Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas December 25, 2012

A friend asked me a couple days ago if I had any profound thoughts about life and death during the last week as I faced open heart surgery. I said that while I’d like to say that I had discovered Christopher Hitchens-style insights during my travails, the answer is no. I was certainly terrified but I was too busy actually being terrified to think much about it.

I am a bit embarrassed, in fact, to admit that the only thing I learned from it was the most predictable cliche of all and that is the value of family and friends. Yes, it sounds like a Hallmark card line, but that really is what impressed itself upon me more than anything else in the past week and a half. It really is deeply moving to me that my family and friends came together in my time of need to give me the support I needed. It meant so much to me seeing my three closest friends do whatever they could do to help.

Rick was the first one to the hospital and he had already made sure my family was called and kept updated. He’d already talked to the doctors and nurses and made sure they knew who they could give out information to and he was collecting every bit of information he could on my condition to keep everyone in the loop. Connie, who was (and is) in very bad health herself, was at the hospital the first night, in her wheelchair next to my bed holding my hand. Julie is now capably watching over me as I recover from the surgery, doting on me like a nosy mother and making sure I follow the doctors’ instructions to the letter.

Jeff and Chip and Tiffany from CFI Michigan came to visit, and Tiffany’s son Loki brought me a picture he colored of me (in the appropriate form of a devil fish). My brother Jack was on the phone from Colorado every day and he’d have been on a plane in a heartbeat if I’d asked him to be. My sisters Susie and Jill and my nephew Nate spent an entire evening keeping me entertained, smuggling in a Coke Zero to take the edge off the hospital food. My brother Mike came to visit while I was still unconscious from the surgery, but he called to check on me several times. Yeah, it sounds cliche, but this is what families do. It’s what friends do.

And all of you who left comments and sent emails telling me to get well soon and asking how I was doing, and who generously donated to help me get through this, thank you so much as well. I really do consider myself incredibly lucky in so many ways and the events of the last few days have only made that more clear. I am in awe of modern medicine, of the fact that I sit here less than a week after having my chest sawed open and be in almost no pain with only moderate medication to control it. And I am forever grateful to the staff at Butterworth hospital, which showed tremendous humanity toward me and did everything humanly possible to keep me as comfortable as possible.

More than one person has told me that what happened to me was a miracle. It wasn’t. It was, in fact, entirely mundane and routine. And that, in and of itself, is better than any miracle anyone has ever claimed. So Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hannukah, Happy Festivus, Io Saturnalia, or whatever greeting you prefer. The point of it all is to make those human connections that enrich our lives in ways that false claims of miracles never could.

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  • Reginald Selkirk

    Ed, all due respect, but that’s pretty dull. If you’re going to sell this story you need to spice it up a bit.

    … Loki brought me a picture…

    There’s something we can build on. Visited by a god while in hospital.

  • Get well soon!

  • poose

    Wow. You just had your chest cracked and we STILL can’t shut you up?

    Ed, Happy Holidays, a good recovery and keep up the good work. And I can definitely empathise about the hospital food-mom was an evening-shift nurse and we frequently went to the hospital for dinner (shudders…)

    I wish you a speedy recovery!

  • schweinhundt

    Hope you mend quickly.

  • Merry Christmas Ed.

    The world would have been a much less interesting place without you. Get well.

  • Having experienced more than one of these situations myself, I wholeheartedly endorse your feeling. We never know just what “humanity” means until we experience how we come together, despite any and all disagreements, when there is a crisis. You are, indeed, “blessed” to have such friends and relations.

    Get well soon!

  • naturalcynic

    Just don’t cough or sneeze. Get well

  • I’ve had surgery for something that was sorta major, once. My surgeon was honest and upfront about the risk that I faced (small but with profound consequences if bad shit happened). He was jocular on the morning of the surgery, “painting” the primary incision site with one tiny dot from a fine point Sharpee. telling the scrub nurse, “I know where I’m going.”. That, as much as anything he or anyone else said, made me relax. I’ve actually nearly died a couple of times but, as Ed says, when you’re terrified that’s pretty much all you have time to do.

