Today is not surgery day either

Today is not surgery day either January 12, 2024

My wife has been stuck in a painful medical catch-22. Her condition is something that we’ve been assured can be fixed by surgery. But it’s also something that leaves her prone to infections and they can’t do the surgery unless she’s infection-free.

Cartoon of a spherical cow.
“Spherical Cow” by Ingrid Kallick via Wikipedia. (Relevance explained below.)

Basically, they can’t fix her condition until she stops having the symptoms of that condition.

The first scheduled date for her surgery was January of last year. We missed that one because of the bacterial pneumonia/infection double whammy that put her in the ICU on a ventilator for most of that month. That was scary, and we’re still immensely grateful to all the doctors and nurses who very much saved her life.

Recovering from that pushed back her surgery for another 9 months. Since then, it’s been rescheduled three times (twice due to infections, once due to our having to switch insurance providers after she got fired for having her doctors request medical accommodations at her job*).

Today was supposed to be the day this was finally going to happen. The idea of that gave her a lot of hope. Living with pain is slightly more bearable if you know that the day is coming when that pain is going to stop.

But it becomes much harder to bear when that day keeps getting yanked away at the last moment.

Yesterday was hard. There was some screaming in frustration, and some crying, and then we got take-out and watched Bob’s Burgers for a few hours because that seemed to help.

By this point we know the drill: One set of bottles to fight the infection, another set of bottles to replenish and maintain all the electrolytes that crashed due to the infection, then hope that all works in time for us to catch the next available window for the surgery robot at the hospital. Maybe a few weeks from now, maybe longer.

Anyway, that’s why I’ve been distracted, distraught, and brain-frazzled all week. I spent most of the week obsessively thinking, “They can’t delay this again — not this time” and then spent all day yesterday saying, “$*%&! They did it again!” Today we’re just sort of resigned and depressed.

Once they reschedule this thing again, you’ll know when it’s coming because the blogging here will be just as bad in the days leading up to that surgery and/or cancelled surgery as it has been this past week.

* The Big Box is a Big Giant Corporation and the salon that fired my wife for getting sick after working there for 20 years is a Precious Salt Of The Earth Small Business. But I gotta say the Big Box has been totally supportive and human throughout all of this. I keep scheduling time off and then un-scheduling and re-scheduling it and they just keep saying, “OK, do whatever you and your family need to do.”

I am grateful for the individual kindness and decency my bosses (and their bosses) have chosen to demonstrate throughout this whole business. That speaks well of them as individuals — as humans and as neighbors.

But their individual choices are not the only factor here, nor are they the biggest factor. Those choices to treat my family kindly and decently are occurring within a context shaped by more than a century of litigation and labor action which has made it possible for them to make such a decent, neighborly choice. Thanks to all those earlier fights and struggles, the Big Box now operates within a world and a market-construct that affords space for them to make such choices. All of those labor actions and lawsuits have created a context in which big giant corporations like the Big Box find it’s cheaper and easier to just allow — or even encourage — their agents (like my bosses or, since I’m a boss there too, like me) to be supportive, kind, neighborly and decent to their employees.

I’ll spare us all another extended discussion of Orwell’s essay “On Charles Dickens,” but here again we see the unavoidable interplay between systems and individual choices. “‘If people would behave decently the world would be decent’ is not such a platitude as it sounds,” Orwell said of Dickens. But part of what that requires is creating the context in which decent behavior is possible and permissible. And — as Orwell understood and Dickens didn’t quite understand — such a context isn’t something that happens automatically. Nor is it self-sustaining. It requires a struggle, and that struggle doesn’t end.

All of this is why I’m not terribly interested in abstract theological, sociological, or psychological discussions of whether or not most people are decent, or of whether or not all people are mostly decent. That’s ultimately as irrelevant as the physicist’s spherical cow in the old joke.** Humans do not live in a frictionless vacuum. They live in a context and all of us, to some extent, can play a role in shaping that context.

If you want to talk about human nature or about whether or not there’s any such thing as “basic human decency,” then you’re going to need to look at all the ways in which those humans’ context does or does not allow space for such a thing. But rather than just talk about it in the abstract, it’s far better to fight for the kind of context in which basic human decency is given a fighting chance.

** The version of this joke in the Wikipedia entry for “Spherical Cow” is terrible, so here’s a shorter version:

This dairy farmer goes to the local university to ask for help making his operation more productive. Three professors agree to help: a psychologist, an engineer, and a theoretical physicist.

The psychologist suggests the farmer repaint the inside of the barn a soothing shade of green and that he play Mozart for the cows to relax them when they’re being milked.

The engineer suggests several changes in the farmer’s equipment and the layout of the stalls that she says will improve the efficiency of the dairy by 7.8%,

Finally it’s the physicist’s turn. He looks at the farmer and says, “Assume a spherical cow in a frictionless vacuum …”

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