You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. --FRANZ KAFKA
As I went through a series of tests after my diagnosis, I promised myself I would not fear surgery. Surgery meant bright yellow, high flying hope. "No surgery" on the other hand (at least, in my case) meant "no point." And truthfully, I didn't fear the operation. Though I was given valium and told that no one sleeps the night before surgery, this lifelong insomniac slept deeply and well. I rode to the hospital in a state of calm anticipation
In pre-op, I was prayed over by the chaplain; and when Ted came in to say goodbye to me, there was something I can't describe-- a depth in his eyes--that I'd never seen before in twenty-six years. Something had changed between us because of this crisis; something had grown.
But it wasn't until my bed had been parked outside the OR and someone realized I hadn't signed a release form that I really contemplated what was about to happen to me--and my own vulnerability before it. As the anesthesiologist read the lists of risks--beginning with a dislodged cap in a tooth when the breathing tube was inserted and culminating in death, I hesitated, pen in hand.
"Well, are you going to sign?" the anesthesiologist asked.
"I'm thinking about it," I said. Then we both laughed. As if I had an option...
But the truth was I really did think about the possibility that when I went under, I would never wake up. It may have been remote: I was relatively fit, the hospital was world class, and I had full confidence in my surgeon. Still, it was there.
And in that moment of hesitation, I decided that if it happened, I was ready. I don't mean that in a negative, defeatist way. No, I desperately wished for more days and minutes and years--and what's more, I believed I would have them. But if I were to die that day, I was prepared. What that meant for me was quite simple: I was at peace with everyone in my life (not always possible, I know, and not always true for me.) In the previous week I had given my "I love you" to everyone in my world freely and often. I'd also spent a lot of time in contemplation.
The moment of hesitation passed. I signed my name. Then the door to the operating room swung open and I encountered the huge probing lights, the sterile atmosphere, the masked surgical team. It might have been the last thing I remembered, but it wasn't...
And yet, my moment spent contemplating the risks of surgery remained with me. I wonder: if each of us had to sign a release form every day before we left the house, enumerating the dangers we might encounter, beginning with missed opportuntunities to love, extend kindness, smile at a stranger, or pursue our goals, and ending with death--all very real possibilities we face every day, would we be ready? Would we change the way we lived?