This has been a week during which I was reminded of my mortality (as if I needed it) and which consequently flew physical facts in the face of my suppressed longing (yes, I'll admit it) for MY kind of living forever.
On Monday, I took a planned excursion to Porter Hospital here in Denver where my wonderful cardiologist, also named Mark (Sheehan), performed an electro "cardioversion" which shocked my heart and returned it to normal sinus rhythm. Why do that? Back in December when I was in the hospital for a few days with breathing issues, the docs discovered that my pneumonia (diagnosed then) had probably been the cause of an atrial flutter in my heart. In short, my heart was beating with an abnormal rhythm and, in so doing, losing about 30-40% of its efficiency. Blood was not circulating through my heart's atria or my body very well.
I was immediately put on Coumadin (warfarin--I used to sell this stuff at Mark's Agway as a very effective rat killer!!) to reduce the likelihood of clots developing in my atria because the reduced flow of blood was not clearing out my heart's upper chambers. Coumadin, an effective blood thinner (causes rats to bleed to death internally when ingested with water), is very tricky to titrate in humans so that an appropriate dose is given to stabilize the blood's ability to coagulate exactly as it is supposed to. Too much Coumadin reduces coagulation and produces a test result of over 3.0, while too little Coumadin increases coagulation and the likelihood of clotting and produces a test result of less than 2.0. Getting the dosage just right, week by week, is more of an art than a science because much depends on what I am eating, drinking, the extent of my daily activity, and probably other mysteries from the ether, etc.
For more than a month, the pharmacists at Porter's "Anticoagulation Lab" have busily adjusted my dosage each week until, about a month ago, my Coumadin level finally reached the desired result: between 2.0 and 3.0, and then maintained this level, tested weekly, for a month. This made it safe for the cardiologist to zap me without fear of loosening up clots to wander through my system lodging wherever it was convenient for them to take up residence (e.g., brain, heart's blood vessels, lungs, etc.).
It will come of no surprise to those which know me that just being in a hospital setting makes me apprehensive and subject to rampant feelings of dis-ease. Last Monday I recalled some slightly different feelings I experienced as a divinity student during my summer vacation after my first year at Yale. A friend of my family's was in the hospital dying of cancer and I was sent by my senior minister to comfort him.
As I entered the hospital, I became acutely aware that I was in no way singled out as a "special" or trained professional minister/helper/ spiritual healer. I had no uniform (white jacket) , accoutrements (stethoscope around my neck), or other badge which indicated that I was anything other than someone's visiting son or best friend. As a low church Protestant, I didn't even have a "turned around collar." Being surrounded by the appropriately garbed and confident medical professionals made me, in contrast, feel a little like a medicine man (in the presence of real SCIENTISTS) but without the identifying feathers. Much to my discomfort, I realized that outside of the institutional church, there are few manifest signs or symbols that identify spiritual healers as such.
This past Monday, I had that same discomforted feeling as the white and pastel dressed medical professionals did their duties, manipulated their computers, asked probing questions, and with careful competence inserted an IV, took vital signs, and then finally attached all sorts of sensors and conductive pads to my chest and back, and then gently, through the IV, conducted me on a brief tour of La La Land.
The point of this digression is to emphasize a host of feelings I had before and after the procedure: e.g., some anxiety, a modicum of fear (after all they do stop the heart for an instant), disquietude, and most significantly, a profound realization that I controlled virtually nothing about my medical treatment (once I was in that Haute Couture, paisley, open-back gown); never mind the issue of directing or controlling my life in general. I had become, indeed, a "medicine man" in my own life! And still no feathers!
Furthermore, the people who held my life in their hands did not give a whit about my fine Southern upbringing, my academic degrees, my many friends in high(ish) places, my teaching career, my wonderful family, my cornbread recipe, or my outstanding retail career at Mark's Agway! What they seemed to thrive on was data, numbers, bell curves, and the like.
Being almost totally out of control of my life, as I was for part of Monday, is unnerving at best. However, truth be told, I am mostly not very much in control every day. Thinking that I am is convenient, but probably only an illusion if considered metaphysically. An occasional trip to the doctor or to the hospital is sufficient to remind me of the limits of my control over my inner workings.
In the Roman Colosseum, before gladiatorial bouts in which most would be killed, gladiators greeted the Emperor with "morituri te salutamus," or "we who are about to die salute you". This is a fitting salutation from all humans, especially me today, to those in the medical professions who accompany me, like shepherds, on my/our journey.
A welcome to readers
As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime: