Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Ad Multos Annos
When I've used the Latin phrase "Ad multos annos" in the past, it's usually been to congratulate a colleague on an ordination anniversary. It means "To many years (more)". I don't remember, but I might have silently, and groggily, wished this to myself the evening of November 19, 2002.
At 8:00 AM that morning six years ago I was sprawled out on an operating table in Sutter Medical Center's cardiac unit, Santa Rosa, with an 8.5 inch incision and split in my sternum. Dr. Keith Korver, whom I consider just a step below the Divinity Itself, and his colleagues were busily engaged doing a quadruple coronary artery bypass (originally scheduled to be a triple) on the most important organ in my body. According to the nametags given to Dr. Korver's patients at a reunion three years later, I believe I was his 210th. There were many other tags in the 400's!
Keith, one of the best cardiac surgeons in the country, grew up in Susanville where I'd served as Vicar for three years. His grandfather was a Presbyterian minister and his father was doctor in Susanville, whose name I'd often heard paged while I was visiting hospitalized parishioners. In our first interview Keith showed me the angiogram pictures of my heart, and I'm sure that my face must have blanched. The arteries were so incredibly clogged, to the point that small new veins had developed to help compensate. At age 65 I'd been so close to either a full-blown heart attack or possibly death! (My father had died at age 69 of a heart attack.) The surgery took 4.5 hours, and by 4:00 PM that afternoon I'd been "stabilized". The nursing staff was simply the best; within hours I could take ice chips and sit/stand up briefly. The only problem encountered during my whole hospital stay was a leaky lung which was slow in healing, thus preventing my discharge by two days. At the time I described it as "waiting at the station for a train and [not knowing] if it were coming". As it turned out I was home in plenty of time for Thanksgiving, which my family and I joyfully celebrated "with all the trimmings".
During the summer of 2002, I had taken two week-long courses, in July and August, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, while staying at our seminary, CDSP. If you've been there, you know how hilly the terrain is. I was amazed at how "out of shape" I was; I had, in fact, put on some weight. It never registered in my brain that, having to stop breathlessly every twenty yards and sweating like a pig, something more serious might be afoot. That went on until the fall. We'd hosted an opera concert at Holy Trinity, Ukiah, and in cleaning up afterwards I was finding it hard just to carry a couple of chairs across the room. Finally, my own inner alarm system and the insistence of my son that I see the doctor paved the way for the procedure which saved me.
The support of family and friends during that time and beyond was quite overwhelming. An email which my son wrote for me to a priest friend in Canada a few days after the surgery sums up my feelings then and now: "Imagine me sitting here in the US with four new coronary arteries, hearing your words from Canada. The miracle here is not only the blood moving strongly and healthily through my heart, but also the precious blood moving through all our hearts as we join together in thanksgiving for God's tender mercies..."
During the past six years I've put literally thousand of miles on my trusty treadmill and made reading Nutrition Facts labels an integral part of grocery shopping. Each year since I've aced the annual cardiac stress test, and the nurses usually seem amazed that I use only baby aspirin and meds for high blood pressure and cholesterol. Recently I shed nine of the ten pounds Dr. Coleman suggested I lose (mostly as a preventative to diabetes).
My advice to you all: take care of your ticker. You only have one. And please join me in a toast today: "Ad multos annos" -- for all of us.