By Steve Schewe
Those of you who have been there will remember. You’re lying on a gurney in a hallway, and the nurse, hoping to prevent any medical mistakes, asks, “Who are you? When was your birthday? What are you here for?” He goes back into the operating room to make sure everything is ready, and you’re waiting, thinking to yourself: they’re going to stop my heart. I’m going to be on a heart-lung bypass machine for an hour or two, and then they will restart my heart.
And if God says it’s not time yet, and you have the right medical team, and you have insurance, they do.
The next day, I woke up, and a few days later, I went home (which is in itself a miracle, but that’s a story for another time). Rising on Christmas Day from my own bed, I asked myself, “When your heart restarts, what else do you restart?” So here are my New Year’s resolutions:
1. Be gentle with yourself. Enjoy the warm water that falls from the shower head and flows over your skin. Don’t scrub too hard where you have sutures. Laugh when the after-effects of the anesthesia make you say “mitron” instead of “Motrin®.”
2. Every day is precious. When I first realized I needed surgery, I wondered when I would be able to sing again, since music has been important to me. It turned out that my first song was “Silent Night,” which my family sang with me around the dinner table on Christmas Eve. A well-repaired heart has reminded me of two things: how much energy I had when I was younger; and how much I’ll lose as I grow older. As the Psalmist says, teach us to number our days, that we may gain wisdom of heart.
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. After we finished singing “Silent Night,” my sixteen year old said, “Here we go again – Dad’s choir school!” I held my peace and remembered that she won’t be sixteen forever, which is both good and bad. Let family, friends and enemies help you keep a sense of proportion. What matters to me may not matter in the same way to others.
4. Relationships are everything. I remember family, friends and colleagues who gathered around my hospital bed, or who called and emailed, or who visited as I recovered. They’re the people who have taken the journey with me: there for the birthings and the dyings; ready with an encouraging word after a lay-off; or being part of the celebration after a big win. I will be loyal.
5. Check the surrounding gullies for wounded travelers. While I was in the hospital, so were others. Some went home, some didn’t, and some are still there. On the morning I left the hospital, the guy in the bed next to me was trying to figure out if he had enough money on his credit card both to buy a few gifts for his kids and gas for his car so that he could get home for Christmas. I have been lucky. In my gratitude, I won’t forget to help others.
6. Make money and do the mundane tasks of life just enough to be able to pursue 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Happy New Year!
This article first appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on January 1, 2008.
Photo Credit: Fred Baumer