Friday, July 20, 2007
Matters of Life and Death
As a writer I often hear that matters of life and death are essential for good drama. Well, I haven't gotten much writing done this weekend as I've been dealing with matters of life and death and that was more than enough drama for me.
On tap for this week was the hip replacement surgery for my friend and boss, Tim. What wasn't (or at least on my schedule) was heart surgery for my dad. On Tuesday, Tim underwent surgery and, as a relatively young man in his late 40s, did very well. As a matter of medical fact, he's now home and hopping around with the assistance of crutches. He's well enough and bored enough that he's emailing us in the office. Isn't he supposed to be resting?!
As soon as I heard Tim's surgery went well, I headed for Ohio to be with my mom and dad. Dad had chest pains a couple of weeks ago after visiting Nancy and me. We worked outside all weekend and early Tuesday morning (1 a.m.) he started having chest pains. The good doctors couldn't fin anything wrong and released him with an appointment for a stress test. That test revealed what appeared to be a minor blockage and so they scheduled Dad for a heart catheterization on this Wednesday. The plan was to use a balloon to open this blockage. If that didn't work, then they'd use a stent. So off I went to Columbus, where we had a nice dinner with some of their friends and spent the evening chatting about when he was coming over to run electricity to the barn.
After waiting a couple of hours on Wednesday morning, the surgeon came out. The catheterization didn't work. And a stent wouldn't either. That's because instead of one minor blockage there were multiple big ones. The one they worried about and wanted to fix was the least of their problems. Others were 90-95% blocked. It was as serious as a heart attack, literally.
The cardiologist recommended bypass surgery. So he and we had a true life and death decision to make. Dad is an adventurer, so he, scared as he was by the prospect of having his heart "turned off" for a while, went for it. And instead of waiting a week (one option) he had it done the next morning, yesterday. It turned out he needed five bypasses. It also turned out that he sailed through heart surgery as easily as anybody can sail through heart surgery -- tossed and turned by the storms of being cut open and sliced and diced and heavy hands squeezing your heart. But today he was up sitting in a chair, eating oatmeal (he is a good Quaker!), and flirting with the nurse -- which was even okay with Mom. He may go home as soon as Monday. And by mid-October be helping me wire the barn.
One of the hardest parts for me was sitting in the waiting room. The waiting was hard. Partly because of the great cloud of unknowing that surrounded us. But it was also hard because of another party in their, their kids running wild, the parents (or whoever they were) chatting loudly on their cellphones and walkie-talkies and the general mayhem they caused. My Quakerism was sorely tried. I did try to see that of God in them, but was not always successful.
As the day wore down, and it became obvious that Dad would be in great shape eventually, the room quieted some. I heard more snippets of the annoying people's conversation. They were there because the person they were concerned about had been shot over an argument about a dog.
Driving home later I reflected on that and how the choices we make sometimes make all the differences. The surgeon said Dad did so well partly because of healthy life choices -- no smoking, no drinking, and being physically active. The other fellow, from what I overheard, had made less wise choices -- he was drunk, so was someone else, there was a gun and an argument. I thought of Deuteronomy 30:19 "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life ..."
Dad did and has. He chose even to have the surgery, with its risks, in hope for life. His choices have served him, and our family well.
This rant is not meant to cast aspersions on the other folks in the waiting room. They've been in my thoughts -- in good ways, too. Nor it is about good things happening to good people and bad to bad. We know that rarely works out the way we think it should for us.
I guess what it's about, from my stress strangled brain and sleepy mind, is that injunction from Deuteronomy is not a threat, but rather simply good advice that pays off in ways we may never know, but sometimes get a glimpse of, this side of eternity. And for John Bill's choosing life, I am grateful.