Friday, February 20, 2009

Heart aches 3

I realize that I must sound terribly ungrateful for the 'gift' I have been given. As a friend of mine said: At least what's wrong with you can be fixed. And she, as so many have, then begins a catalog of incurable diseases from which people suffer and die. Oddly, while I empathize, I take no comfort in the knowledge that my state could be worse.

The truth is that whenever one purchases life, one takes a risk. There is an inverse relation here: If the price is too high, the life is not worth living. Only if the price is manageably low is the value attainable. What I am struggling with now is the idea that I have paid too high a price.

Placed in this position - whether or not to have heart surgery - you are inundated with cliches (and anyone in this position should be ready for them): Do it for others, do it for your children, do it for your health, do it for your work. Ultimately, however, you do it for yourself, though with those things in the perspective. I did not want to do it for myself, but was pressured and bullied into it by well-meaning others, who attempted to make me feel guilty and who threatened their estrangement if I did not. Yet that is not sufficient reason to undergo such a change, as I now see. You have to want it for yourself, as well as for others; otherwise it is not worth doing. Only one person advised me that I did not have to have the surgery, and suggested, in fact, that I not, and to him I will forever be grateful. For a moment in the process at least, I felt I was being given a choice.

And this matter of choice is crucial to the experience. Things that are done in the absence of choice, no matter how apparently laudable, are not necessarily desirable. Desire depends on choice, and the worth of any significant act is measured against the options one had in choosing it. From the moment I was told that I had, in effect, no choice but to have this surgery, I doubted that it was the right thing for me. Time seems to be bearing out my suspicion. I do not feel better; in fact, on a moral, emotional and spiritual level, I feel much worse. This so much true that there are days when I feel that it all has been for nothing - that I may have purchased a few years of life at too high a price.

That price, of course, consists of my dignity, my integrity and my sense that I was in control of my life. The proddings, probings and handlings by strangers which you undergo in the process are humiliating - the experience of being treated like meat, like a broken potter's vessel, like a nonentity. When I complained about this to a friend, she replied indignantly, "What do you think the doctors and nurses are for?"

"To destroy me," I replied.

A doctor friend of mine is fond of saying that if you don't have your health, you have nothing. Formerly I agreed, but now I think that if you don't have your dignity and an inviolate sense of personal integrity, then health, and indeed nothing else, is worth having.