Laying completely horizontal, I’m slowly carted off towards the pre-op room and parked in one of two holding position spots located outside of the operating rooms. With a somewhat composed character I glance over and greet the gentleman parked in the other spot beside me and we start to chat about our injuries and what procedures will be done on us. The one sign of nervousness is only revealed as we share excited laughter over something that neither one of us would have been too amused about in any other setting.
It’s amazing the walls that crumble when you lay vulnerably on a stretcher in the unassuming hospital gowns. We were two complete strangers whose paths may only cross once for these few short minutes, but in that 10-minute window we shared a moment of pure kind-hearted interest in one another. This type of closeness may otherwise have taken many days to come to had we met under different circumstances. My typical unconscious prejudice towards him had fallen away having no reference points to latch onto. My mind loves to quickly, and often erroneously, categorize people and place them into boxes. Without knowing what kind of car he drove, the clothes he typically wore and the company he usually surrounded himself with all I had left to judge him with was the care in his words. In a weird way, because of that, I felt safe. I knew he wouldn’t possibly be making the same rash judgements towards me, an ideal I wish to put into action more frequently in my own life.
The time has come for me to disembark the outlined holding position and make my way into the operation room. I bid him farewell with a courteous smile paired with a few words of encouragement. I knew that he too would be fighting the same unspoken worries that tend to cross all of our minds before going under the knife.
“What if something goes terribly wrong?”
“What if my body doesn’t react well to anesthesia?”
“What if I don’t wake up, and this is it?”
Whether you ruminate on these kind of thoughts for days, or the last few seconds as you are being rolled into your surgery, these thoughts serve only to suffocate you. You will be in a completely powerless state of mind and body, where not even the most brilliant minds wouldn’t be able to save themselves.
The mask is placed over my face and I am told to start counting down from 10, as I get to about 5 and the world as I know it turns off, and then what seems only a moment later, I wake up in a completely different room. The surgery is completed and I am now greeted by an entirely different set of medical professionals. In what seemed to me to be only a moment to me turned out to be 80-90 minutes.
It has been almost two years since my surgery, and yesterday all those feelings and memories came back to me as if it were only last week. I was then hit with an epiphany that brought peace to my spirit. “Could death and the after-life take place in the similar manner as a surgery”, I thought to myself. From a Christian standpoint, I am offered eternal life, and for many years after following Jesus. I haven’t been able to fully digest this massive concept of death. On the last days it is said that the chosen ones will rise from their graves and then enter into a place of serenity and joy with their creator.
My analytical mind would always ponder on the millions, if not billions, of Christians who have died already over the years that have come and gone. What happened to them? Are they still trapped six feet under in their coffins, waiting for the last days? Have they ascended to heaven already? When will these last days begin? Could it be next month, or will it to take another few hundred years as it already has been for many believers. Then the thought hit me. “Even if it did take another few hundred years, wouldn’t the time pass in the same manner as it does while you are under general anesthetic?”
This may have been a long stretch when it comes to the rationalization of things, but that odd thought seemed to be followed by a sense of peace around the topic of death that I have yet to experience. Having now been put under 3 times for surgeries, and having experienced an aggressive concussion playing football, I know what it feels like to be put on pause from earthly time. Whether you have been temporarily turned off from the world for a few seconds, or a few hours and then awaken again, you too have experienced a sort of death. And wouldn’t that be the same experience felt when the day actually die comes?
Your last breath could come to pass at the age of 92 due to natural causes, like my grandfather did. Or maybe you unexpectedly fall into cardiac arrest in the middle of a trivial operation, like I heard of a newly married man last week. The way you come to pass doesn’t really matter. The point is that however the lights go out, you will probably just find yourself coming to in the same manner as you do when you are awaken from surgery. Consciousness ignites, but this time you find yourself in completely different realm, world or galaxy – dependant of course on your belief systems, but you do continue to exist.
Although this may come across as a very elementary view on the subject of life and death, it is a realization that I am extremely grateful to have had. I can still remember the first time the concept of death landed on me. I was about ten years old, and I had just stolen money out of my mothers’ purse. I then sat down and started into existential debate, sitting at the bottom of the stairs at the entrance to our home. It hit me like a tidal wave. Out of the nowhere I somehow realized that my life wasn’t permanent here on earth. Not only was it not permanent, but I too would probably be placed in a casket and buried some six feet or more below the surface, laid to rest for God knows how long. The thought that I wouldn’t exist anymore didn’t trouble me nearly as much as the thought that the world would continue to march forward indefinitely, and I wouldn’t be a part of it. I can honestly say that I have never really made peace with the topic of death, and that may be one of the reasons why I struggle so much with letting go when I get panic attacks. The idea of not fighting for my life and truly believing that this panic attack might be the death of me, no matter how many times I have already proven that theory wrong, terrifies me.
I have so many things I want to address and experience before I die. The trouble is I often find myself limiting myself to only partaking in things that I perceive to be safe. I limit my exposure and joy to life due to an imagined fear of what may or may not come. It suffices to say that I keep myself quite sheltered in life. I try and control the world around me in hopes of extending my own life, or at least attempt to give myself the greatest shot of making the most out of life, when really all it has done is the complete opposite. I’ve missed the mark again, driven by a hundred forms of self-delusion and fear, instead of surrendering with an optimistic faith.