Ah, the vicissitudes of this mortal frame! For sixty five years I considered myself to have lived a somewhat charmed life. “Never had a major disease or even a broken bone” I would crow when sitting on a chair in the break room at work, or on one in a friend’s living room, or a stool at some local watering hole. I have to confess that I found my relatively clean health record odd, all things considered (which we will do shortly), but I was very pleased with the state of my health as I charged into my energetic sixties. And then reality dropped it’s hammer onto my head.
“Glenn, you’ve had a heart attack.” I had worked with this Emergency Room doctor for decades, and I could see that it wasn’t easy for him to bring me this news. The news didn’t come as a surprise though. Two years of symptoms had eluded test after test, and when the chest pain and the blood work were put together, the truth was right in front of my eyes. An angiogram the next day confirmed that three of my cardiac arteries needed to be bypassed, using vessels from my leg and chest. I said “Get to it then,” and they did.
Over the last two and a half years I have been more or less OK. With diet and exercise, massage, acupuncture and a very good naturopath I have gotten along pretty well. Until the last two months, that is.
Since then I have found it hard to eat anything solid without running the risk of very severe abdominal pain and sometimes throwing up. By staying on a diet of smoothies with small amounts of solid food thrown in I’m able to usually avoid the problem, but after sixty eight years of chewing my food, one finds oneself used to the exercise.
Two weeks from today I will have the pleasure of an endoscopy procedure. A doctor called a gastroenterologist (they give themselves Latin and Green names which sound SO important so that they can charge more) will advance a scope down my esophagus, into my stomach, through the pyloric valve and into the duodenum, in hopes that he can find a cause for this problem. I hope that he is successful.
I find myself reflecting on all of this on a gray Vancouver winter day when I have already planted three new blueberry plants and have nothing better to do. I could, on the one hand, ask “Why me?” I eat better than most Americans (and I can provide a grocery bill to support that assertion!), I exercise, don’t smoke, and drink alcohol on only social occasions (which don’t happen every night, if that’s what you’re thinking).
On the other hand, I might answer “Why not me?” I began to smoke cigarettes when I was eight years old and did so, off and on, until I was twenty. I spent two years in Vietnam where a lot worse than GERD was flying around me, and I walked through pools of Agent Orange while I was there.
And in the years that I was overseas and in most of the next ten years I smoked or ingested God-knows-what on a daily basis, trying to self-medicate pain that I really had no good excuse to be experiencing. During those years I should have died or experienced serious life-changing circumstances well more than a half-dozen times. So there’s no point in whining about that now. At sixty eight something might be catching up with me. Wouldn’t be surprised.
The point of writing this is not that I think I’ll drop dead tomorrow. I might do just that, but I don’t expect it. I’m not going down the drain, nor even circling it. But at long last I can SEE the drain. I’m not going to live forever. Until now, that has been an abstract notion. Now it’s a poke in the ribs. I finally understand that, sooner or later, it will become a kick in the butt.
Death is just a part of the drill. Odds are, we’re all going to get our shot at it. That leads me to ponder not “How can I avoid thinking about death?” but rather, “How can I make the best use of my time in the one hour or thirty years that I have left?” What can I do to make this place better, even if on a scale so microscopic that it doesn’t register on most graphs and scales?”
“How do I redeem the time that God gives me?” That seems like a better question than “Why me?’