“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne
This week our Finish the Sentence Friday writing prompt is “Scared…” so I thought I should share my recent fears and how quickly one’s life can do an abrupt about-face and go down an entirely unexpected path.
Until about February of this year, I was sure of what my summer was going to involve; I was very much looking forward to getting down to work in my yard, tackling some projects that I’ve had to shelve for a few years until I dealt with some health issues. Life, my adopted sister Lisa used to say, is what happens when you’re making plans. God just sits there and laughs…and laughs…and laughs…
For some two years, I’d been feeling chest pain – nothing debilitating, but enough to register and make one feel vulnerable…scared…but I was also quite good at not thinking about it…at least, until the chest pains started to happen fairly often and suddenly I realized how tired I was most of the time.
Well…then I saw my cardiologist, who was rather concerned…so I agreed to undergo an angiogram and a PET scan with contrast dye and (oh so fun!) a chemical stress test. All of these showed blockages in at least four vessels on my heart…scared, I was getting really scared. It was the angiogram that really sealed the deal, though, because it was by far the most definitive of all the tests and when your cardiologist is sitting behind you and you hear a quiet “Uh oh…” you know something is up. Scared.
Even more scared is when your cardiologist goes off to his office and makes an appointment for you with a cardiothoracic surgeon…that is scared. Very scared. Freaking out scared. Wishing that you could drink a lot of Irish whiskey scared. Sleepless scared.
My cardiologist not only made the appointment for me to see the surgeon, but he also asked the surgeon to clear the decks for me in the operating room, because I was going to need heart surgery. Scared shitless scared.
So….my husband and I go to meet with the surgeon, just 24 hours after the angiogram. The surgeon says he’s talked my case over with my cardiologist and if we’re game, the surgery will take place. The. Next. DAY. I think I may have said something rather rude at this point…or I may have said, can’t it wait? or something along those lines. I already knew that this surgeon was good, because I’d asked my cardiologist who he would want to operate on his heart…and it was the surgeon he sent us to see. This guy didn’t sugarcoat anything, which I appreciate…he said, yeah, you can wait, a week or two or three…but I’ll guarantee you this: you will have a heart attack, and it’s a question of degrees – as in, whether you’ll sustain severe heart muscle damage or DIE. I probably said something really rude again…because scared doesn’t even begin to address how I was feeling.
Scared is when you’re talking to a doctor and everything you were planning to do in the coming months just gets shit-canned and BOOM there you are, Contemplating Your Mortality. The surgeon could see that I was scared, so he said, tell me what you are most afraid of…and I said, well…am I going to die? How many people die in the course of a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) procedure? Turns out very few patients die, which was reassuring. Then we were sent off to the hospital proper to deal with a whole raft of tests…scared, I was scared oh God I was scared. You see, the surgery was already scheduled for the next morning. Rude words and whatnot…and scared.
Don’t misunderstand me – I wanted to cut and run, but what good would that have done? I was still going to need the surgery…and don’t assume that I was displaying any particular courage, because I most certainly was not. There simply was no other alternative, and I wanted to live…I still do, so I had the CABG and he only had to do a triple bypass rather than a quadruple. I have a beautiful scar and I have to rebuild my entire life, but I’m alive.
Scared is waking up in Cardiac Intensive Care with a breathing tube down your throat. Scared is not knowing who the hell you are when you finally do wake up. Scared is the pain of the chest incision, which starts at your collarbone and goes all the way to the bottom of your breasts. Fortunately, you’re also coked up to the gills and so high that you don’t really care what’s happening. Scared is having to redefine normal and not being altogether certain of what normal is anymore.
What isn’t scared is knowing that no matter what happened, I did not want to be Joe Gideon. Have you ever seen All That Jazz, the biographical film about Bob Fosse’s life? I did not want to be like that guy – Joe Gideon – always courting Death and finally, dying in a stairwell, alone, with no one but Death by his side. I did not want to be like that guy…he wasn’t scared; I think he wanted to die. What a moron. I’m with Auntie Mame, who said: “Live! Live! Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Scared is going forward even though you’d really rather shove a sharp stick in your eye…or is that the definition of courage? I did get a rather addled brain out of all of this…but I am not scared anymore. I am alive and I am going to make the most of my banquet. Bon appetít!
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by the ever-incredible Kristi Rieger Campbell of Finding Ninee.com.