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.


Coldstream, Thank you for that. I am not going under the knife but, even I feel reassured about it.

Not sure there's much I can say besides thank you. And we'll be reading your words and hearing your voice soon.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. There are some incredible comments here as well, shining the light once again on this incredible community you've helped build. I hope Coldstream's comment assuages your fears and Lobo's comment helps you understand how so many of us feel about you. We'll be with you the whole way, and we'll be here when you get back.

Hope you have a speedy and completely boring recovery, and like Momgamer says, remember to hug that pillow. You know the one.

*big hugs* and all my best to you and Elysia.

Lobo wrote:

Since you've taken the opportunity to write on the assumption that you may soon die, I'll respond in kind. You've always been a role model for me, a source of interest, introspection, and inspiration. I've never met you in the flesh but you're more important to me than many whom I have. Your wit and wisdom have affected me more than you know. But now you do! Carry that knowledge with you, and be confident that so very many of us feel the same way.


(and quoting since SillyRabbit referenced it)

I'll be praying for you, man. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I made it through similar surgery seven years ago (aortic valve replacement), and I'm sure you'll do great.

See you soon, Sean.

These comments have been so generous. Thank you all!

LobsterMobster wrote:

See you soon, Sean.


Best wishes. Looking forward to your next post.

A girl I once sorta-dated had had heart surgery when she was young. Every year, she celebrated the anniversary of the surgery as her "other birthday" -- the day she came back to life.

I'm telling you this so that it'll make sense when I say I'm looking forward to seeing you back here for many other birthdays to come.

Was waiting for my profile pic to update before I posted this. I think it has now.

First of all, if the highly unlikely unthinkable happens, I'll see what I can do to bring the rest of the gwj community to join us on the other side (note: dress light--heaven is much balmier than I expected). I know people.

Second, as much as I'd like the company, I've still decided to donate one of my Zelda hearts to ensure you stay among the living for yet awhile longer. Other than unconditional love, which it seems you have no shortage of, Zelda hearts are one of the most powerful curatives known to mankind. Your weekly bouts of verbosity extolling your complex relationship with the games you play are one of a very few highlights in my otherwise mundane existence, and for purely selfish reasons I'd rather not see them come to an end. Good luck to you, sir.

P.S. realtime Twitter updates during surgery? No? Just thought I'd put that out there.

Best wishes.

And don't forget that it takes both a Sean and a Shawn to maintain the power of the pillow of heterosexuality, you have responsibilities man.

Best of luck and have a speedy recovery!

To say that was a beautiful piece sounds kind of lame under the circumstances, but it was.

And I look forward to reading many more in the future.

My best to you and yours, Sean.

Best of luck, Sean, I'll be thinking about you.

A deeper thought about Sean and this place in general:

When I hang out in here, I'm reminded of Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon stories. In it, he describes a bar out on Long Island, where people just get along with each other (facilitated by a time-travelling barkeep, an alien, a talking dog, and various other characters). Reading those stories as a teenager, I always longed for a place like this, where there was both an incredible sense of belonging, with all the empathy and in jokes implied by this, but also a great respect for individuality - everyone in Callahan's was a character.

When I came to GWJ, I found Callahan's Place. Sean, Shawn, and the rest of the gang have built a home for all of us - the socially awkward, the eloquent, the healthy, the sick.

I'm not quite sure what I'm getting at here, but I want to thank you Sean for your part in creating our place, and let you know that we'll keep it warm until you get back.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming articles about how uncomfortable and embarrassing hospital gowns are.

See you on the flip side, King Corona!

Good luck and listen to your therapist when you are recovering. They (well most of them) are great people who know how to help you get better.

Best wishes on a complication-free procedure, and a speedy recovery. My thoughts, and agnostic prayers are with you.

Hey, stay solid.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

P.S. realtime Twitter updates during surgery? No? Just thought I'd put that out there.

That's the plan. I'm going to post updates on Twitter throughout the surgery, and daily updates afterward. I also plan to start a thread on here with updates as well, for those who don't do Twitter.

Reading over all of these wonderful comments has made me a little bit verklempt. Thanks so much for all of the good wishes. Send good vibes this way on July 18th, okay?

Sean, it was your writing that first led me to this site and this great community so best of luck to you and I really hope to see the first delirium induced mini-article right after your new and improved heart kicks in and you return to us as one of the first of our cyber-overlords.

Oh, and pay no mind to the whispers while you're under. They tend to over exaggerate everything.

We can't do without you, so you just have to return. No other option available to you!

I've been down and out 3 times myself, although not for something as big as this.

Not going to wish you best of luck with the procedure, just going to wish you best of luck with the recovery!

Go for it!

While I am just a small voice in this GWJ community, I havent missed a podcast or article in years my friend. I just want you to know that my thoughts are with you and your family right now, and I'm sure we all look forward to hearing from you soon.

To a successful surgery and speedy recovery!

Vrikk wrote:

I'm looking forward to the upcoming articles about how uncomfortable and embarrassing hospital gowns are.

twitpic or it won't have happened.

.......not that i want to see. just....nevermind.

Hey Elisium. There are 177-odd well-wishes on this article, and you know why? Because you brought us all here.

We all love you (platonically). Kick this thing's arse.

Take care Sean. I'm looking forward to hear your thoughts on the avalanche of games later this year and early next.

I don't know if this will help but, when I have something in the future that scares the crap out of me, I tend to postpone the worry until later. I.e. 'I don't have to worry about that yet. I'll worry about it when it's the week of the event.' Then, when it is the week, 'Well, really, I don't have to worry about it until the day of the event' and then, 'Actually, I don't have to worry about this until I'm on location.' I can keep this up until it's too late to worry. It sounds extremely artificial but it works well for me.

Also, if they offer you a complimentary robot arm, get the one with the infinite grapples.

My thoughts are with you Sean.

Don't worry dude. You'll be fine. Have a speedy recovery so we can read more of your stuff.