just sitting in some fear and need to talk.

A loving group of people

What I have done over the years is create an openness with my close friends, all of whom are well aware of my cardiac issues. Before retirement it also included one or two colleagues at work, as well as my extended family that exists today.

They know where the ER is, where my nitro is, who my doctor is, and they have phone numbers of family members (who live out of town) should they need to be called. I have not hid my condition but have welcomed an efficient and loving group of people into my life to help me when I cannot help myself.

Counting on them

It doesn't hurt that one of my friends is a heart patient himself, having experienced several of the same issues as me. We are “cardiac buddies,” and have some similar hardware working inside us. I think it’s vital to have that kind of friend. He knows what goes through my mind. He can help me run through the list of possibilities. And he can help me determine if it’s doctor or ER time or wait and see time.

I have some neighbors who I can count on, too. We all know each other enough to understand that one cannot always take care of oneself, and they are part of that village that steps in to see me to the healthy side. They are also aware of my issues and have phone numbers of my family and other friends. The unanticipated blessing that has arisen from that is that I can be there to help them as well. An unintended benefit indeed!

Having my back ... and my heart

One of the dilemmas I faced post-surgery was that of feeling fragile – not just physically, for that disappeared over time as I enthusiastically focused on cardiac-rehab. I’m speaking mentally and emotionally. I felt somehow flawed. And I didn’t want to discuss much with those outside my spouse and close family members.

I soon realized that that was a mistake. I did not advertise my condition but came to understand that having a slightly wider circle of help made me feel more confident, more sure of myself, and aware that should problems arise – even while living the single life – the village would have both my back…and my heart.

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