In the weeks leading up to your surgery, you turned to your online friends for support. Most people told you not to worry. If any doctors mentioned mortality statistics, or told you to “get your affairs in order beforehand,” that was simply a legal requirement.
Some knew others who’s had the same procedure, or had actually had the procedure themselves.
You made a special point to avoid anything upsetting, especially the night before the operation. However, the hospital sent you the link to a video that you were required to watch, outlining the surgical procedure and the subsequent recovery. You waited until the last minute to watch it.
The video’s narrator spoke in a calm voice. Instead of live-action footage, the informational video represented the surgery with animated diagrams. The drawings didn’t fool you: a dotted line appeared down the center of a cartoon chest, a knife followed the line, then the ribcage was split open to reveal a still-beating heart. It was the most gruesome cartoon you had ever seen.
You tried to clear your head, hoping to get some good sleep before your surgery, but your MyBook account dinged. A computer window popped up with the name of a long-lost childhood friend. You clicked on the message:
I had the same surgery a few years ago (the message said), and there are some things you need to know. I survived, and I know you will, too, but don’t be surprised if you wake up disoriented. I was unable to speak. I suffered incredible pain, but was unable to tell anyone. The nurses hovered over me like demons, and they pulled at my arms and legs and strapped them to the hospital mattress. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was unable to lift my head, but was certain my chest was open and exposed. A group of small children visited my room, and one of them sneezed deliberately into my chest. Time slowed to a standstill. Occasionally I heard whispers in the hallway, voices planning a series of new surgeries, which I’d be helpless to stop.
Two more long paragraphs followed. You stopped reading, closing the lid to your laptop, but it was too late. You were near tears, overwhelmed with fear. Why had your friend sent this message? Why did you read from it? The message contained exactly the ideas you’d worked so hard to protect yourself from.
So many supportive friends. But today, as you lay on the gurney and are wheeled into anesthesia before your surgery, all you can think of is the violent informational video, the terrifying message from your long-lost friend, and the awful idea that you’ll count backwards from one hundred and wake later to a transformed world…if you wake at all.
[Written on the one-year anniversary of the author’s successful open-heart surgery, March 29, 2016]