The Mighty Logo

When Dropping a Child Off at College Was Compared to Having 'Open Heart Surgery'

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I want to talk about a headline that shared what President Obama said… how dropping off his daughter at college was “like having open heart surgery.”

It’s not just about what he said, but more so about how people are responding to people like myself who’ve had open heart surgery. Saying we need to lighten up. To them we’re in the wrong in speaking up about it.

As an adult with five congenital heart defects and having had four major open heart surgeries myself, it’s not something I’d compare to something that’s unpleasant. It’s not something you can compare unless you’ve personally have lived through it.

I’m not a parent and sadly will never be able to be one, but in 2011 I was there when we dropped my younger sister off at college and I watched my mom go through that. It was hard. We all cried. And coming back home, the house felt empty. It’s an adjustment period.

Last night while talking to my mom about this, for her it felt different than when she has had to hand me over to the nurses to go to the operating room for all of the open heart surgeries I’ve had, and all the other surgeries I’ve had for different reasons as well. You can’t compare them. Both are hard, but you don’t drop your child off to college thinking they might die, whereas that’s a main thought with open heart surgery. She does understand the metaphor, but it’s a poor choice of words.

It’s so sad to see how many people are trying to diminish people’s feelings who’ve actually have had open heart surgery.

If I took something that happened in anyone’s life, something that’s awful, and made it into something that felt like empty words, used it as a saying to be thrown around lightly… that’s not OK to me.

I would never take something that’s happened to people, that I’ve never personally lived through, and say it as a figure of speech. For me, it lessens what they personally lived through. What they fought through. Living through the magnitude of it. For people to see nothing wrong with that, that’s where I have a problem.

Harsh comments made on social media that were in response to the writer being upset to Obama's statement about leaving his daughter at college was like having "open heart surgery."

People know open heart surgery is hard, but it’s so much harder than anyone can ever know, unless you’ve lived it. This might sound graphic, but it needs to be said to say what it means to have had open heart surgery. It’s different when you’re personally on the operating table, where they have to use a saw to cut through your sternum. When you’re literally opened on a surgical table. When you’re put on a heart and lung machine. When your heart is stopped. When they place chest tubes, IVs and intubation inside your body. Blood transfusions. So many different medications. That hands are inside a chest cavity to try and help what’s wrong, to help us live longer. It’s a long, hard and difficult thing to have lived through.

This is my own personal side of this. Having five congenital heart defects, it’s not cureable, so needing to have multiple open heart surgeries is pretty common.

You can’t tell me I’m overreacting. That it’s just a metaphor. For me and many other people, it’s not. It’s very real.

It’s one thing to say “it’s hot as hell outside,” and then for people to say that is exactly the same as using “open heart surgery” as a metaphor. It’s not.

The graphics I’ve made are some of the comments that people said to either my self or others on Facebook about this. People have to know those comments are never OK to say to anyone. That’s what made this worse.

Harsh comments made on social media that were in response to the writer being upset to Obama's statement about leaving his daughter at college was like having "open heart surgery."

Find another way to express this type of feeling. I know they say having a child is like having your heart living outside your body. That’s a beautiful way to explain it. I’m heartbroken I’ll never get to experience that myself, but that metaphor doesn’t lessen another person. It doesn’t lessen what open heart surgery means. It doesn’t lessen what a person goes through before, during or after having open heart surgery.

Don’t tell me and others that our feelings aren’t valid. Don’t call us “stupid” for not seeing it as just a metaphor or say something rude like, “I guess they didn’t use oxygen when you had open heart surgery.”

Be mindful in what you say. Allow people to have their own feelings, especially with something that we’ve personally have lived through.

Don’t say we can’t and shouldn’t say anything to this.

Words do matter.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via AleksandraKuzmina

Originally published: October 13, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home