I went to work this morning.
And so today began in its ordinary way.
Wrote a email.
Briefed the staff.
Held a meeting. Met the students with birthdays. Conducted an interview.
Felt a little unwell and told my P.A. I would drop in at the doctor.
Six hours later I have just woken up from an operation. All is good. It was quite a mechanical thing really: eminently fixable. No ongoing concerns. But it is still quite a surprise that I began the day with an email and ended it in a hospital bed.
It makes me think. The people on the news expect ordinary days. Then their sister goes missing. Or their son is in a car accident. Or they receive news from a distant capital city of a freak storm or a plane crash or a crazed gunman – and everything is radically altered. All of the best science, the most powerful rhetoric, the most ardent political activism won’t bring their loved one home. Won’t change the news.
On the way out of school today I passed on a message to a colleague. And I told her of my speedy exit to ready myself for tonight’s operation. She told me that she is looking after her elderly parents: cleaning their vomit; negotiating their tired verbal attempts to understand what happens next for them. She used the word ‘raw’ to describe her experiences.
It is her love that makes it raw.
There is a strange comfort in peeling away the pretence.
Once, when I lost control of a vehicle, and had to attempt at 80km/hr to undertake a hand brake 180 degree turn to stop the car – with no previous experience – with only the memory of watching the Holden stunt team do it at the Bathurst race track – I felt this strange peace. For a moment I saw death’s cold eyes. I remember saying to God that if this was it, then that was OK. I had young children and a fabulous wife, and I desperately didn’t want to go yet, but what could I do? Death be not proud. But I could not be proud either.
As I lay in the ante-chamber to the operating theatre tonight I knew that my daughters’ phone calls of best wishes each all had that slightly panicked tone – What happens if someone makes an error and my dad is not OK tonight? Of course I am part of the enormous statistical majority and am now sitting up comfortably in my bed. Death was not proud tonight. But, even in my trust in God and western medicine, I could not be proud either. I had no control.
When I stood beside my languishing father in Tweed Heads Hospital in December 1994, and held his hand whilst he breathed deeply, then paused for ninety agonising seconds before breathing again, I felt the suddenness. The loss of all control. This was a day that had begun ordinarily, before it brought out its nasty little surprise. My mother woke me that morning to tell me Dad had a headache. Could I drop down some tablets? Four exhausting hours later, after holding him on his bed whilst he lunged and pawed, gasped and jerked, I stood beside him whilst he breathed and then stopped breathing. It was raw.
Yet it was what it was. The truth.
The only thing that keeps me being human in the rawness of life is love. And much as I appreciate the study doctors have undertaken to fix me tonight, love is not explained by the science. The science only goes so far. The doctors who operate, love. Holding your convulsing father on a bed is an act of love. Cleaning his vomit is an act of love. Regretting the loss of a distant sister is an act of love. And God, not the sordid mechanical universe, is love.