Recuperation and a red leather chair

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

I loved the questions that Nancy Stordahl recently posed to her Nancy’s Point blog readers:

    “Do you associate certain things with certain events in your life? Is there something that always takes you back to that time or place – a piece of clothing, an item of food, a scent or smell, a vehicle or even a piece of furniture? What is a trigger that reminds you of your diagnosis, treatment, or ‘that time’?”

Nancy went on to tell a touching story of getting rid of her much-loved blue leather sofa and matching chair, and the association of those items with her breast cancer diagnosis and recuperation, among many other important family events, both happy and awful, over many years. Inspired by her nostalgic recall of such associations, I answered her questions by describing a piece of furniture in my own home that still reminds me of what it was like when I first became a patient.  

My lovely butter-leather “Riley” La-Z-Boy recliner doesn’t look like a recliner at all. It is a smaller 2007 RED version of the big overstuffed La-Z-Boy chair of my childhood. That was the well-worn plaid recliner my Dad snoozed on while watching post-suppertime TV at the end of a hard day working the farm.

It was love at first sight when I spotted the red chair. It was the first piece of furniture I purchased before downsizing into the condo. Except for my bed, I’d sold almost all of the old stuff before moving in, planning a fresh clean slate. After renovating the condo top to bottom, I moved into a lovely empty space with just one solitary piece of furniture: a red chair in the middle of the living room.

Eventually, of course, more furniture followed, one by one, but that original red Riley chair was what my scientist ex-hubby would call the “rate-determining step” of chemical kinetics, loosely meaning that every additional purchase had to pass the “How would this look with the red chair?” sniff test.

It was almost exactly one year later, on the day I was discharged home from the CCU (the cardiac intensive care unit), that I walked in the door, literally sank into my red chair – and basically lived there for the next few months. See also: The New Country Called Heart Disease

I napped in that chair, I ate there, I had my first cup of coffee every morning there, I visited with friends there, I talked on the phone to far-away family there, I curled up with my laptop and madly Googled “heart attack misdiagnosis in women” there, and I cried – A LOT!- in my early post-diagnosis days and weeks there.

I’m typing this right now from that red chair.

It’s still impossible for me to sit here without remembering “that time” as if it had happened yesterday. Despite the alarming reason for “that time”, all of my associations with this particular chair speak of profound comfort during such scary and overwhelming moments.

Sadly, my late cat Lily loved the red chair as much as I did – but only as a scratching post (and really, is there anything that will propel you out of bed faster than the distinctive sound of cat claws on red leather in the wee dark hours of morning?) We bought Lily all kinds of beautiful scratching posts, but hey! – why bother with those when you have a perfectly good red leather chair to scratch?!?

I can’t even fathom the idea of ever getting rid of my Riley chair. It’s now essentially un-sellable (thanks, Lily!), but if I ever give it away, where would I have my afternoon naps? Where would I read my ‘Globe and Mail’ on Saturday mornings? Where would I relax, feet up and snuggled under my late Mum’s woolly quilt during family visits with the kids? Where would I sit and read stories to grandkids?

Some day, I may (or may not!) decide otherwise, but for now, cat scratches and all (cleverly disguised with red magic marker!), my red chair remains my very favourite piece of furniture ever, not just because it’s comfortable seating, but because, as Nancy Stordahl described her much-loved blue sofa and chair, it has felt like “the centre of my life”. She also added:

        “It’s the place where I rest, sleep, read, reflect, cry, plan, journal, feel sorry for myself, make calls, send texts, worry, imagine worst-case scenarios, imagine best-case scenarios, sip on water from my hospital mug, think and do nothing at all…

“These things had been worn into that leather too.”

Q: As Nancy asks, “Is there something that always takes you back to that time or place?”  What’s that ‘something’ for you?

  Red chair or not, heart patients or not, Chapter 4 in my book “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease” (Johns Hopkins University Press) covers a number of specific themes related to adjusting to those early post-diagnosis and homecoming days and weeks.  You can ask for it at your local bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon  – or order it directly from Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).

The Homecoming

And Then the Homecoming Blues

Why Am I So Tired?

Accepting – and Offering – Help

Six Personality Coping Patterns: Which One Are You?

