A Heart for Others

Is it hard? Are we tired? The answer to both is yes! I believe my responsibility as a Christian and a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend is to do all I can to protect those I love.
“I know it’s hard, but just keep doing what you’re doing. You’re doing everything right.” Those were the words I heard recently by our team of medical professionals – a group we have learned to trust and rely on for almost 10 years now. You see, my husband, Ken, is a heart transplant patient (2014), and since our journey began two years prior to the transplant, health decisions are made differently. Add a Covid-19 pandemic into the mix, and our decisions and risks become even more complicated.
As a transplant patient, Ken will be on immune suppressants for the rest of his life. While most of us want to do all we can to boost our immune system right now, Ken’s must remain suppressed in order to prevent his body from rejecting his heart. Balancing all of this on the best days can be tricky – it requires monitoring blood levels to be sure the medications aren’t damaging other organs. It means anytime new medication is needed we must always contact our transplant coordinators to ensure it’s the appropriate medication and determine whether blood levels will need to be monitored more frequently.
For most of us a cold is an annoyance that will make us feel miserable for a few days. It may require some over-the-counter medicines to help us handle the symptoms, but give us about a week, and we’re on the mend. Not so for Ken – his colds last weeks, can lead to more serious complications and, again, even over-the-counter medications must be on the “approved list.” What can be a minor illness or infection for us can be deadly for Ken.

That’s what immune suppressants can do – those life-saving medications can become a hindrance to treatment. At the time of his heart transplant, a wise woman said to me, “Remember, you’re trading in one big problem for many minor ones along the way.” I remember that today and know it is true, especially in times like this.
So, what happens when a pandemic hits? Our usual precautions to keep germs at bay are magnified to what seems like 100 times! We’ve had masks available at our house for years and have used them when we felt it was necessary. Now masks are a part of our daily routine, especially for me because I still work outside of the home every day. Ken doesn’t wear a mask every day because he doesn’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary. We’ve made the decision to get vaccinated and boosted.

We’ve done our own investigating, talked extensively with our medical team, and believe that it is the right decision for us and for others in our family. For us, a pandemic has meant saying “no” to any type of large gatherings; even small, indoor family gatherings are planned with precautions. Everyone who comes is asked to do everything they can to limit their COVID-19 exposure two weeks prior to visiting. With rapid home tests available, anyone who has any type of symptoms is asked to stay home or self-test prior to visiting.
While this all seems drastic to many, these are choices we have made to protect Ken’s life; knowing that the COVID-19 surge will end, and we will once again be able to be out and about more often; even enjoying group activities. For now, we find other ways to connect – Facebook, Facetime, phone calls, and small family get-togethers.
I know our way is not for everyone. My intention is not to change anyone’s opinion, but I want to offer a different perspective. We believe in freedom to choose, and along with that freedom we must also learn to respect someone who thinks differently. Let’s try to hear, understand, and hopefully even change a behavior in the moment to protect another.
I recently faced a situation where I had to ask someone to put on a mask. Their response was “I don’t really care; I have to die somehow.” How hurtful comments like that can be! I have had family members infected with COVID-19, and they have recovered well. I have also had family members die from COVID-19 and have had to miss their services because of the risk it presents to my husband.
So, for now, I will take the advice of the health professionals we trust and continue living a somewhat restricted life, knowing that this will end. And when it does, we will be more than ready to enjoy all of those things we look forward to with the promise of warmer weather and the end of pandemic-level COVID-19.

Pam Burkholder is a wife, mother, Nana, and the executive director of Expectations Women’s Center; and she has a heart to help everyone be the best they can be.
Published: 2/26/2022

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