Friday, February 20, 2009

Back and forth

Once you have allowed yourself to be treated like a thing, there is no going back. This has been driven home to me both by the surgery, and by the behavior of an acquaintance of mine. Out of desperation and the need to survive, she turned to prostitution. I thought that I had convinced her to leave that life, to get a job and go back to school, but after the surgery I learned that she had begun hooking again. It broke my heart, which, ironically, had just been fixed.

There are lines one does not cross in this life - not if one wishes to retain one's integrity and any hope of a meaningful future. There are prices that one does not pay if one wishes one's life to have value. I think that, like this woman, I have crossed the line and paid the price, and there is no going back now. Back to the life I used to know, back to the prospect of dignity and control, back to a sense of integrity and self-respect. Once you have given those up, as both she and I did, there is no going back.

I had the follow-up with the surgeon today, and I was told that there is still fluid in my lungs, which accounts for my shortness of breath, and that my heart is beating fifty percent faster than it should. In other words, I may have slipped back into atrial fibrillation, which was the problem that triggered all this and which the surgery was meant to solve. I had been promised that, with the new valve and the maze procedure, going back into a-fib as they call it would be impossible. But, as it does occasionally in this life, the impossible has triumphed again.

Despite all the assurances of my doctors and my friends, despite the urgings and bullyings, I knew in my gut that this surgery was the wrong choice for me. In the same way, the woman must have known that prostitution was the wrong choice for her. But we both agreed to lie down and let others have their way with us in the hope of survival. As I have said elsewhere here: survival purchased at any price is not survival, but a form of living death.

I urge others who are contemplating having open heart surgery to consider whether your circumstances may be similar to mine - whether it may not be the right choice for you. I am not saying that you should not have it - I would never counsel anyone this way - but merely that you should consult with your deepest sense of who you are and ask whether the procedure and all of its attendant indignities and its loss of control, may not alter your life in ways that make the prolongation of your life an empty purchase. I believe it was Henry Miller who said that once you have given up the ghost, everything else follows. I never understood what he meant until now.