As described in my previous post, in 2001, at the age of 33, with one small child and another on the way, I was diagnosed with a heart aneurysm. And it had already burst. Slowly dying, I was scheduled for immediate heart surgery. In the previous post, I listed the main lessons about dying and living that this experience taught me. But there were other lessons – about the influence on me of other people’s attitudes during my time of greatest vulnerability.
1. There is incredible power in the support of friends, family, and acquaintances during a personal health crisis. Their cards, emails, calls, and visits – before and after surgery – are a secret weapon against the pernicious health threat. People I hardly knew wrote that they were praying for me. I was surprised at how much strength this gave me.
2. The professionalism and self-confidence exhibited by surgeons and doctors prior to surgery bring constant waves of calmness and humility that swell your soul with gratitude and awe. You realize that they are artists – craftsmen – whose hands and judgment are instruments of God. You have no choice but to surrender your life and your future to these strangers in white coats. And the act of doing so is humbling beyond belief, yet also freeing.
3. Likewise, nurses play unbelievably critical roles in recovery care. They are the angels who bring the necessary pain medicine at 2 in the morning, with a sympathetic and loving smile. Their incessant energy, enthusiasm, hopefulness, and optimism gets injected directly into your blood every time they walk into the room. When you are down, they are your heroes. The value to the world of a great nurse cannot be underestimated.
Clearly, my heart was fixed through the technical expertise of well-trained surgeons. Their mechanical actions – sawing open my chest, sewing up the tear, then putting my chest back together again – saved my life. But I believe that my physical and mental condition before, during, and after the surgery gave me the best chance for a successful outcome, and I know that it was the positive attitudes of the people I communicated with that week that put me in an optimal state.