Well, there’s nothing like having triple bypass surgery to help put things in perspective.
Yep, in late July some doctor opened up my chest, ripped three veins out of my left leg and re-inserted them somewhere near my heart. I had been feeling a little short winded at times and, being a hypochondriac, I decided to see my doc. He suggested a stress test and bingo-bango, a surgeon is suddenly looking at me saying “you need open heart surgery.” Anyway, surgery went fine, recovery going well, feeling great.
Aside from the surgery itself, for me the real tough part was the time leading up to the surgery. I mean, you just can’t help but think about death. So, the first thing I did was write letters to my two (wonderful) boys, telling them how proud I was of them. Then I had to “put my affairs in order” by telling my wife where all the important papers were, the receipts, the invoices, etc.
After that exercise, you just have time to think as you sit there in your hospital bed, listening to all of the monitoring machines tracking everyone’s vitals.
So, the day before my surgery I found myself thinking about all of the years I’d devoted to the abortion rights movement. I envisioned that underneath my name in my obituary the subheading would be something like “abortion rights lobbyist.” And I have to say that I was totally comfortable with that notion (although I had always dreamed that it would say “Yankee Second Baseman.” )
The fact is that I’ve always been comfortable, if not proud, of the work I’ve done but when you’re faced with the prospect of maybe not waking up from surgery, you really start to dig deep and you question what your whole life was all about and if you made the right decisions. Ultimately, I concluded that I had made the right decision to go into that line of work and I found myself even hoping that some of the eulogies would mention my work in this field.
To be honest, I did have a few uncomfortable moments during my reflections. I recalled how, as the ED of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I pushed the envelope a lot and, as a result, lost the support of some fellow pro-choice colleagues. I also lost some good friends. I especially cringed when I recalled “outing” my colleagues during the Partial Birth Abortion debate, in effect publicly calling them liars for distorting the truth about that procedure. I did the right thing, I concluded, but it was absolute hell for me, my friends and my family.
Then, it was sad to think about some of my good friends who were killed. Doctor Bart Slepian, who two weeks before he was murdered in his home, admitted to me he hated to fly. And, of course, Doctor George Tiller, a dear friend who always knew he was a target. Then there were the other activists: Susan Hill, Bill Knorr, James MacMahon and others who have passed on. Great friends, great allies, great party animals. Good times.
So, this pre-death “trial run” actually turned out to be a good exercise. It forced me to reflect on a life’s work and, while I made a bunch of whopping mistakes, I can now say in good conscience that when ultimately I do check out, I will celebrate the work I’ve done over the years.