When we are kids, we go to birthday parties, our own or our friends’ bar- or bat mitzvahs, or, in the Christian context, confirmations. Then, as we age, first it’s weddings, then anniversaries—we continue to go to birthday parties of course--, high-school or college alumni reunions, and finally it’s mainly funerals, or in today’s euphemism of choice, memorial services. My favorite, to be sure, is Celebrations of a Life Well Lived. That’s what I want for myself...
At 82, I mostly go to funerals, although Covid has put a dent in in-person services. Tomorrow, by contrast, it’s our god granddaughter’s second birthday celebration. So, there are exceptions. But now, to my main point. Eight days ago, I had hand surgery, a so-called carpal-tunnel release procedure. As operations go, it’s a minor one. It wasn’t even at our community hospital. Instead, it was at an ambulatory surgical center located on the ground floor of the Boulder Orthopedic and Spine Center. Given hospitals’ current overload with Covid sufferers, I was happy about a venue limited to orthopedic patients. Still, it turned out to be a busy place in its own right. Fifteen surgeries were scheduled on the day of my procedure alone. As the prep nurse told me, the winter brings victims of skiing and snowboarding accidents. In the other three seasons, victims of hiking and climbing accidents predominate. Of course, older folks who sustain breaks from falls come in year-round. There’s never really a lull.
Since moving to Boulder, Colorado, in 2009, I’ve had three operations. First it was a total knee replacement by one of the principals of Boulder Orthopedic and Spine. That required an overnight at the Boulder Community Hospital (BCH). Next came what turned out to be double-hernia surgery, also at BCH, with no overnight stay required. Now the same-day hand surgery—clearly the least invasive and quickest of them all. All three used a newish anesthesia that knocks you out in seconds. Then, with no time seemingly having passed, you wake up in the recovery room with everything having been done. It’s miraculous. Prior to the first two bigger surgeries, I amazed myself by being totally nonchalant about the whole thing. I kind of sailed through both and recovered quickly. This time, though, despite it being the least invasive, I’ll admit to having been scared. Fortunately, a friend who’s an experienced hypnotherapist did a session with me the day before, and the whole thing resolved into an interesting adventure where I was able to chat up all the nurses, aides, P.A.s and doctors I interacted with, seemingly without concern for the operation itself. It didn’t hurt, of course, that about three dozen of my religious friends and two priests were praying for me as well. I felt as if I were flying on a magic carpet of insouciance. Only several days after the successful hand surgery—no longer being awakened at night by pain shooting through my left hand—did it come to me that operations are a kind of rehearsal for death. It’s my personal prayer that when my time comes, that magic carpet will be available once again, and I can awake in the Recovery Room in the Sky pain-free and able to chat up the staff that welcomes me there. Amen.