05 March 2009

A Little Piece of Me is Missing

So, yesterday, former First Lady Barbara Bush had her aortic valve replaced. She is reportedly feeling fine.

Good for her, and a swift recovery to you, Mrs. Bush.

I've been there, done that.

On Friday, September 7, 2001, I had my aortic valve operation at Hartford Hospital. From what I understand (I was asleep at the time, remember!), it wasn't as easy as Mrs Bush's operation because my valve and the pieces on either end weren't in such good shape, so trying to attach the new human valve (I was too young, I was told, to use a porcine or an artificial one) was problematic, but I came out alright and am doing fine still.

That's not the story, however.

Flash forward to the following Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It's morning, and I am resting comfortably in the Cardiac Step-down Unit of the hospital. On my little t.v. I'm watching, quite by chance, High Society (Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelley, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong), when a nurse comes in and says,

"Why you watching this? Don't you know what's happening?"

She then switches the channel to NBC, and Today with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer.

A plane had just hit one of the Twin Towers, but no one had a clue what was going on.

In hindsight, one can legitimately criticize a nurse in a cardiac unit for making a patient watch tragic events unfold live before his very eyes, but that's not what I was thinking.

In the moment, I was just really peeved that this nurse turned off High Society (!?!) and was forcing me -- even for a short time -- to suffer Katie-and-Matt's conjectures on what might have happened/be happening. Could there be a greater waste of time than that? I think not. (And I LIKE Katie Couric!)

As soon as she left the room, back to High Society I went.

During the weeks of recovery time at home, I avoided 9/11 coverage as much as possible (i.e., I didn't watch television, listen to the radio, or read the newspapers hardly at all. Even Tony Kornheiser on ESPN radio was 9/11 far more often than not).

As a result of my self-imposed sequestration, I missed a defining moment of American history and contemporary culture. Even on my return to campus, having missed the communal experience of 9/11, I was a little out-of-step, and, to this day, remain fairly distant from its impact.

I probably should be more uncomfortable with that distance than I am, but, if I had to do it all over again, I'm not sure that I'd do it any differently.

That may be prudent or simply selfish; I'm still not sure.


  1. Wow what a story -- I'd forgotten your surgery was right before the 9/11 attacks. Given your health situation at the time, what you did was very wise (and your nurse was really foolish).
    I'm sure you're not the only one who avoided coverage to preserve physical and/or mental health.

  2. Thanks, K.C.

    Yea, I'm sure I wasn't alone and that there was a certain wisdom in what I did, but, as time moves on, the emotional force of the event continues to evade me (even as I fully recognize the inescapable significance of it on an intellectual level).

  3. Well, missing the emotional force is a good thing -- I have friends and relatives who were in Manhattan at the time and they're still not over it. Sometimes distance is a good thing.

  4. I just learned that Robin Williams is having HIS aortic valve replaced too. It's clearly THE hot surgery to have now, so get yours done before it goes out of fashion!

    (I must admit I got a strange thrill, while recuperating from my surgery, whenever I got to mention I was "in rehab" -- hoping folk would think I was hanging out with Robin, et alia, for a whole different problem.)

  5. I still miss Tony Kornheiser's ESPN radio show; PTI doesn't quite make up for it.

    More seriously, though, it's possible that that 9/11 communal experience shares the blame for much of what this nation has suffered in the time since. It helped justify wars and the abrogation of civil rights. Had it not been so totally shared 24/7 by all but a few such as yourself, who knows how things might have transpired...

  6. I wish I could have avoided it, but my friend's wife died in the North Tower that day. I think the over and over coverage brought about my depression and anxiety attacks which, even with medication, continue to this day. Your choice may have helped you recover, and have the good attitude you have today. And now... I have to follow another English Professor's BLOG! --OM