13 thoughts on “Recuperation and a red leather chair

  1. As I write this, I’m sitting in MY red leather chair, also a La-Z-Boy but a different model. I’ve had it for almost 20 years. Plastic bits keep falling off it – I have no idea what they are – but it still reclines and it’s my favourite piece of furniture. We bought an area rug and sofa after it and, you guessed it, they had to match both the leather chair and an old chair and ottoman of my grandmother’s. Grandma’s chair is the one our late cat fancied – sigh!

    After my TAA (Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm) repair surgery and 9-day hospital stay, I couldn’t wait to get home and plunk myself down in it. The first few nights post-surgery I slept in it until I got a wedge for my bed. (Didn’t know I’d need to sleep with my upper body raised for a few weeks.)

    Every day at 3 pm – like clockwork – the fatigue would hit and I had my nap in it, covered in my favourite blankie. After showering, an activity that felt like climbing Everest, I would sink into it with relief and drink another recovery discovery: lemon ginger tea – yum-yum!

    It’s been two years since then and I still love the darn thing. The exhaustion, helped by meds to slow heart rate and blood pressure, still kicks in every once in a while and it’s wonderful to have my red refuge to rest in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deborah, you are singing my song! Fatigue at 3 o’clock, favourite blankie, exhausting showers – I’ve been there! And that delicious “sinking” feeling when you can finally rest in the “red refuge”. Exactly how I feel about my own red chair…. Thanks so much for sharing this.


  2. What a lovely blog post, Carolyn! So nice to focus in on what comforts rather than what has disrupted our lives.

    I can think of two chairs in my life that have been special. The first is the rocker where I used to nurse my children when they were babies (now 32, 30, and almost 21!). The nursing chair is long gone now, and it was never a style I liked nor was it even particularly comfortable — but the memories are so special. I remember crying with joy while nursing my brand-new “surprise at age 40” daughter — after so many years I’d forgotten how peaceful and lovely rocking a baby could be.

    When we moved into this house almost 6 years ago, I had never had the opportunity to buy much furniture. All the couches we ever owned had been given to us, as had the nursing chair, and I couldn’t wait to choose furniture for the house. The first piece I found was a dark blue velvety-covered chair. It was the only chair like it in a huge warehouse-type furniture store so it kind of stood out to me (blue is my favorite color).

    I sank into it and fell in love. It has a high back and arms and it kind of envelops you in a warm hug when you sit down. I wanted it, but I didn’t want to impulse-buy a chair so I left it in the store. Awhile later (weeks maybe?) I was in that store again with my husband and the chair was still there, and he liked it too so we bought it.

    I became quite possessive of this chair. It’s MY chair in the corner of my living room — MY corner. Every morning I’m usually the first one up and I have my morning coffee there in the quiet, sometimes with Carly, my beloved lab/husky mix dog, lying at my feet. I can’t explain how much it means to me to have this little comforting place where I can just BE. I sit there and look around at my house, which I love, and feel thankful every morning for all the amazing blessings God has given me.

    Now that I think of it, I guess I associate my house in general with my heart issues, since they didn’t start until we lived here. I have been in the hospital 3 times since moving here and buying that chair — for 2 stents and an episode of a-fib about a year ago.

    My faithful chair was waiting for me each time I came home. I resonate with what Nancy Stordahl said about her blue chair — resting, thinking, journaling, texting, dreaming, looking out the window at the woods that surrounds our house — I do all of that and more in mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Meghan – I could really picture the image you describe here: “envelops you in a warm hug when you sit down.” That’s how my red chair feels. I always let out a deep sigh just settling down into it every time. It makes me so happy to be back in that ‘warm hug’. I like Nancy’s comments about the range of experiences that her own blue couch represents – not just happy stuff, but always the comfort even during the hardest times.

      I love your nursing chair story, too. Reminds me of a little poem (can’t remember the poet) about new mums and housework:

      “The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
      But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
      So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
      I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”


  3. Hi Carolyn,

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. I couldn’t wait to read it! I just love your story about your red leather chair. Some might think (and say), why sit in it if it takes you back to that awful time, but I totally get it. Your red leather chair brought you so much comfort and stability at a time when you certainly needed both. Plus, you have all the memories of Lily wrapped up in that chair. Or should I say, scratched into it. All those scratches are like still feeling her presence. Besides it’s kinda nice to have furniture you don’t have to worry about anyone dinging up, scratching up, spilling on or whatever anymore, don’t you think?

