“Father Time Is Undefeated”, as one of my favorite Region sportswriters is fond of saying.
A dozen or so years ago, shortly after we moved back to the area I got an email from my older brother. His career has taken him around the world, and it’s also the kind of career that kept him in really good shape. So he was probably as surprised as anyone to report that he was going to have triple-bypass surgery. He pointed out that our grandfather died of a heart attack at 59, our dad survived a heart attack at 59, and he was having major heart surgery at age 59. He left me with some advice: if you haven’t started taking care of yourself, get going now.
I had just finished training for a marathon, so I was reasonably sure I was good in that regard, but I also had an awareness that you can’t fight genetics. So now, even with six marathons and 10 half-marathons behind me, I recognize the clock is ticking. I have an expiration date.
This was without a doubt my most stressful year of teaching. And, in a related story, I’ve been battling some health issues for most of the year. I’m not sure which came first, to be honest, the illness or the stress.
It’s gonna take a while to get the bad taste of this year out of my mouth. I don’t even want to think about anything that has to do with teaching right now. I’ll eventually start thinking about next year but the plan for now is to just be.
LOL. To steal a line from José Luis Vilson, “God got jokes.”
“Hey buddy!” persona aside, I’m a pretty dark person; my default position is to expect the worst. As humans we have a built-in defense system, constantly scanning the horizon for danger. In addition to the heart history my family also has a cancer history so I’ve pretty much made my peace with an endgame of some type of terminal illness. Memento mori, right?
As the year wore on and we couldn’t nail down the source of the problems, I grew more certain of bad news on the doorstep. My doctor has been trying systematically to eliminate causes. I love her strategy. Given my family history I think the plan was to rule out all the things that could kill me fast first, then move on to things that were merely annoying.
That line got a chuckle from the triage nurse at the emergency room when I presented myself there Friday night.
A three-day hospital stay later, we have some answers, which is good. Just need to work through the process of fixing what’s wrong. Nothing life-threatening, just things that need attention.
Hospitals are humbling places. Plus, I felt like a little bit of a fraud. There were a lot of people way sicker than me on the floor. Aside from the episode that brought me to the ER, I felt fine the rest of the weekend. I had a procedure scheduled for Monday morning, so I had to ride it out regardless. I had just passed a stress test with flying colors Friday morning, and I still have a runner’s resting heart rate, to the point where my prep nurse Monday morning said “wow, you’re really healthy.” That was kind of a running theme every time someone took my vitals. My floor nurse complimented me on my easy-going nature, but internally I was thinking, I don’t have a lot to complain about. I’m not in pain, we know what the problem is and what to do about it, my veins make blood draws a snap. I knew if I was in different shape health-wise my demeanor would probably have been a bit edgier too.
So my summer education continued. The first week of break I attended the South Shore e-Learning Conference in Hammond. Coming off such an ugly year, I was hoping a chance to commiserate with friends would lift my spirits. Instead I ended up empathizing with teacher friends who were facing school closings and job uncertainty. Some of the sessions I attended helped me dial in on the needs of my marginalized students. I left recognizing other folks were dealing with worse situations than me. It was a message I needed to hear: to see and honor other people’s struggles.
Saturday, as word of my hospitalization started to spread, the prayer warriors came out in force. Facebook well-wishers piled on Mrs. Dull’s update posts. Thing is, I knew some of those folks have been dealing with serious health-related issues. And still (or maybe because of), here they were lifting me up. That blew me away.
I had a chance conversation a few weeks ago with a woman who’s been in the cancer fight for a while. She said that she made a habit of praying by name for everyone who had been praying for her.
That’s pure grace. In her place I’m not sure I’d have thought to return the favor.
But now that she set the example for me, I knew what to do. I’ve had a list of intentions in every Rosary I pray for years. Now I had a bunch of people to pray for by name, too. Not to mention plenty of time to name them. And all kinds of time to count blessings:
- The ER doctor called for a CT scan that revealed the source of the issue, pushing the process forward.
- Several people pointed out the convenience of being on summer break meant I won’t have to take time off work and make sub plans for my next procedures and recovery.
- I had family able to visit with me to pass the time in the hospital.
- I got to see two Cubs/Dodgers games and a couple of really compelling Copa America matches on TV.
- I have insurance. My portion of the bill is going to be ugly, but the majority of it is covered.
- And as Dr. King (following St. Paul) said, unearned suffering is redemptive.
If anything is gonna pull me out of my funk, it’s going to be the lessons of the last two weeks.
When things took a bad turn this school year, I was moved to make a daily habit of praying the Litany of Humility. It wasn’t easy. Remembering to make the three minutes in the morning and at bedtime was no problem. Praying the words with true feeling was tougher. Those are hard things to ask for. But it turns out, they were things that I needed.
The Litany helped me put some perspective on the issues at hand, and perhaps more importantly, on my response to them. I get the sense the last couple of weeks are the further opportunities to live out the attitudes I have been praying for.
Call it “continuing education” in the Summer of me-Learning.