On Dec. 3, 2021, I had open-heart surgery. My mitral valve, which had been repaired in 2010, now needed to be replaced with a shiny new one. I looked forward to not being short of breath whenever I walked upstairs or up the slightest incline. I’d been through open-heart surgery before, so I wasn’t overly anxious about this one.

I presented myself at the hospital at the appointed time, and after the required poking and prodding and insertion of IVs and such, I was taken to the OR and put gently into lala land.

My next memory was of a male voice commanding me to stop struggling, that they would have to sedate me again and reintubate me and he didn’t want to do that. But he apparently did those things, because, later, out of blackness, I distinctly heard a woman’s voice say, “Oh, damn, Becky Welsh just had a stroke.”

Still suspended in the darkness, I thought, very clearly, “Well, OK, that means I’m still alive, so I’ll deal with it.” I made the decision then and there that I would survive whatever was going on and, not only would I survive, I would be my whole self, I would be OK.

I came out of that surgery with, in addition to a stroke, a paralyzed diaphragm, a “nicked” aorta and a compressed airway. Plus I was on a ventilator, and I still am. Not being able to talk, I tried sign language but mostly resorted to writing questions on whatever paper they gave me.

Because of COVID-19, the hospital shut down to visitors on Dec. 10, 2021, and didn’t re-open until mid-February 2022. I couldn’t even see my husband, John, during that time; I had to trust that the nurses and doctors were communicating with him. Friends brought me flowers, which made my room smell better than most others, and, therefore, more attractive to the nurses and CNAs who were in and out of my room. Nearly 200 get-well cards and good-wish cards taped to my walls told them I was a person who mattered to a lot of people. I figured that if they thought of me as a person and not just another patient, my recovery would go more smoothly and quickly. I made an effort to get to know them, as well as for them to know me.

It has been a long and difficult recovery, and I’m still recovering. I’ve learned to walk and write again, and I’m weaning off the ventilator. I’ve gained self-confidence because I realize that I don’t have time not to be confident. Nothing has diminished my decision, and my determination, to win this fight.

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