A Hard Lesson About an Easy Life

Anyone old enough to read this column knows that plans may go awry, sometimes at the most inconvenient times. 

A recent reminder: For months, Susan and I had anticipated a memorable morning in a beautiful Japanese pocket garden in Torrance, California, just south of Los Angeles. Susan’s son Patrick (whom I’m also proud to claim) would be marrying a delightful woman named Maha, the love of his life. We’ve also grown to love Maha, who grew up in Torrance. Though she and Patrick live in Macon, Georgia, the wedding was near her home, and we were looking forward to meeting her extended Mexican-Pakistani family.

Our flight on Thursday evening was uneventful, and before the rehearsal on Friday, we enjoyed roaming the little garden with its gnarled trees, waterfalls, and koi pond. 

The occasion would be small: Susan would take pictures before the wedding and read a poem as part of the ceremony. I was to stand in the back with a video camera and record the happy proceedings. 

After dinner at a vegan restaurant, we returned to the hotel for a little TV before bed, and all was well until about midnight when I was struck by rather violent gastrointestinal symptoms. What kind of bug it was, I do not know, but while dealing with the necessaries of said symptoms, I leaned over to throw up in a trash can … and passed out. 

That wouldn’t have been so bad if the trash can didn’t have sharp, pointed corners for my chest to land on. But that may have slowed me down enough so that when my head slammed against the corner of the bathroom doorframe, it didn’t crack my skull, though it did leave me with a concussion and a cut requiring six stitches. 

I am ever so grateful that Susan was with me. Things went downhill from there, with several more episodes of syncope punctuated by projectile vomiting. Eventually, she called 911, and soon I was in the back of an ambulance heading to a Catholic hospital associated with “the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary.” 

Ten hours in the ER brought CT scans of my head, neck and abdomen; X-rays of my chest; an EKG and echocardiogram; a sonogram of my carotid arteries; and a barrage of blood draws for various lab tests. They wanted to do an EEG, but the technician was missing in action.

The good news is that all the tests were negative for disease. My heart is strong, my carotids are clear, my skull is intact, and my brain is still there, if slightly bruised and a little smaller. I confess to a bit of chagrin when I read the report and saw the not-unexpected “age-related atrophy.” 

On Saturday morning, the wedding went on as planned. After a sleepless night, Susan was able to participate, though distracted and not able to enjoy it as fully as we had hoped. Maha’s mother brought her back to the hospital, where I remained until late Sunday afternoon. 

Changing our airline reservation required canceling the original one and purchasing one-way tickets home, which cost far more than the original round trip. But we made it safely the next day. A friend covered my Monday night class, and all was well.

Traumatic experiences naturally lend themselves to pondering. At first, I worried about what kind of hospital bills I’d end up paying, even after insurance. 

But then it occurred to me that an excellent hospital with a first-rate staff was located within a mile of our hotel. The EMTs who came to fetch me were professional and made an uncomfortable ambulance ride as smooth as possible. 

The ambulance was fully fueled, and the hospital had all the equipment, electricity, and water it could use. More importantly, no one was concerned about whether it would still be standing in the morning.

It was hard to bemoan a short hospital stay when I considered the horrific murders of 1,400 unsuspecting Israelis just two weeks before. The brutality of the Hamas militants was unconscionable. 

That was ghastly, and then it was done. Israeli reprisals have been non-stop, with bombs raining daily on Gaza, killing thousands of innocent civilians in an attempt to wipe out the militants. 

Death by shrapnel or collapsing buildings is no less barbarous when the attacker does not wield his weapon at close range. 

Meanwhile, all of Gaza is starved for water, power, and fuel. 

While I lamented the complications and discomfort of an unexpected illness, I thought of people who were crying in pain from unimaginable injuries. Even if they were lucky enough to reach a hospital, there might not be any power or fuel for backup generators because leaders on both sides would rather let infants die in incubators than release fuel for hospitals. Israel doesn’t want Hamas to steal new shipments, and Hamas doesn’t want to reduce its cached supplies in underground storage. 

The current Israeli government does not reflect the desires of most Israeli citizens, any more than Hamas represents Palestinians, most of whom want peace. Bad leadership leads to bad outcomes, and others suffer for it. 

As we know, the troubles in Israel and Gaza are just one of many global instances of bloody conflict, systematic oppression and natural disasters that create untold suffering. 

The twist in this column may seem as unexpected as the turnabout that took me from a wedding to a hospital, but it offers all of us a needed perspective. 

When we look beyond ourselves, we realize that even our most challenging days can seem easy compared to the suffering experienced in many parts of our world. 

Can we at least be grateful?  

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