As I near the end of my career in heart surgery, for the time at least, it occurs to me that perhaps one reason God took me there is that He needed me to be in the ultimate pressure cooker, where I would be forced to grapple with sudden change.
“You should really try to be more flexible,” my mom would say to me when I was growing up. “I also find it hard to adjust when things change, and I’m sure you got it from me. I wish I would have learned to be more flexible long ago. I was so childish when I first got married,” she would say.
In the blink of an eye, a day in heart surgery might be completely different. In a second I might go from casually eating English muffins with peanut butter to getting a call about blood gushing from an unexpected place, or someone having a heart attack who needs to go to surgery immediately, or a rhythm on the screen that brings everyone running. I can’t count the times I’ve run to the operating room with a message for the surgeon, rehearsing in my head what I would say, whipping a blue surgical cap onto my head while running and balancing my black book of patient information.
I was explaining this heart surgery phenomenon to a patient’s family one time, and I noticed his daughter was listening closely.
“I just want you to know that emergencies can come up in heart surgery.” I would try to warn them of this, because people often would get angry if they were ready for surgery and had their whole family there and got canceled. “If someone comes in who is sicker than you, your surgery will get canceled. The great news is, nothing bad has happened to your heart yet. Some people have silent heart attacks and by the time they come to the hospital, their heart is already partially ruined. Others just drop dead.”
That’s when the patient’s daughter spoke up.
“My husband had a sudden heart attack a month ago. He died. He was 40,” she said.
As she blinked back tears, I felt certain that if we had to cancel her father’s heart surgery for an emergency, she would not be one of the people complaining.
“There’s a difference between an inconvenient situation and a life-threatening situation,” Dr. Halloran would often tell the disgruntled people. “This is an inconvenience.”
I don’t think he would have had to tell her.
I was thinking of these things this morning when Marnell text me to say he would be half an hour late. I had five pieces of bacon and four pieces of French toast sizzling on the griddle.
I had just told him I would turn the griddle on low when my doorbell rang. After turning the griddle to low, I went to the door, expecting to find either a Jehovah’s witness evangelist I had seen earlier, or Jen asking for coffee or money.
It was the latter with a bag of things to sell me, none of which I wanted (pads and peanut butter, notably). Harvey was along and asked if there was anything he could do for hire.
“There will be at noon,” I said, ignoring Jen’s insistent pleading for instant money. “Marnell wants to move the mini barn out back. But do you want some bacon in the meantime?”
So, I served them Marnell’s breakfast. Jen insisted she wasn’t hungry, despite being a size 0.
As they sat there at my kitchen table, I realized that the fact that Marnell’s errands were taking him extra long had given me a perfect opportunity to treat Harvey and Jen with the human dignity I suppose they seldom receive. Unfortunately, I’m often too busy. But this was perfect, because I had the table set and hot food ready to go.
I threw another round of bacon and French toast on the griddle, and text Marnell to explain that his breakfast had been eaten and I was starting over so the timing would work perfectly.
“Tell Marnell I ate his bacon,” Harvey said.
God knows how to take delays and inconveniences and turn them into opportunities. I think He may have sent Harvey and Jen to me this morning just to remind me of that. And I think that He may have taken me through four years of heart surgery because I was an especially difficult case of inflexible.
I’m getting more and more excited to get out of the pressure cooker, quite frankly. But I’ve been following God long enough to know that He’ll find a new one for me somewhere, to cook away another part of me that otherwise would be spoiled. Perhaps God, like a master chef, has endless tools and endless timers and knows exactly which pot we need to cook in to make us who He wants us to be!
By the way, Harvey came back. Between him and his friend Jim and Marnell’s brother Lowell and nephew Eric, the barn was successfully moved!