This was me a year ago. Ok, a little less than a year ago. January 12 of last year. Shortly out of open-heart surgery and after a brief flirtation with death. Notice the tube coming out of my neck. I think that makes me look like a tough guy. The whole thing seems like a distant dream at this point. There are a few lingering effects, but I am getting better every day.
What I want to talk about today was what did change. Shockingly, not a lot. At least not right away. In reflection, this is what shocks me, it took a while for changes to occur. You would think waking up in the operating room after open-heart surgery, knowing you briefly passed on, and then going through some crazy rehab would have you walking out of the hospital a different man. Nope.
Here is what I did notice. A lot changed before my surgery and near death experience. The humorous part about that was that I didn’t realize these changes until well after my surgery was over. A lot came to my attention while writing my journey in my third book, The Beat Goes On. As I was writing about a visit to the movies with Margie only 2 months prior, I realized my focus had changed. I was facing a possibility of a dramatic change in life situation and my thought was what I would leave behind if I did not make it. Not what did I want to eat, where I wanted to go or things I wanted to do. No, what was really emotionally pressing as I was facing possible death, was making sure the people that I loved knew that I loved them and what legacy I was going to leave behind.
The picture above is an example of that. It was the last picture Margie and I took before I walked out the door to go to the hospital. I wanted one last picture. It wasn’t that I was even attempting to be noble. It was the thought that if I died, would it have mattered that I made one more trip to the Nite Owl for a hamburger? I would be dead. Wouldn’t even able to talk about it. Unless of course you can come back and haunt people and let them know where to eat the best burgers in town. I realized if I wanted to be immortal, that would depend on what I left behind and not what I took with me. It reminded me of a great quote I heard from the actor Denzel Washington, “You never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.” It is not what you take with you, but what you leave behind. While I was feeling all of these emotions (As you can read in The Beat Goes On) I wasn’t aware of why I was feeling them. It wasn’t until I was writing and reflecting that this truth came to light.
While I was going through this whole life-changing event, I did not fully grasp the magnitude of what was transpiring. I was still the goofy author who found humor in what was going on around me. Like this sign warning people not to put their hands in the toilet. I was not aware this was a temptation that had to be fought. Good to know that one could get injured that way, I suppose. Nicole, my favorite nurse that I had, warned me that I would be more emotional after the procedure. I did not feel much different until after I left the hospital. I recall wanting to go to Panera for lunch before going home. I love their hazelnut coffee. I recall sitting in front of my protein bowl looking around at the other people in the restaurant, including Margie and my mother, and thinking that somehow I was now different. I had the experience of slipping through the great beyond. Gleefully, that was temporary. Still, I felt like a foreigner in the world. Very hard to explain.
Looking back, I am sure there will be more lessons that will come to me. Even such a traumatic experience as heart surgery and death do not always give you the lessons right away. In my second book, Living the Dream, I wrote about lessons I was still learning from my Grandfather who has been gone quite some time. Life is like that. This is why it is so important to give yourself time to reflect and just think. This is also why sharing your story, whether that is in a book or blog for the world to learn from, or just in a journal for your own private use. There is something magical that happens when you put pen to paper. Lessons you never knew that you learned suddenly leap from the pages. I would love to hear some of the lessons you have learned in life after reflecting.