A Few (Hopefully Not) Final Thoughts

In 11 days, 13 hours and 42 minutes from the moment that I write these words, I am scheduled to undergo an 8-hour operation to repair my heart. During that time my heart will stop beating, my lungs will stop breathing and my life will hinge on the functioning of sophisticated machinery and the talent of fallible humans. In a very real sense, my survival will be likely but within some meaningful measure of doubt for the full-span of an average work day.

This is my last post, my last considered public statement, before the procedure, and honestly I don’t know what I want to say. I only know that I want to say _something_ to go out with a meaningful thought, something with weight and girth and heft to it as a substantive idea.

I realize that’s my ego taking over, and that what I want to use this internet space for today is probably far removed from what you have any interest in reading. The problem is that impending surgery doesn’t actually make an individual any more deep, insightful or remotely worth listening to than they were when they weren’t scheduled to be opened up like a strip-mall Starbucks. So, I respect the choice you make to not follow down this twisting road of thought with me to what will most likely be a disappointing conclusion, and ultimately meaningless resolution when I likely emerge happy and healthy in the fall.

For the rest of you, let’s just see where this goes. What I want to say is this...

I’m really f*cking scared.

I had a dream not so long ago in which I was wheeled into surgery. This was one of those really disturbing dreams where my brain didn’t clue me in to the fact that I was dreaming. There were no fish floating past the doctor’s head. The nurse wasn’t my eighth grade Phys. Ed. teacher. The surgical lights didn’t shine on a disco ball. It was just very believable.

As the dream wandered toward its end, the anesthetist finally leaned over me and put a mask over my face. I breathed once more and then everything went black. And stayed there, and I remember clearly wondering whether I was going to wake up at all. Ever. When I did wake up, for real, I just laid there and absorbed that feeling. I wasn’t really frightened--that would come later and slowly like the changing of a season--I was just synthesizing this dark feeling of true mortality and the lingering sense of what my own death might feel like. After a while—not that long actually—I drifted back off to sleep and did not dream again.

It stayed with me, though, and out of nowhere that feeling of just ending will pop into my head, because that moment where the mask goes on or the meds get juiced into the IV or whatever it is that anesthesiologists actually do to make you not feel the knife in the chest and the saws on bone, that moment is coming hard and fast. There will be a final breath and hope will hinge on the idea that my whole system will reboot with the hardware upgrade, and my most vital organs will start their second life on the other side.

Any surgery is scary, but I feel like it would be easier to embrace the idea of some kind of spleen removal or appendectomy because the whole time those trusty lungs and heart would be rocking their groove. I’ve had these things kicking around in my chest, keeping me alive every single second basically since Haldeman and Erlichman fell on their sword for poor doomed Nixon. A week from Monday, my heart will not beat.

Mind: blown.

Every time I think of it, everything else seems achingly small by comparison, and the fear—I mean gen-u-ine terror—drops a proto-star into my lower intestines. Have you ever been almost dizzy from fear? Because I have been, a half dozen times this week already. I don’t think I’ve shown it to anyone—odd that my confidant on the matter is a host of a few thousand—and I’ve gone about the busy duty of fixing dinner, managing the creation of articles and playing 13 hours of Assassin’s Creed II as though this were the most ordinary kind of thing.

Because, they tell me it is. Ordinary, that is. They tell me that this is almost routine. They tell me that I should plan for a recovery and then get back to my ordinary life. They tell me not to worry. I could sooner give birth to a litter of pug puppies.

Meanwhile I have to dance around genuine preparations for the possibility that I’ll be dead by a week from Tuesday.

… and I can’t write the rest of that paragraph. That sentence up there feels too much like gunning the car, Thelma-and-Louise-style, toward an apocalyptic mental cliff. I do the things I have to do in disguise. "Might as well brush up the old will," I say, as though I’d just casually thought of it alongside the need to clean the garage and change the oil. Better just make a note of all the bills that have to be paid, you know just in case next month I forget that AT&T is going to want their monthly C-note.

It’s self-deception and avoidance of the first degree, and I just hope I can keep it up right into my 5:00 am ride to the hospital. Let me just get close before I let my emotional seaside cliff go crashing into the deep. Let me get in the same building with people who are legally obliged and permitted to give me some primo-choice narcotics.

Let me go into that sleep of my nightmares well and truly altered. What comes Monday night or Tuesday or in August, the slow pain and crushing exhaustion of recovery will be for some other tomorrow to deal with. I can’t spare thoughts that far ahead yet.

Here’s the thing. All of those paragraphs up there. I think now that I needed all that to preface this next thought, because none of that is what I really want to say. I say all that so that you know this next thing is all the way, full-on considered.

After it all, thirty-eight years as a boy, a man, a father, a husband, a nerd, a jock, a peon, a boss, an irresponsible failure, a proud success, a writer, a hack, a fraud, a liar, an honest man. In the wake of it all, looking back, I find that I regret nothing. There was nothing I could have done to stop my heart from degrading or to stop my aorta from bulging, and all the other things I did led me to this place and this life that I genuinely don’t want to give up. Not by a long shot.

I’ve been ridiculously lucky time and again. I’ve lived in a world where “it’s all going to work out, somehow” was always (always!) true. I never failed to find my way to the things that I need, and usually along the way managed to find a path to the things I wanted too. It’s not a complex or big-ticket life, but it’s mine and there’s nothing on the grand scale that I would have changed, because that path leads to this place and this place is mine.

So that’s it, I guess. I assume I’ll be back to talking about iPads and gaming with a broken sternum in a few months. If you’re putting down money, odds are pretty good that this post will just be a whole bunch of maudlin theater in a few weeks. But this, this empty page waiting for words, is where I can say things I can’t say out loud.

