“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” – Maya Angelou
In a few days, I’ll be having total hip replacement surgery.
I’m nervous about it.
My rational mind knows that I will probably be fine. I have a good doctor. I will be having surgery in a good hospital associated with a good medical school. I am covered by decent health insurance. I know that I must have the surgery to end the pain and prevent more damage to my body.
In the pre-operation class for people receiving joint replacements, the anesthesiologist explained the spinal injection for the surgery. There’s less than a 1 in 100,000 chance of any permanent nerve damage or paralysis. There’s an even lower probability of mortality.
So, you’re saying, there’s a chance?
Driving home later, the impact of the anesthesiologist’s words hit me. Paralysis. Mortality. At dinner that night, I told my wife that I was nervous about the operation. Her response, “I am too.”
Compare her empathetic response to my inappropriate reaction to her own fears 30 years ago. The night before I left for US Army Ranger School, she said she was nervous; concerned that I might get hurt. I flexed my arms, boasting that I was in the best shape of my life. Nothing could hurt me.
Those words rang hollow two weeks later, when I phoned her from my hospital bed. A broken back sustained in a parachute landing.
We celebrate the moments when people express love and joy. We commiserate when people express anger. Yet, for some reason, when people express fear or sorrow, we don’t want to acknowledge those emotions. We tell them that it will be okay, and that the feeling will pass soon.
Perhaps it’s because we see fear and sorrow as weaknesses. Strong people aren’t afraid. Strong people don’t cry.
Fiddlesticks! (Insert your favorite curse word here.)
I’ve already admitted that I’m afraid of having the surgery. When I think about the passing of my father and mother, I often cry. I’ll even admit that I cried when the doctor told me that my marathoning days were over. I would never run again.
Am I weak? No.
Am I human? Yes.
We need to embrace our fears to take on new challenges. We must recognize our sorrow to begin the healing. We should accept ourselves, with all our human emotions. And we should accept the same in others.
As I head into surgery, I don’t want anyone telling me “Don’t worry, you’ll be alright.” Or, “Don’t be afraid, there’s nothing to worry about.” Or “Don’t be nervous, I’ve had hip/knee/back surgery, and I was out of the hospital in 24 hours, eating ice cream and doing handstands.”
I need someone to recognize my fear, and not be afraid of it. I need empathy and understanding. Fortunately, I have someone in my life who does exactly that.