Friday, February 20, 2009

Heart aches 10

As I move farther away from the surgery, and the recovery drags on and on, I begin to realize the psychological and spiritual effects it has had on me. I intuited that they would occur, but I did not anticipate how deep or lasting they would be. I woke up this morning thinking that I was like Frankenstein, a creature stitched together that does not really work and resents its condition; or that I was like Humpty Dumpty - they can cut you open, but they cannot necessarily put you back together.

I have said before that the whole idea of heart surgery is posited on the prejudice that the human being is a mechanism and that the heart is its pump. Therefore, it should be possible to open up that mechanism and repair that pump, and expect the whole to resume functioning as before. But this is simply not the truth. The human being is a unique kind of creature - unique in all creation - in that we have minds and souls, memories and emotions, hopes and fears and dreams, all of which contribute to our image of ourselves as conscious beings. This precludes the possibility that we can be treated as if we were something else, something mechanical and merely functioning, yet this idea is what all of modern medical science is founded on.

Now, I think that for some people who approach their lives mechanistically, and for whom the desire for the prolongation of life at any cost is inherent, perhaps such things as heart surgery do work, quite blandly and efficiently. Such people live as though their lives were mechanical; unreflecting, bereft of deeper instincts, incapable of or unwilling to contemplate the higher, transcendent purpose of life or of its meaning. I do not disdain these people; in fact, in my current circumstances, I rather envy them. Their recovery must be as mechanical as their approach to life and to their surgery. 'I'm broken, so fix me and I'll go back to the way I was.'

But for others, heart surgery (and perhaps brain surgery) is a different matter. For such as these, surgery of the heart is a turning point, both physically and psychically. It forces you to question who and what you were beforehand, and who and what you will be after. It makes you wonder at yourself: at the complex amalgam of body and affect, mind and soul, that you are. And it leaves you panting before the prospect that, if you were not really broken before the surgery, you certainly are now. Because your entire being keeps telling you so, in terms that you cannot ignore. 'Self-yeast of spirit a dull dough sours,' Hopkins said, and finally, after years of struggling with that concept, I understand what he meant. I feel it in my heart.