When I entered the heart failure clinic at St. Vincent a year ago it quickly became apparent that whether I lived or died I had once again left the world as I knew it. And while the heart transplant was successful and I continue to gain a measure of strength and increasing endurance, my life is still circumscribed by the limits of my health. “Normal” is in the rearview mirror. I live (once again) in something called the “New Normal.”
Actually I first moved to New Normal when I was diagnosed with heart failure 10 years ago. Following related bypass surgery things were different and apparently they would be different from there on out. After surgery I was determined to get back into the routine of my old life. As I had many times in the past, I went for a hike in Turkey Run State Park and took a trail that led down to Sugar Creek. Having arrived at the bottom of the creek bank, I sat by the water, where it dawned on me that my car was back at the top of the hill and going up was going to be much harder than coming down. Indeed, it occurred to me that it might not even be possible. Eventually, with many rest stops, I made it back. Somewhere coming down the bank I must have passed the sign that said, “Welcome to New Normal.”
Still, if one lives long enough in New Normal, it has a way of becoming “normalish.” Living with heart failure meant that I was tired all of the time and physical activity by necessity became limited. That was just the way it was and my life had to be structured to accommodate that reality. When the normal trajectory of the disease brought me to the end game it all seemed quite natural. But, by the grace of God, the miracle of modern medicine, and the skills of the transplant team, things did not play out as I expected, but as I hoped. Successful heart transplant surgery transported me to the New New Normal, different than the Old New Normal, but still not the Old Old Normal.
I have learned how crowded New Normal is. As a pastor I often visited folks in New Normal, but dropping in for only an hour or so at a time I did not perceive the vast population living there. Now that I frequent medical waiting rooms and continually receive reports from friends far and wide about their experiences, I have come to realized more fully how large New Normal truly is. We do not know and perhaps we cannot know what others are dealing with. Perhaps, though, our trials will sharpen our empathy for our fellow inhabitants of New Normal.
Realizing that this New Normal will not be my permanent residence, that I will occupy other New Normals as time goes on, is at times unsettling. But I have found encouragement in a Lutheran sending prayer: O God, “give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.”