Four years ago today I lay on an operating room table, ribs splayed open while a gifted cardiothoracic surgeon and his team performed four coronary artery bypass grafts (also known as CABG or “cabbage”), along with an aortic root replacement (correcting an aneurysm in my ascending aorta).
Richard Holbrooke, a distinguished U.S. diplomat, died just last week of an aortic dissection at the age of 69. So it’s serious stuff, for sure.
I don’t remember much about Dec. 20, 2006, although I’m told even under pre-op medication I was cracking jokes en route to surgery. Better than kicking and screaming. My wife says when she saw me the first time in surgical ICU that evening, I was ashen. Kinda like death warmed over (although I don’t know why anybody would want to do that).
What I do recall from the days immediately following was feeling like someone hit me in the chest with a pickup truck, and then backed up and hit me again for good measure. Not recommended. Having to spend Christmas Day in a hospital recovering wasn’t my preference, but I’ll always be thankful for the excellent care I received - as well as the good health I've experienced since then.
That’s why I volunteer at the hospital one day a week, encouraging patients who have undergone similar procedures. When I visit them, along with strongly recommending they engage in cardiac rehabilitation, I point out every morning upon awakening, they should remember they’ve received a gift – another day. The question is: What are they going to do with it?
It’s so easy to take everyday life for granted, presuming we’ll have tomorrow, next week, next year. So struggles like that are not only humbling, but also useful in recognizing, as Psalm 118:24 tells us, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”