Monday, November 24, 2008

Gratitude for Skilled Heart Surgeons

I want to take a break from philosophy of religion blogging this week to reflect on something more personal. This past Friday was, to put the point mildly, an emotionally draining one for me. On Tuesday of last week, my father had an angiogram, and the doctor found 90% blockage in one artery and significant blockage in two others. He was declared a "ticking time bomb," and when they visited the surgeon on Thursday to schedule a time for bypass surgery, the surgeon had a cancellation for Friday. And so my father went in for triple bypass surgery on Friday.

It all happened too quickly for me to get a plane ticket to be there, and so I had to rely on family updates. He went into surgery at 1 PM (noon my time), which meant that they were probably cracking open his chest while I was lecturing about Kant. I passed the afternoon by working on my "Species of Hell" paper, which needs to be finished soon anyway (the editor of the anthology has set a December deadline). But as the afternoon wore on and I heard nothing, it became increasingly difficult to concentrate.

I passed the time by going onto Amazon to see if they'd updated the website for my forthcoming book. Last I'd checked, the "Editorial Reviews" section for the paperback version was a bit of a mess (my endorsements were listed together in one paragraph, and then listed separately in two subsequent paragraphs, and my Publishers Weekly review had yet to be listed). When I went on the site, none of these problems had been fixed, but the site declared that it had books IN STOCK and ready for immediate shipping.

I blinked in surprise, since the release date for the US wasn't until December. This should have been exciting news. I'd been envisioning that I would celebrate it's US release in some clear way, if only by drinking champagne with my wife after the kids were in bed. But here it came while I was waiting anxiously for word about my father's surgery.

I found myself tugged emotionally between excitement and anxiety. I worried away the afternoon by sending out e-mails to let everyone know that the book was released. It occured to me only afterwards that many of those I was informing about this hadn't already heard about my father, and so would be startled by the paranthetical comment that the book's early release was a bit of good news to carry me over while I fretted about his heart surgery.

I'd been told that the surgery would last about three or three-and-a-half hourse, and so I began to wait expectantly for a phone call around 3:30. My anxiety grew as I heard nothing. 4 O'clock went by without any news, and then 4:30, and then 5. I decided to go home, but no one had called there either. I began imagining that my mother and sister were too shattered by some tragic turn to be able to make the call. My own chest hurt.

And then my mother called at 6. The operation had gone smoothly. It had taken three hours. My father was recovering well in ICU. My mother had spent some time with him and had just gotten home. I was too relieved to complain that nobody had let me know about this sooner.

The call arrived just as my wife had to leave to get into costume for her show (THE COVER OF LIFE, which finished its run this weekend). I was too worked up emotionally to sit at home with the kids watching some Disney movie, so I began calling sitters--and fortunately one of them was sitting at home doing nothing.

So I went to see my wife's play (for the third time), and was lost for a few hours in the powerful story and the magnificent performances. As always, I was moved to tears by my wife's last monologue, in which her character Sybill's facade of fast living and sexuality is shattered, and her terrible vulnerability is exposed in a final tragic choice.

And in the aftermath, as I watched the characters look for meaning where Sybill had found none, I found myself grateful for skilled heart surgeons, for my children who were at home fighting off the babysitter's efforts to put them to sleep, for my parents, for my talented wife who loves those close to her so fiercely (even the tragic character she plays, for whom she feels such protectiveness), for the single malt scotch I'd sip after the show, for job security in a time of uncertainty, for the opportunity to see my efforts bear fruit, and for the love that surrounds me every day.

"Love is a living thing," says Tood, the central character in THE COVER OF LIFE. "And it can be killed." But it can also be nurtured. I am grateful that in my life there is so much love that has, it seems, been nurtured so well.

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