Monday, December 12, 2011

Under the Knife

“As the time for my being under the knife approached, my need to have as much practical preparation became an obsession.”

A year or two ago, I sat across a desk from a Neurologist, as he spun his rather large computer monitor around to show me and explain the image that filled the screen. It was a large black and white high resolution image of an MRI that I had undergone the day prior.
As he pointed with his pen on the screen, with little build up, he indicated a mass on my spinal cord, the image clearing showed my vertebrae and my spinal cord that they surrounded. My spinal cord was white on the screen and the obvious abnormal growth was easy to see, even with untrained eye. My first impression of the “coolness” of the ability to see my inners so clearly was quickly replaced as the Doctor shared his thoughts on this tumour. “I can’t say exactly until we have a sample of this, but this rare location and type of growth is typically cancer”
The rest of the conversation was mechanical in tone; other views of this growth were displayed on the screen, top down, bottom up, front and back... Regardless of the fact that it was me that I was looking at I continued to be in awe of the technology. The end result was a referral to a neurosurgeon in Saint John, as it was without question the recommendation as I prepared to leave the Doctors office.. this tumour had to be removed.
My appointment in Saint John, with the surgeon, was a bit more stressful, but again, thankfully very mechanical in tone. The description of the surgery, the odds of my not surviving and even if I survived the operation the odds of my never walking again were bantered about.
This blog is not intended to be a detail of my procedure, nor my recovery and experience. It is the interesting observations that I found as I was left with the odds and awaited my surgery.
There is probably not a person out there that in some way has not had to spend some time with someone that is faced with the chance that their life may be unexpectedly shortened, and I do not suggest for a moment that my thoughts are consistent with theirs, but on the occasion that I have spoken to anyone facing similar situations, or their end of life is confirmed to be sooner than expected.
My thoughts during this time between diagnosis and treatment, was not filled with fear and sadness about potentially not living a long fulfilled life. They were filled with practical thoughts, and fears that I may not be able to provide support to those closest to me.
Financial concerns, work concerns, family and friend concerns occupied 99% of my thoughts. Only quick glancing emotional blows of the potential that I may not have opportunity to complete bucket list items existed. As the time for my being under the knife approached, my need to have as much practical preparation became an obsession. I did not fear the outcome... just feared that I had not thought of everything that I should have done to minimize the impact to those around me that relied on my input and/or support.
I was thankful of course for all of the well wishers that offered their support and worry, and the generosity of offers for me personally. I am fortunate that I did survive (obviously), and I am also fortunate to have had the opportunity to face this possibility of losing my life.
It changed me, but in context to this blog, it changed how I relate to those terminally ill, or those facing life altering situation. I used to feel sorry for these folks, worried how they lay in their hospital beds terrified of death, terrified of not seeing the next day, so saddened about their impending passing. Because if in any way they shared my thoughts, I feel their minds are full of practical items, the funeral plans, financial items, who will help fixing the home computer, who will know the secret of that special way you wiggle the key to get into the garage.. etc.
If I could have a do-over with my father’s passing, these are the questions that I would ask him, ask him things that would free him from his worry, assure him that these practical things will be taken care of.. for him to allow himself to spend his last days recollecting a life that he was proud of, not worrying if those that he supported will manage living after his death.
I am committed to longer say to those who are facing their mortality, “I am so sorry and everything will be fine”, I ask them “ is there anything weighing on you that I can take off your shoulders”... maybe I will get answers that will surprise me, and I can be a true help to them during a terrible time.


  1. It's sadly ironic that when good people face death their biggest concern must always be the people that they leave behind; it seems that if someone has lived a good life they should be allowed to leave it worry free, but by the very meaning of being a good person they often cannot do that.

  2. So true Greg - I apreciate your thoughts on this.