I considered being able to take this photo a privilege and a significant accomplishment at the same time. The scene you see above is what I found at the end of a two and a half hour hike to an elevation of 10,200 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park. I know Everest would be infinitely more impressive but, you see, ten short months ago it was all I could do to take a single lap around the surgical trauma floor at our local hospital. Without getting into the gory details, what I thought was going to be a routine laparoscopic gall bladder removal last January turned into a a full blown invasive abdominal surgery that included a bile duct exploration and transduodenal sphincteroplasty topped off with a pulmonary embolism for bad measure. Talk about a surreal experience. In an instant, I was confronted with a potential life changing event over which I had no control.
When I reflect on the ordeal, I did not seem all that worried at the time. I just wanted to feel better. Nothing else mattered. I later asked myself why and came to the conclusion that I seem to worry more about the things I perceive I have control over. I worry about the outcomes of decisions I may make that could turn out badly. My medical condition, however, evolved so rapidly that I felt like I was just along for the ride and the outcome for better or worse was out of my hands. What good was worry when there was no way that I could alter the outcome? My biggest fear, quite honestly, was that I might not be there after the surgery for my wife and son. Aside from that, I felt I had, by the grace of God, lived a blessed life beyond my greatest expectations, rich with experiences and deeply meaningful relationships.
A day after surgery, I woke up with a nine-inch incision across my abdomen and all the fun that came with it. My surgeon told me I would be at the hospital recovering for a while and that he would need to follow my progress for three months. Despite the pain, I was out of bed that day and thought I was on my way back. My general surgeon, who brought four other doctors onto my case, came in to check on me later in the afternoon. With a slight wave of emotion, I said, “Thanks for pulling all the talent together and helping me get better.” To my surprise, he said, “Wait a minute, you are not out of the woods yet.” I was shocked. At that point, I had not thought for a second that I would not get completely better. It hit me in an instant that many of the things that I had enjoyed in life were now threatened by this unplanned turn of events.
Fortunately, after leaving the hospital nine days later and and five weeks of follow up, my surgeon told me I did not have to come back to see him again. He said, “You have had a very good result. Much better than it could have been.” With that, I was free again. Free to enjoy life to the fullest with a new respect for the frailty of life. I am completely better now and consider myself a very lucky man indeed.
What did I learn from this life experience? I learned that I REALLY love my wife. Her unwavering support in every aspect of my life has made me a better and stronger person. I can strive to attain the highest levels of self proclaimed importance at work or anywhere else, but in the end, my wife, family, and close friends are who I can depend on to be at my side.
The experience also drove home the importance of the A Day Not Wasted concept for me, which I had embraced long before the events of last January. If things had turned out worse and I had lost the freedom to do the things I love, I would still have all of the great memories from the experiences that Donna and I have shared together. My passion for living life to the fullest would have paid off. All I would have had to do is close my eyes and remember hiking the Alps in Switzerland, meandering the canals of Venice, and marveling at the grace of Paris, among other truly memorable experiences. Those memories are mine forever and they can’t be taken away. Run, don’t walk, to enjoy your life. Every day is a gift that is not to be wasted. Are you pursuing your passions and creating memories? I hope so. If not, put a plan together today that moves you in that direction. You will not regret it.
This post is a lot more personal that I usually get on the ADNW blog. I have wanted to write this for a while and finally had the clarity to put it down. Thanks for listening and have a fabulous weekend!