The Stranger

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into the Surgery Center at our regional hospital for a hernia repair. This was the second attempt to repair it. Three years ago I got a two for one deal during emergency surgery for a blocked intestine. Soon after the first one, I probably coughed and blew it out again. They couldn’t use mesh because of concern about causing an infection with the bowel resection. From that first attempt, I now had a lot of scar tissue inside my abdomen to deal with too.

All went well. I had more issues than I knew about though. Besides the very large umbilical hernia, I had six other small ones and my stomach muscles had slid apart and to the sides. That required pulling them back to the middle and stitching them together. The planned one and a half hour surgery took two and a half hours. Still, in the afternoon I was loaded back into our car and sent home to recuperate. People, like doctors, have told me I have a high tolerance for pain. Who knows? Everything is relative. I will say that the first 48 hours following the surgery were filled with intense pain, particularly when I tried to get up and move somewhere, like to the bathroom.

I kept thinking, “Many women have to have a similar surgery after childbirth. They are so tough. Tougher than me.”

As I was waiting – in the waiting room strangely enough – waiting to be called in for the surgery, I sat next to a man who looked to be perhaps in his late 50’s or very early 60’s. I have noticed through the years that most strangers will ignore each other when in close proximity – think elevators, airplane seats – until something unexpected happens – think air turbulence, elevator stops between floors – and then the talking begins! In a surgical waiting room, the unexpected had probably already happened, so the barriers to conversations are much lower.

The stranger asked me what brought me there? I told him of the present and the past. Then I asked the stranger what brought him there?

“I was supposed to get a test done, but they changed their minds and decided I didn’t need it.”

“I guess that is a good thing. What was the test for?”

“A few months ago the veins were bleeding in my esophagus. My abdomen was filling up with blood. The priest gave me my Last Rites. Everyone thought I was going to die in the hospital.”

“My God, that is horrible.”

“Yeah, it totally caught me by surprise. I was a carpenter, I climbed up and down and over everything. I’d hang on a deck that was high over a steep drop off with one hand. I was strong. Worked hard my whole life.”

You could tell by looking at him that he had one of those tree climbers’ bodies with the arm strength and not much body fat. In other words, he looked the exact opposite of me.

“Do they know what caused it?”

“I drank. I wouldn’t drink on the job, but I’d have 8 beers in the evening and then a lot more on the weekends…. And, then when I retired, I drank beers all day long. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

“I am really sorry to hear what you’ve had to go through.”

At this point, the stranger was beginning no longer to feel like a stranger.

“I’ve been sober for 5 month now and I feel pretty good.”

“Did you try AA? I think it is a great organization, or maybe it is even a church.”

“Oh yes, I love AA. Wherever I travel to – I have a custom camper on my pickup with a special spot made for my dog to sleep next me, It’s really neat – I can go to an AA meeting.”

“I think we all could use the AA experience of humbling ourselves and caring for our brothers and sisters without judgement. The world would be a better place.”

Our conversation had quickly become real, there was nothing strange now about the stranger. What had started as a conversation with my mind had quickly become a conversation from my heart. I think he was talking from the heart from the very beginning.

My name was called for me to go into the pre-op rooms. I stood up. I was not looking forward to the surgery. I was nervous. He stood up too. We said goodbye and good luck and we hugged – no longer strangers, but now brothers.

To all my brothers and sisters out there – From the heart.