There are so many special things about my wife, but one of my favorite traits of hers is when she mangles some of the more common idioms in our language.
During our years together I have heard her say, “Take that with a grain of sand,” “To make a long short story,” “We’ll cross that river when we come to it,” and my most favorite glorious combo of, “Don’t count your chickens before you put them in a basket.”
For weeks I have been thinking of writing about a particular “Elephant in the Room” and every time I think about it I imagine how Sunie would frame the title. She is such an amazing woman and her liberal use of language makes her even more special in my mind, and especially in my heart.
My heart is where the Elephant, err, Alligator lives, and its reconstruction has been weighing on my deconstructed mind of late. A month ago I was forwarded a study on the long term results of bypass surgery. The study noted that once a patient undergoes a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) procedure the risk of death is very high in the first 30 days post operation.
Having obviously made it that far, I skimmed past that section of the study and read how survival rates are excellent for nearly a decade after surgery, but that once a patient reaches the 10-year mark post-surgery, “something happens,” and survival rates begin to plummet.
Let me help you, when you read “something happens” in a medical report it is the literal description of someone in a white lab coat with shoulders raised, elbows pressed against the ribs, palms facing the sky while wearing a face that looks as if someone just asked them to divide seventeen thousand and sixty seven by four hundred and twenty two.
Depending on your resource the average age for CABG surgery patients is between 64 and 74. Either way getting a good decade followed by some less than stellar later years doesn’t seem so bad. But when your surgery happens at 40, the mind tends to travel to dark places. I get mad when I think of dying young and the completely horrendous positon I put that sweetheart from the first few paragraphs of this post in.
To imagine going downhill around my 50th birthday and leaving my wife is a thought that puts a huge lump in my throat. The lump grows larger when I look at the over seven-month bump on her belly. There are exceptions to every rule and every day people outlive their doctor’s predictions, but when you take large samples, as the studies I am referring to have done, the future can be stormy.
Do the results of a study mean I am going to die at 50? Of course not. Could I die at 50? Of course I could. But then again so can any of you. It’s just that my chances are higher than yours.
I have had several people ask me if I was going to keep up my diet and way of eating now as well as my trail running now that I seem to be doing so much better. I have been called stubborn, inspiring, militant, crazy and dozens of other names from family, friends and strangers.
My answer is no. I do not intend to keep doing what I have been doing with regards to how I nourish my body and mind with food and hiking, or my soul with nature and meditation. I am only going to dig deeper, continue searching, eliminate the things that are holding me back and experiment with the practices that help keep me around.
One of the most amazing things about facing death and walking, or in my case, crawling away from it is that the balance in your brain changes. A child-like innocence returned to counter my adult-ish sensibility. When we were kids our parents and teachers told us to dream big, to shoot for the stars and never take no for an answer, but as we grow older we start taking reality too seriously and many of us forget to dream.
When I think of my wife with baby on the way I let everything in. I do my best to make sure she is comfortable. I paint the nursery, I skim the parenting books, I try to remember the difference between a onesie and a romper, but mostly I try to stay present and be the guiding hand that will be with both of them for every second it can be. I also let in the visions of falling, a bypass fail, a doctors warning, a vice relapse, or even worse. I let those in, but just for a moment before turning my chin toward the sun and the eventual way out.
I focus on things that are in my control, from what I eat to how much I exercise, to how I manage work and stress and trying to get more sleep are all things that I am constantly trying to improve. And of course I dream big. I set huge goals and try my best to stick on the journey toward them. While I may never be the most fit vegan bypass survivor (or could I?), or even the longest surviving CABG surgery recipient (why the heck not?), if those were not my goals I would be cheating myself, my wife, by child, and each and every one of you.
In a twist of fate my heart surgeon called me a few days ago, just as I was thinking of scrapping this idea for a blog post and starting a new one. He reminded me of his dream for me, and we talked for a few minutes on the progress I have been making. It was nice to hear his voice, and it reminded me of how far we have come, but also how far I have to go.
In the days since that phone call my dreams have been reaffirmed. My resolve has ironed and my energy has narrowed toward the essential.
I’m not scared to dream anymore or consider the impossible. My hope is that you allow yourself to dream, and grin in the face of discourage and discomfort. Everything we need is in our head, our hands and our heart and if we can bypass the doubt the really, really good stuff in just around the corner.