Several weeks ago, I began to notice a problem in my right hand. For no apparent reason, two of my fingers were intermittently going numb. I did nothing at first, hoping the problem would resolve itself with time. As with most medical issues that I ignore, the problem did not go away; it got worse. When pain added itself to the mix two weeks ago, I grudgingly called my doctor. A late-night MRI and a visit to a neurosurgeon followed, and in two days I will undergo surgery. It turns out that I have three herniated discs in my neck, one of which is lodged firmly against a nerve near my spinal cord. The doctor has to go into my neck and cut away part of the vertebrae in order to relieve the pressure on the nerve.
I have been an active/athletic person my entire life. At the age of 57, I am certainly no stranger to surgery. I have had both of my knees "scoped"; I had a screw surgically inserted into my right thumb; and I have an artificial hip. None of those surgeries caused me the least bit of anxiety. This one is different. This time, the doctor is going to be messing with my spinal cord. He is going to be using scalpels and drills and clamps and who-knows-what in an area where one tiny slip could produce a really bad result. Knowing all of that, my wife asks me if I'm worried. "Nope." My daughter asks me the same thing. "Not a bit. This is routine." My mother is so nervous she can't even talk about it. "Don't worry, Mom. No big deal. They do this every day." The truth is I lied (sorry, Mom). I'm scared.
I suppose that under these circumstances, it's natural for a person to reflect on his life up to this point. We often hear folks talk about events that "put things in perspective." For me, this surgery is such an event. As ridiculous as it might sound, I have spent more than a few minutes over the past several days considering the possibility, however remote, that something might go wrong in that operating room. As I have done so, I have come to appreciate, more than ever, the things that really matter.
It's enlightening to mention first what I did NOT think about in all of my reflecting. I didn't think about money. I haven't spent a second thinking about how much I used to have, how much I have now or how much more I need before I can retire. In fact, I haven't thought about anything that has anything to do with money. I didn't ponder the big house I thought I always wanted, or the fancy cars, or the vacation home, or the nice "stuff". Not a single time. Instead, my thoughts have turned to my family and my friends.
I have read that one true measure of a person's life is the quality of his friendships. If that is the case, I'm better off than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined. I have three friends with whom I would trust my life. They have been there through the good times, the not-so-good times, and the downright awful times, and I am so very lucky to have them in my life. As I told one of them on his 40th birthday, most folks think I'm an only child. The truth is, I have three brothers. We just don't have the same mother. Rich, Ed, and Jeff, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I don't know what I would have done without you guys.
I have also thought a lot about my children. I have two of my own, and one who makes me feel as if she is mine as well. When I was a young boy, my mother used to tell me that I would never understand how much I would love my children until I became a father myself. She was certainly right about that. Brittany, John, and Caitlin, I love you all more than you can comprehend. Each of you has always made me proud. Remember the two things I have constantly preached to you: 1. You can be anything in this world you want to be. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. 2. Kindness matters. Never underestimate the power of a random act of kindness.
Finally, I have thought about my best friend in the world: my beautiful wife, Denise. The moment I typed her name in that previous sentence, I smiled. I guess that pretty well sums it up; she makes me smile. Before I married Denise, it sometimes seemed as if I was doing everything I could to screw up my life. I had done some pretty awful, selfish, hurtful things that caused a lot of pain and heartache for a lot of people. Denise helped me to understand that my future does not have to be defined by my past. She showed me that I was still worthy of being loved, and she inspired me to be the best husband, father, and man that I can be. I have a tattoo on my left shoulder that is the image of a phoenix rising up, clutching two wedding bands in its talons. Under the tattoo appears "8-20-2003", the date Denise and I were married. The image was my way of saying that for me, life began again on that day. I love you, Sweetheart. You truly saved my life. "Thank you" falls woefully short of expressing what I feel, but it's all I can come up with at the moment.
I'm sure that everything is going to go as expected for me on Wednesday, and within a week or so I'll be back to handling my cases and writing the occasional blog entry. Nevertheless, I'm strangely thankful for the worry that I'm dealing with now, because it has made me think. I've had to think about what really matters in life, and having done so, I've taken the time to express some thoughts and feelings that needed to be expressed. I've also had to take stock of my own life thus far. I've come to appreciate, more than ever, the fact that nothing is as important or as valuable as family and friends. With that in mind, it's pretty clear that I'm the wealthiest man in the world. So step aside, Bill Gates. You're in my spot.