It was included in his ”Discharge Packet.”
A single sheet of paper, accompanying handouts listing a series of warnings – “Do not pick up anything from the floor for six weeks!” – and prescriptions for ten medications. It read, in part:
When you are 6 months post surgery and interested in being part of the cardiac team…we invite you to become a Heart Families Volunteer at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.
It had been six months since his surgery. It was time for him to decide.
Normally, the decision would be easy. He was not, by nature, a giver or a doer. Volunteering would require him to give and to do. Faced with similar requests in the past, he had ceded them to the “natural helpers of this world”, and gone on happily with his life.
But this one seemed different.
He’d been through something. Now others were facing the same thing. He sensed a visceral kinship. An ineffable connection with strangers.
There was his schedule to consider. He did virtually nothing, but he did it on schedule. He wasn’t sure – he had no idea – what would they’d require of him; yet he worried that whatever it was would blow his schedule out of the water, making a shambles of his calm and orderly routine.
“Forget it” was his natural position.
And yet, there was this nudge.
Not long ago, he had visited where the people scheduled for surgery were about to go, a place somewhere between “here” and “not here”, a drug-induced “Waiting Area”, where you lie open and helpless, while skilled technicians tinker with your parts, like a Chevy on a hoist. He knew how that felt, at least as much as you can know, after being severely bopped over the head. Let’s say he knew it in his bones.
A man emerges from a strange adventure, repaired and surprisingly intact. Was he not obligated to share his story? Provide others with helpful tips, and valuable “heads ups”?
Was it not his “survivor’s duty” to inform those about to travel the same road that, as scary and bizarre as their journey appeared, they were more than likely to emerge safely at the other end?
“More than likely.” It was just like him to qualify. What if they didn’t want “qualified”? What if they wanted unqualified reassurances? He knew that wasn’t him. He was incapable of not being comprehensive. Telling the truth meant presenting the “total picture.”
He was hardly a professional in these matters. What if, while presenting the “total picture”, he revealed things the “pre-surgeries” didn’t need to hear, and he wound up frightening them even more?
On the other hand, the request wasn’t for “professional caregivers.” They were asking for people like him.
If you have experienced cardiac surgery and would like to offer emotional support to others who are now walking in your shoes…we would like to meet and talk with you!
He was undoubtedly a professional at that. No diploma necessary. Just the surgery scars.
And the scary memories.
Who wants to relive all of that? Or even enter the hospital building?
It was never his way to get involved. Especially in unpleasant situations, involving anxiety, fear and the possibility of…bwah! Why was he even thinking about this?
Because they were asking for his help. And he knew exactly what it was about.
But what about his blog? Every day, he spent multiple hours, crafting stories for expectant readers? What if his newfound responsibilities required him to cut down on his output? Or stop writing entirely?
Reality Check: He had started the blog to do something useful with his time. Now, a request to do something truly useful had come up. Could he reasonably blow off a “truly useful” situation, using the “surrogate” as an excuse?
His blog worries were also just like him. He had no idea what was needed, and he’s already pleading, “No time.” Talk about jumping the gun.
Who knows? They could find him unsuitable for the job. As he might easily be. (Whoa, how would that feel? – volunteering, and being told “No.”)
He just couldn’t take that chance. Swaying their decision, he would inject telltale signals of “bad attitude” into the conversation – “It’s quite a drive for me”, “I’m not sure it’s something I’d be comfortable doing”, “It sounds like a lot of work” – triggering rejection, and returning to blame-free normalcy, saying, “I wanted to do it, but they turned me down.”
It felt familiar, that behavior. And not entirely good.
Outsiders might remark, “What’s the big deal? You do it, or you don’t.”
That’s true. It’s not like they were counting on him; they didn’t know he existed. And if weren’t for that note in his “Discharge Packet”, he’d be utterly clueless about them.
Hold on, with the “still.” What if they wanted more than he was willing to give? How do you say “No” to the sick and the scared? What if his obligation became overwhelming? – panicky phone calls in the middle of the night, visits to “post-ops”, tubes everywhere, funerals for patients he counseled who didn’t make it.
Who knows where things will lead? You stick in a toe, and you’re in over your head.
Crazy thoughts? Perhaps. It was an occupational hazard. He was a writer. This was how his mind worked when his imagination was on fire.
His crazy thinking sent a message. It was a really tough call.
“Pick up the phone. See what’s involved.”
“Let it go. You’ll feel bad for an hour; and then you’ll forget.”
“Do it. They need you.”
“It’s a noble impulse. But it’s not really for you.”
He sat quietly at his desk, wrestling with his decision.
The phone was sitting there.
Did he notice an accusatory tone in its demeanor?
It was probably in his head.