    I was a the VA yesterday for an MRI and had a chat with a VA rep about how to deal with Medicare when I hit that next mileston in 2014. He said that his father’s surgery, covered by his health insurance and Medicare was over $.5M and that was nothing to do with rehab. The U.S. healthcare system is completely fucked–unless you’re rich, of course.

  • Olav


    I was certainly terrified but I was too busy actually being terrified to think much about it.

    More well-meaning and possibly redundant/useless/unwelcome advice: do not underestimate the chronic effect that such terror can possibly have on you. Of course your first priority now is to heal physically. And you do seem to have a lot of support, which is fortunate.

    Serious illnesses and medical interventions are traumatic, damaging experiences. After my own medical scare I found that I really did need to make peace with the idea of my own mortality, in order to be able to continue living. Took me a few months (so far) and I am still not sure I am completely there yet. To be honest I started from a position of denial: “this is not happening to me” and “I should be able to control this thing” (when I really could not).

    I was referred to a psychologist/psychotherapist but I did not like this person. Had nothing to say to her. I don’t mean to say you should not try it if you have the chance, just don’t expect miracles.

    Take it very easy, carpe diem.

  • Merry Christmas, Ed — and to one and all. Glad to hear you’re on the mend — get well soon.

    I’ve never had quite such a severe shock medically speaking, but about 13 years ago, when I was not yet 40, I began having neurological symptoms that, once the usual suspects were eliminated, led me to be utterly convinced I had ALS — Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

    Clearly, I was wrong, but I remember the fear and despair the prospect of dying that way engendered at the time.

    I did learn two things about myself through that experience:

    1. I had only been an atheist for a few years at that point, but not once did I turn to thoughts of religion or God for aid or comfort during the experience, even though I believed that there was no hope for a cure by scientific means. Once I was able to look back on that experience, I knew that I really was an atheist. Like Ed, family and friends were my comfort and help.

    2. As someone who prides himself on being a (mostly) rational person, the fact that I was so utterly convinced that I was dying, even in the face of medical experts telling me I wasn’t, was quite a reality check. If I could be so irrational in the face of all the evidence then I should not be too quick to judge others who do likewise. (Not that some do not deserve to be criticized, when their irrational actions can hurt others).

  • dingojack

    Geeze Ed, the lengths you’ll go to to avoid the family get together! ;D



    PS: It’s now Boxing Day here and I am on my way to the family lunch. So from here: happy Sydney to Hobart/ Boxing Day Test/ Turkey Sanga and Trashy Novel in the Hammock Day to you all, and get well soon Ed!

  • catlover

    Merry Christmas, Ed! Hope your recovery is quick and that the pain stays at bay as much as possible. Please do what the doctors say — you’ll heal up faster.

    Thanks for continuing to blog for us!

  • pHred

    Get well

  • tbp1

    “I was certainly terrified but I was too busy actually being terrified to think much about it.”

    A few years ago I thought I was having a heart attack. It was actually a severe anxiety attack brought on by a number of factors, including, a little ironically, the news that I probably had some heart blockage and would need some tests soon (turned out I did have some heart blockage, but not very bad). I felt exactly the way you describe.

    To echo what you said about insurance in an earlier post, I was lucky in that I have really, really good insurance through my employer. Since, naturally, I was “out of area” when it happened, there was a certain amount of extra paperwork to do, but my out-of-pocket costs were only a couple of hundred bucks. I didn’t even have to pay anything up front and get reimbursed later. I shudder to think what it would have cost if I didn’t have the insurance

    My European friends basically all think our health care system is nuts. Did you know that when Europeans travel to the US, they almost always buy special insurance in case they have a medical emergency while they are here? The scare ads you see for it are over the top, but I wouldn’t dream of coming here without it in their position. In contrast, one of my colleagues broke her leg pretty badly while hiking in the UK. She had to be carried a couple of miles by rescue workers, then taken in an ambulance to a hospital, then operated on (I think a couple of pins were involved) and fitted out with a cast and given various prescriptions. The total bill, even though she is a US citizen and a tourist, was…nothing. Not a penny.

