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.


Best of luck with the operation and your future recovery, Sean.

Best of Luck Sean! But most importantly try not to dwell too much in deep thoughts, easier said than done. But we're all rooting for you and fully expect to see you soon!

Good luck! Though I'm sure it'll all be fine.

Best of luck Sean.

I don't know you, you don't know me...but who cares, I'm keeping positive thoughts going for you anyway. Good luck to you Sean.

Good vibes headed your way! Safety and happiness.

Dammit, it got all dusty in here.
Good luck, sir. Many positive thoughts for recovery are headed your way, and I know that you'll be just fine. Your goodjer family is here for you and we all love you!
My 21st birthday is only a few days after you get your new baboon heart, so I'll drink a Corona just for you!

Time was, I would try to say something profound. I think we're past that by now.

Good luck Sean. You know if you need anything, all you have to ever do is ask.

Best of luck, my thoughts go out to you and your family. I'll look forward to hearing your dulcet tones on a post-op GWJCC!

Best of luck Sean. Thanks for sharing this part of yourself with us. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

I can't say it any better than everyone here already has. Looking forward to you writing about all the games you played while you're recovering.

There are no words of mine that could remove from you your fears, but I would give you a little perspective from the other side.

Know that for a time, you will be the absolute center of the universe for some of the most exquisitely trained and skilled humans on the planet. Your body, and the area surrounding it will be a sacred space vigorously guarded by a vigilant scrub nurse, with no-one permitted to approach without permission. Lost in dreams, or perhaps simply in a deep dreamless sleep, you will be the focal point of a ballet that has been performed many thousands of times, with every performer knowing their steps by heart. Each action, each movement of a hand or finger, is part of a sequence so well-known as to be muscle memory.

And as these surgeons perform their art, and the scrub nurse stands vigil, there will be others who monitor you. No second will pass that is not evaluated. Every change in blood pressure will be noted, every breath seen. Laymen like to talk about being "dead" on the table, as if the heart and lungs are intrinsic to self, rather that simply being part of the machine that keeps the brain (and therefore self) alive. You will no more be dead on the table than you are dead when you're asleep. Such terms make for dramatic stories, which are certainly the prerogative of any patient, but are far removed from reality.

And then you will wake. For you, it will seem but moments ago that you breathed in and fell asleep. You will be disoriented. Some folks are scared for a moment and try to move right away. Your attendants will be ready for this and thus, if you feel hands upon you when you wake, know that they guard you in waking as they did in sleep. Most wake gently, however, returning not to full wakefulness, but a drowsy state of natural sleepiness. Relax and rest. All will be well.

I won't wish you luck, because you don't need it. Instead, I'll wish you a speedy recovery. See you soon.

Best of luck! We'll all be here waiting to hear about how it went, in the meantime, you and your family are in all of our thoughts.

I think what Coldstream is saying is that when you are out, the doctors and nurses are going to touch you. A lot. Hopefully in an appropriate and friendly manner.

I'm looking forward to hearing about why or why you didn't purchase Madden 12 this year.

I liked coldstream's post.
I went looking for Krev's.

SallyNasty wrote:

I think what Coldstream is saying is that when you are out, the doctors and nurses are going to touch you. A lot. Hopefully in an appropriate and friendly manner.

Who could resist that beard?

Absolute best wishes to Sean and for a good recovery.

Best wishes to you, Sean. You're going to come out of this rocking even harder.

Nice post Coldstream. Hell, nice writeup Elysium. We all look forward to you getting back to health.

Thanks for sharing. A very personal and as always interesting piece to read.
Best wishes to you and your family.

Until she moved to Chicago this month I had the pleasure of working out with a very kind woman named Ellen Charnley on an almost daily basis. She always stood out as being one of the healthiest individuals in a class full of fit people. I heard pretty early on that she'd had open heart surgery, but it was a while longer before I knew she'd written a book about the experience. Last Thusday was her last day with us in Las Vegas and I finally got around to asking her what the title of her book was and if it was available on Kindle. It was, and I read it that same day.

Given your rather similar situation Elysium, I suspect you might get some good out of reading the story of a woman who at 40 was informed she had a congenital heart defect that put her in imminent danger of death and then 8 months later successfully completed an Ironman triathlon.

Here's a LINK to the book.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Best wishes. Looking forward to hearing your voice again soon.

Sean, thoughts are with you. I have truely appreciated what you have offered to this site and to the podcast. Game on brother. See you on the other side, one way or another.

Best wishes, Elysium. My thoughts and prayers will be with you.

Good luck Sean.

I've really enjoyed contributing to the podcast and can't wait to do so again.

Make sure you stick around so you can help promote my first indy release

Good luck. I fear I'm not far behind you. My accident in 2008 has been hard to recover from and I've put on a lot of weight. I'm on blood pressure medication now and very scared about my future. The other day I watched a really moving movie and chased that with 4 hours of Battlefield: Bad Company 2. I woke up the next day and realized that I was running out of time to turn the clock back. And that I had to do EVERYTHING in my power. Nothing was more important than getting a few more orbits on this Earth. So I pulled the plug on a couple of online sports leagues. I pulled the plug on quite a few games I was "working through". And I started making a point of eating better and exercising.

All of that is to say that I kind of know where you're coming from. Obviously not completely, but when I was struck with salmonella poisoning in Guatamela last fall and my heart rate spiked to 120bpm I nearly died. I was lucky. And ever since then it's been hard not to think about the fact that while I've had a good life I want more.

Anyway, modern medicine is amazing. I had my life saved by a doctor with few resources in Guatemala. I'm sure you'll be fine. I think it's healthy, though, to take stock of one's life now and then. To appreciate what you have and the life you've been given. And it's natural to not want it to end.

oilypenguin wrote:

Best of luck, Sean. We're all pulling for you.

I'll +1 this!

Best wishes, my thoughts are with you.

Love ya Elysium! See you soon.

Late to the party, but best of luck. Thanks for all of the thoughts and snark.

My wife recently went through minor surgery. Even though it was minor, it made me think about a few things. As I get older, now with a 9 year old boy looking up to and relying on me, I realized that I no longer live solely for my own care free existence or for the comfort of my wife (though those are priorities no doubt). I now live for that boy and I was terrified for him if something happens to either my wife or myself.

Hey, maybe they'll not only repair the heart, but grow it to be three sizes too big. Plus, good drugs. If they ask how much pain you have always, always say "11".