Open Heart (Surgery)

10 01 2016
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I am trying to open my heart to the fact that this is a schmaltzy image.

My mother had open heart surgery this past week. Nothing snaps you out of the self pity associated with job uncertainty, divorce, financial instability and overall restlessness like sitting 175 miles away in your home while you know the person who gave birth to you is on a ventilator while someone rewires her heart.

My kids and I just returned from visiting her (and my dad) and there were some key takeaways (sorry – that was so disgustingly corporate) – there were some important messages (that’s better) that I felt compelled to write down and share:

  1. Sometimes you have to sweat the small stuff. When I was visiting my parents with my kids just after Christmas – my sister was also there with her family and for all the articles and morning talk shows that insist upon the importance of having those “difficult conversations with your aging parents”, it never happened. Certainly, with the knowledge that my mom’s surgery was essentially a week away, that was not the best time but it wasn’t going to happen anyway. Instead, we played board games, got annoyed by incessant calls to eat more junk food and dealt with familial familiarities, good and bad, that would be of inconsequence to most people (yes, apparently it does matter who takes what food home with them and how much). This is as small as it gets but you know what? It is exactly the type of diversion that helps get through times when the gravity of the situation just seems too great to bear. That’s why I think sometimes (and only sometimes), sweating the small stuff isn’t such a bad idea.
  2. We need doctors. I, for one, have had many dealings with arrogant, self-centered, “cry me a river/claim poverty” U.S. physicians who have lost both their empathy and their perspective but…there are many, many physicians who are saving lives, every single damn day. I don’t give a shit about a single doctor who is interested in making some 50 year-old rich, entitled socialite look 30, but for every single doctor helping with cardiovascular disease, the onslaught of neurological-based diseases and children, etc. – thank you, thank you, thank you.
  3. I am a series of computer programs in dire need of software upgrades. I have written before about the scripts we carry around with us and the self-talk that we do and impacts us, either for better or for worse. As I took a shower in my childhood home, it occurred to me after cleaning it out, that there are tons of rituals I do that have been embedded in me for decades that are in need of a little mindfulness. Let me explain briefly. Since I can remember, the last person who took a shower had to clean out the tub and walls. I have always followed the same pattern: faucet, shelf, top half sides, bottom half sides, little stool, left glass door, right glass door and the shower bottom – in that order – since I ever even had a reason to take long showers (which is code for “a long time ago”).  I did it again this morning (the cleaning, not the long shower) and realized that I have tons of these rituals – some physical, some mental, that I never change. How I react after taking a shower in my parents’ house is one thing but what about how I react after being dismissed in a social situation? My thoughts follow a similar pattern every time – and it’s not good.
  4. Friendship is the #1 most vital component to a sustainable marriage. My mother can give my father a hard time. My father can selectively hear and not hear what my mother has to say. But they are friends, tried and true. It was never more apparent than during our visit this weekend. They respect and love each other in a way that transcends (or is exclusive of) romantic love and at least, in older age, seems to be the vital ingredient to a meaningful marriage (or partnership).
  5. I am so thankful for my kids. We were in the hospital for 6 hours and they never complained once. Mind you – they are on the verge of being 15 and 13. 6 hours with their dad and grandparents – in a hospital – on a Saturday – can seem like an eternity. And they were great. There were cell phones and untied shoes but there was also a tremendous respect and love. I am a lucky dude.
  6. Trump, ISIS, my job situation, Kardashians, cat videos, who got a promotion, who is headlining – they will all go away. Every single second focused on the irrelevant and stupid is a second wasted on the relevant and important. Every damned, single second.

My mother has a ways to go in her recovery. The good news is that her cardiac vitals are very good and if she can take the long-term view, I really think everything will be for the better. It is hard to see your parents age, for both the knowledge of what no one wants to talk about and the acknowledgement of one’s own aging and mortality. But it makes one so thankful for the days that do exist where we have to bite our tongue, sweat the small stuff and think about opening our own hearts a little more, which is a lot tougher sometimes than a 6 hour operation.

Until next time,

Marc

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