Thank you.

Comments

You'll be in my prayers.

Thanks for sharing, Sean. I'd be worried if you weren't scared. As already voiced in so many of the above comments, you and the family are in our thoughts.

Sean, this is in some ways a good thing for you. It's making you seriously ponder your mortality and what your personal meaning of life is. Many people live their entire lives without ever wondering or questioning who/what/why they are. It happened to me back in 1990, when I miraculously survived a car accident with a Mack truck. By all rights, I should be dead. Instead, I'm wasting time at work writing a post here, a 39 year old man with beautiful twin daughters and a wonderful wife and a (potentially) great new career. Everything you listed above I've experienced. Life is hard, but wonderful, because you're alive. I have no doubt you will be too when this is over. My family is littered with surgeons, and to them surgery is so routine - particularly in younger men like yourself - that it's almost like changing the oil on your car. Just make sure you don't come back completely reupholstered with the preset radio stations all messed up.

Yikes!

So where are we supposed to send the flowers and balloons to when you're recovering?

Reading over this again, I thought you might want to think of this leading up to operation day:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Best of luck, and thank-you for sharing. Your outlook is sage advice for any of us. These are the wisest words I could find the share, keeping in mind my immediate reaction to anything so heavy is levity.

Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it."

You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.
I wish you a smooth operation and a swift recovery.

Thank you. We love you, Sean Sands. Godspeed.

Best of luck man. Thoughts are with you.

Best of luck Sean, our thoughts are with you. By all means let us know if there's anything more tangible we can do.

Elysium,

Still need you to use Japanese games as a pejorative.

Your fan, Tanstofful.

Wow, it can't be easy with this looming before you; but, as you said, thing always work out. This will too and you have to believe that.

Best of luck and a speedy recovery.

LarryC wrote:

Ironically, you have a much better chance of making it through if you stay calm and fight your fear, so I'll offer you this much to consider:

The surgical experience will probably be disappointingly mundane and prosaic, assuming you don't imagine your own monsters into the closets. You'll go to the OR. It'll be cold. There will be medical equipment and personnel. You will fall completely unconscious. Then you'll be awake and the procedure will be over. That's it. That's your compleat experience. Your average trail hike is designed to be more interesting, and probably just as dangerous.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you, too, though Mr. Sands, for everything you've written and done, just out of a general sense of both our mortalities. After all, it could be that I'm the one who gets hit by a semi in 11 days.

PS: Try not to overthink it, Sean. It's just a piece of muscle. It's not you. Your real heart is in your soul, and it's not going to be stopping anytime soon.

Just wanted to pop in and give a +1 to the first bolded section and a +2 to the second.

I've only had one surgery using general anesthesia--a measly hernia repair--and I was blown away by the utter lack of drama surrounding the event. Just like any night's sleep, you drift off, and the next thing you know, you're brought back into consciousness by some random noise or another. Sure, there's a lot different on either side of it, but as long as you follow instructions, all you have to for the actual surgery is close your eyes. The "hard stuff" is taken care of by people for whom it is not, in fact, "hard stuff."

And as for the second point, yeah...it's of course been the matter of much debate over in P&C, but it's very much my belief that "you" are not what the doctors will be stopping on Monday...just the housing mechanism. If by random chance something does go wrong, you'll simply wake up in a much better place than you are now.

Good luck Sean, our thoughts are with you. Your contributions to this site have always meant a lot to me.

You HAVE to make it through this. Just imagine what would happen to this place if Certis had total control! You can't let that kind of power go unchecked!

Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

I'm supposed to get a tonsilectomy this summer and just the thought of anesthesia has me spooked. While I can't claim to understand the severity of your feelings, I can tell you that it's terrible to have to fear what is going to make you better. But remember, it is going to make you better.

Sean,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and fears with us. Anything that forces you to consider your own mortality has to be tough to handle, so I hope sharing it, and getting it in the open makes it slightly easier.

Here's to an uneventful procedure and a speedy recovery. You're in my prayers.

Best of luck to you and have a fast recovery! Recovery is all about how much effort you put into it so keep at it!

My thoughts and best wishes are with you and your family.

Best of luck to you and to your family. Here is to hoping for a quick, pain free, ipad fueled recovery.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery, we'll see you in 2 weeks. Looking forward to your curmudgeonly return.

Good luck. I'd send you some local cuisine in the hospital while you're recovering, but I'm guessing they'd object to fish and lousy casserole. Well, you'd probably object to it.

Dude, if you break up the Monday night group I will be so pissed.

You're a good man, and a good friend, Sean. Go well.

Thoughts are with you man. Keep your head up! It'll all work out!

PAR

I think we've known each other for almost ten years now, Sean, so fingers crossed bigtime! See ya around when you're back. And try to not hit on the nurses too much in the meantime.

No need for luck, chief; we'll see you in a few weeks is all. Our vocabularies will suffer in the meantime.

Happy New Heart Piece!

Enjoy the morphine.

I know I did after my surgery. Echoing the peanut gallery, but here's to your speedy recovery.

I could have written this, almost word for word, in 2008. I was (am) younger than you, but aside from that, it all rings completely true. God I was terrified.

Luckily, I, my weakened heart and (now less) bulging aorta are still around. I trust that you will be too, on the other side of this thing. Good luck and thank you for sharing this with us. With me. Always nice not to feel alone.

Best wishes and speedy recovery, Mr. Sands. I look forward to reading your next article upon your return.

You and your family will be in my thoughts for the next couple of weeks. If cards / flowers / male strippers are appropriate, someone send me a PM with an address!

Thoughts are with you.