I am intimately familiar with Death. As a heart surgeon, my professional work involves a delicate dance with this deadly partner. Heart surgery takes a patient literally within arm’s reach of dying – before snatching him back from the jaws of death.
Many medical specialists think of their work as a battle against a dreaded enemy. They see Death as a foe to be vanquished, beaten back, thwarted. This is motivating, even exciting.
But no one can beat death. It ultimately wins. Always. Do you know of anyone who has indefinitely beaten death? No, me neither.
So, I have a different perspective. I see Death as a negotiator – with whom I make deals.
It’s a deal with two sides. I promise to do my very best, professionally – in exchange for getting an extension on the lease of Life for my little patients.
My imaginary conversation with Death goes something like this:
Death: “I want this little boy/girl now!”
Me: “Give me a chance. Let me try and raise the funds needed and perform an operation. If I do a good job, you agree to wait for 70 years. If not, then do what you must. Do we have a deal?”
In my minds’ eye, I see Death nodding in curt agreement – and my work begins in earnest.
Fund raising. Operating. Post-op care.
Recently I operated on a 6 year old boy. The operation started at 3 in the afternoon and ended at 7. Everything went well.
But by 10 p.m., he started bleeding. His blood pressure was plummeting, and I was back in the hospital. At 1 a.m., the crisis appeared to have passed.
I drove back home… only to be woken up at 3’o’clock and called back – to operate on him again!
We emerged from the operating room at 5:30 the next morning. Things were under control. Our little patient was fine.
And most of the time, I’m lucky.
Generous donors give money. An excellent team of experts helps me carry out even complex operations effectively. A committed caring assembly of vastly experienced health care professionals nurtures our tiny kids through a period of healing from major surgery.
And death waits.
Not vanquished. Not defeated. But soothed, persuaded, convinced… to wait.
For some years. Often long enough for a little child born with congenital heart defects to enjoy his or her life on Earth.
To laugh and play and sing and dance.
To study and work and travel.
To find a partner, have a family, care for loved ones.
That’s a good deal!