Becoming A Cyborg, Part 1: The Lead-Up and The Diagnosis

It was a clear, black night. A clear white moon. Warren G’s on the streets, trying….

…wait, that’s not how it went.

Actually, it was the Fall of 2009. Leading up to then, I had been lucky enough to have very few health issues. Chickenpox in the 2nd grade – but who didn’t have them or measles as a kid? – and some colds but, other than tendinitis, not much else. However, sometime in mid-November, I managed to catch pneumonia, bronchitis, AND a respiratory infection, all within about a week of each other. I spent Thanksgiving feeling like garbage, then went into Target to work the next morning. Once that stuff cleared up, I managed to get another respiratory infection a few weeks later, resulting in either a pulled muscle or a cracked rib from coughing. I should’ve known something was amiss then.

Fast-forward to the 2nd week of February, and the end of a few weeks of relative health. At the time, my job at Target was Signing Specialist; one of my responsibilities was to hang the different signage and decorations from the ceiling. If I did this during store hours, I had a spotter with me; they would keep guests clear of my ladder (or WAV) or hand me signs and parts, when needed. I was hanging signs that week for our Outdoor patio furniture with team member/friend Josh. I remember that on Wednesday and Thursday, I was exhausted. I’m not talking “12 hours of working in the sun” tired; this much MUCH worse. There were a couple of moments where it hurt to walk, it was so exhausting. Plus, I seemingly couldn’t get a decent breath (mainly that Thursday afternoon), so I became Josh’s spotter while he did the hanging and sign placing.

Louisville got some snow that night. Combine that with not feeling better or breathing easier,  I had debated on staying home and trying to rest and sleep it off for Friday, but in the end, I went to work. I would rather leave work early than call in… at least, I did back then. It probably saved my life.

I lived, at that time, a block from the bus stop. It took at least 3 minutes to get to the bus stop, and that was with me walking in the street, avoiding the snow on the sidewalk for the most part. I had to stop 3 or 4 times to catch my breath. In perfect 20/20 hindsight, I should have went to the hospital right then, but I blamed my breathing on the cold and snow. I got to work, spotted Josh the entire morning, then asked if he could get another team member to spot after we went on lunch with the rest of the Planogram team. I very rarely like being unproductive, so I spent some time after lunch reading up on what the new planogram sets were laying out, mapping where which signing packages went where, and generally not trying to walk. But, about an hour before I was scheduled to get off, I asked to leave early. I thought that I had another case of pneumonia but it felt… different. One of my team leaders had also stopped by the office and asked if I was ok, saying that I looked pale. My brother picked me up, and we headed to FirstCare at the University of Louisville Hospital.

After a decent wait, I went back to a room, and had different tests run, including having blood drawn and checked. One of the doctors, plus a nurse, came back a little later and told me that they were admitting me for the night. They needed to run more tests plus do an EKG on my heart because it was showing signs of heart failure. Once the 2nd round of tests were complete, a Cardiologist came in with the doctor that saw me first. Instead of pneumonia (my thought going in), I actually was suffering from severe anemia and heart failure. On Friday February 19th, 2010, I spent the first of 13 days in the hospital. The next morning, Dr. Williams, from Jewish Hospital, explained what had happened: I had a Staph infection that had gotten into my blood stream and caused some serious damage to my heart and had partially collapsed a lung. It had perforated both my aortic and mitric heart valves, plus enlarged my heart. Also, apparently I was born with a bicuspid valve but I don’t remember if he said it was the aortic or tricuspid valve that was missing a leaflet. Regardless, I was going to have emergency surgery to replace both valves the following Monday. The quote that stuck with me was that ” [I] may have less than a week left with the damage done to the valves, so we are going to remove them as soon as possible.”

The adventure of a lifetime had begun.

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