I watched my Dad do a cool thing the other day.
For those of you who don’t already know my dad, he’s a pretty neat guy. He’s been a librarian, a pastor, a Ham Radio operator, a walker of dogs and a teller of tales, among other things. People like him. He’s good stuff.
Dad’s having surgery -- not the first time, probably not the last. My dad’s take on surgery is similar to his take on vehicle maintenance. You do it, it keeps things running better, the end. Clearly, he’s not particularly bent out of shape about going under the knife.
The rest of us, of course, are a little more nervous about it. In that vein, while chatting with the Surgeon the other day, I relayed a question from my Aunt (a nurse) who couldn’t be there to ask it.
The surgeon thought it was a ridiculous question, and while he did manage (eventually) to answer it and provide good information about why it wasn’t a thing he would do (too risky, not enough reason to take the risk) he first and foremost bowed to his own ego.
It’s been my observation that a lot of surgeons have big egos. I suspect that’s a side effect of playing around with people’s innards and pulling them out of it at the end of the procedure hale and hearty. I can see how that could pretty easily make you feel like Dr. Strange before the car accident.
Being on the receiving end of it, where the Doc leaps dramatically onto his high horse and high steps it all around the tiny hospital room peopled with an old dude in a hospital gown attached to a bunch of beeping monitors and his concerned family is, you know, not so groovy.
So here’s how it played out.
Me: (seated, eating carrots out of a plastic cup) asks the question.
Doc: (standing next to dad who is lying in the bed) does the cartoon eyeball thing at the audacity of the question ...
and begins to a) explode about the ‘insanity’ of the idea, b) shoot out exasperated and highly defensive attacks on the bits of the procedure that are ‘unnecessary’ and ‘ridiculous’, and then c) demand, in a derogatory tone, to know the credentials of the questioner.
‘Who is this anyway? Is she a DOCTOR???’
Me: Sits and stares at him like a bug in a specimen jar while continuing to eat my carrots.
Mom: Attempts to deescalate – ‘It was JUST a question’
Now here’s the good bit…
First off, here’s what he DIDN’T do. Dad didn’t get fired up (like the doctor), or defensive or back off (like mom), or dismissive and peeved (like me), or angry or scared like he could easily have done.
I mean, for real, here’s a dude in his 80th year, looking at having his brain frozen, his chest cracked open and having a cadre of near strangers doing plumbing work on his aorta which has a small percentage chance of being fatal in and of itself, plus a slightly larger percentage chance of giving him a stroke, or ideally going really well which will result in a two-month recovery period. It’s a scary proposition, and here at his elbow is the surgeon responsible tossing a fit like an arrogant five-year-old and demanding to know the credentials of his patent’s only sister.
Nope. Here’s what he does.
From his seat in the hospital bed, he leans in calmly to the doctor, and in a tone of voice that you’d use with your dearest friend who has just reacted foolishly and is on the verge of making an absolute ass of himself, he says, “She’s an RN.”
Just three little words, delivered in a quiet, kindly tone, to a man who is around the age of his own children. Three little words that conveyed so very much. A tiny, quiet communication that said, Son, you are among friends, there’s no reason for foolishness. Be at peace. You can do better. This moment can be better.
And it worked.
The doctor (and to his credit, I get the feeling that this wasn’t the first time he gave himself some calming self-talk as a reminder to communicate kindly with his patients) took a breath and very deliberately climbed down off his high horse. I watched him as he actively worked to think through the question that was asked and address each part of it. He found the ability to give us the benefit of his knowledge without beating us with it.
My dad sparked that moment. AND he did it from a hospital bed, hooked up to machines, after a semi-invasive procedure to test his heart for a big, scary upcoming surgical procedure. He did it in the face of the nervousness of his wife of 58 years and the smart-ass attitude of his daughter of not quite that many years.
I couldn’t have done it, I don’t think. Probably I’m not alone in the group of people couldn’t have taken that emotionally charged moment and saved it, not just with a calming response, but one filled with grace and love and compassion. But he did.
And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I look at our fractured political system right now, at our whole world full of broken, foolish, suffering humans trying desperately to assure ourselves that there is a good and righteous reason for our existence and the continued existence of our species on this beautiful planet we call our home.
I look at it and think, maybe if more of us could do what my dad did, could change a crucial moment of fear and bloated ego and distrust and turn it into a moment of love and compassion and hope, that maybe we’d have a better reason to think that there really is a good reason for humanity to thrive.