    And your sniff test, “How would this look with the red chair?” Yep. Get that too.

    I hope you enjoy many more naps, typing up blog post sessions, story times with your sweet granddaughter and just doing nothing at all in your wonderful red leather chair, Carolyn.

    And thank you so much for mentioning and linking to my blue leather sofa and chair story. Gosh, I do miss them… At least we still have the ottoman. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Nancy – especially because YOU were my original inspiration to recall the association I still carry between my early recuperation days and my red chair!

      As you accurately point out, having a pre-scratched leather chair (thank you, Lily!) certainly removes the worry of having a toddler crawling around the furniture when my grandbaby Everly Rose visits! (The place may look like a hurricane struck by the time she leaves – like after last night’s sleepover visit – but that chair looks just the same!)

      I’m glad you kept your blue leather ottoman, for sentimental reasons!


  4. Hi Carolyn,
    I wish it were that simple for me, I never felt a thing. I went to the ER by car, 5 minute ride from my home. A police officer picked me up out of the car and carried me in, I can’t even remember his face nor can I remember if they put me on a stretcher or in a wheelchair but a nurse said she remembered me from my husband and asked if I was Robin P. Said she couldn’t pronounce my last name and asked if my husband was Jon.

    My next memory was talking to my now cardiologist and him telling me I was having a heart attack and he was waiting on a test, at that point a nurse came in and he said I was having a massive heart attack and he was going to take care of me. I just remember he has a kind face, the rest was surreal to me. I didn’t believe it was a heart attack.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your experience of disbelief is very common, Robin, especially during the immediate crisis! That kind of early denial is so common in fact that it’s even considered a helpful way to manage a traumatic event. Mayo Clinic experts describe it like this: “You might need several days or weeks to fully process what has happened and come to grips with the challenges ahead.” It reminds me of what Jodi Jackson (heart attack at age 42) likes to call “Post-Heart Attack Stun“!

      Today’s blog article, however, asks a different question – about how something in your life (like clothing, food, sights, smells, a vehicle or a piece of furniture) can be associated with our memories of treatment or recuperation from that medical crisis, often for years afterward.

      Can you recall anything like that during your own recovery?


  5. Way back in 2002 at the age of 53 I knew what I wanted to do when I retired from my nursing career. I wanted to study Vibrational Medicine and counsel people in spiritual energy and health.

    I rented an office and started doing this work very part-time. In 2012 I was forced to retire early at 63 years old due to the crippling effects of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy on my energy…..

    My office became empty, my retirement dreams began to fade. In 2013 I had my first open heart surgery to reduce the muscle that was blocking blood flow through my heart. I was determined not to be home bound so I purchased a beautiful paisley arm chair and a foot stool for my office. Almost every weekday I would go to my office… not see any clients but sit in my chair, nap in my chair. Read in my chair, have tea or lunch in my chair and most of all I spent hours meditating in my chair.

    My condition continued to deteriorate so I went to Mayo Clinic in 2014 for a second surgery… and again recovered by going to my office and living my dream in my paisley chair … even if it was still an unmanifest dream. December 2017 I had a stent and an ablation for SVT….I returned to my chair resting, drinking tea, meditating and knowing in my heart of hearts that my dreams would still be fulfilled.

    Now when I see clients, the first place they want to sit is in the big inviting paisley chair… while I sit at my desk. At first, I didn’t want them to sit there… it was too much a part of me. Now I am okay with it but it is still my haven for studying, napping, tea and meditation.
    My paisley chair is a healing place…. no wonder everyone wants to sit in it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a lovely story, Jill. That chair has supported you (literally) on a long journey for the past six years. I had to laugh at the part where you didn’t want clients to sit in “your” chair at first – that’s how I feel about my red chair too (although if I’m feeling particularly generous, I MAY invite family or friends to sit there… ) ♥


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