  • Crudely Wrott

    The tone of this post is all the evidence I need that you are truly on the mend. While it may take longer than any of us would like, you’ll be back in fighting trim and up to ramming speed soon enough. “All jobs take longer” is one of my maxims and that is your chief job now. Take all the time you need and do the job right.

    Double thanks for including your commentariat among your circle of friends. I’m obviously not the only one here who feels fortunate to have gotten to know you, if only in a virtual way, over the years.

    Get well, friend, and keep fighting the good fight. You do make a mighty difference.

  • thebookofdave

    Can’t wait to see you back on your feet. In the meantime, take it easy on youself. Don’t bust another gut, and no more sidesplitting.

    Felix dies natalis Solis Invicti!

  • pocketnerd

    Let me pile on: Best wishes and get well soon.

  • pamsmigh

    Best wishes and a giant THANK YOU for all that you do for the rationalists, the humanists, the secularists, the thinkers and non-believers to keep us moving away from a world of burning blasphemers at the stake and toward a world with the light of reason as a guide.

  • My European friends basically all think our health care system is nuts. Did you know that when Europeans travel to the US, they almost always buy special insurance in case they have a medical emergency while they are here?

    I’m over in the UK right now looking after my elderly parents a few days after my Mom had surgery for breast cancer. Having lived in the US for the last 20 years, I had to laugh when they complained about the price of the hospital parking when I took Mom for a checkup on Monday. It was $4 per hour. We were there 45 minutes.

    So far my “death panel” qualified mother (she is in her 80s after all) has had speedy and excellent care for her breast cancer and will continue to do so no matter the result of the pending biopsies, without them spending a penny in direct costs (except for the parking!)

    Their travel insurance, on the other hand, when they came to see me in Texas for 3 weeks last year, cost as much as their airline tickets, and it will only be going up now that my Mom has had this bout with cancer. The EC has a reciprocal agreement where nations are compensated for the healthcare costs of visitors from other EC countries, so they can spend the summer in Spain or Italy without worrying a moment about health care coverage or costs.

    (Maybe it’s time for Medicare to talk to the EC about this — it could boost tourism a good deal if the elderly weren’t forced to pay upwards of $1000 in insurance fees just to set foot in America.

  • iangould

    Sure, but Newtonas is more fun, especially when you explain to people how you interpret all the standard Christmas iconography in terms of Newtonmas.

    Merry Newtonmas, Ed. (The silver and gold ornaments on the newtonmas apple tree commemortae Isaac’s tenure as Master of the royal mint .)

    Drink lots of apple cider in HIS memory.

  • pay upwards of $1000 in insurance fees

    Don’t like that? Try paying the actual medical bill.

    I’m sure that it’s not going to shock anyone but maybe I should mention our congresspeople get free medical insurance for life courtesy of the US Taxpayer. Yet they line their pockets with payouts from the insurance industry. Why anyone thinks capitalism and democracy are a good idea, is beyond me.

  • Why anyone thinks capitalism and democracy are a good idea, is beyond me.

    Well, I would say that the question “would you rather have lived in East Germany or West Germnay?” or “Would you rather live in North Korea or South Korea?” would, for most people, at least advance the question beyond the “why anyone thinks…” stage.

  • You fucking sap.

  • lancifer


    I guess I missed the news of your health crisis entirely. Glad to see you’re already back on line.

    I have a close friend that had quadruple heart bypass surgery over ten years ago. He has since married, had a child and is living a great life.

    I hope you do the same! (Child and marriage optional of course.)