Six weeks after I had double bypass heart surgery in 2002, I wrote this piece about healing and prayer circles.
Before we got our home desktop, whenever my computer-literate friends would talk about virtual reality, virtual communities, virtual museums, virtual anything, I would smile, nod and appear to know exactly what they meant. I didn’t, of course.
I understood the word ‘virtual’ and the concept they were using it to support but I was not adequate to their meaning of the term. It was the context I was missing. I didn’t have the necessary tool to create the possibility of something/anything being ‘virtual’ in my life. That changed the day I unpacked the computer. Soon I’d be keenly aware of the new meaning of this word ‘virtual’.
It was Valentine’s Day 2002 when I found out I needed double-bypass heart surgery. The stress test, angiogram and nuclear heart scan all pointed to the same conclusion: two of my coronary arteries were almost completely blocked. Surgery was recommended though not urgent since I could function with medication and moderation.
Ten years before, at age forty-two, I’d had a heart attack shoveling snow on another February day. It was my wake-up call! I paid attention. Changing my diet, habits and attitude, and walking twenty miles a week for a year at a rehabilitation-fitness centre saved my life. I had ten good years before my “genetic predisposition” caught up with me. The cousin who minds the family tree mentioned how many of my male predecessors had heart problems and attacks. The surgeon who performed the bypasses commented on how I’d gotten a bit of a raw deal genetically since I was slim, otherwise healthy and “young.”
There is a limit to the amount of responsibility for one’s situation you can attribute to “genetic predisposition.” The guilty food pleasures, the walks I should have taken but didn’t, the negative thoughts and aggression that always work against the heart; this is where my responsibility lay, how I started to jam up my own arteries. And now the consequence, the feedback was making itself known. Heart surgery!
Nothing virtual about it. This was a problem at the level of matter and meat. It was something we could fix, do fix everyday, almost routinely, with modern medical tools and skills. A re-arranging of arteries and veins, the right drugs for the various stages of the procedure and afterwards, the pump to take over from the heart and lungs, the drainage pathways required, the restricted movements to allow proper healing of bone and flesh – all this we are very accomplished at doing.
I had the surgery in mid-June. With at least six weeks of recovery after the operation, some financial planning had to be arranged and I needed to research the surgery and the alternatives. I spent many hours online reading about the heart, bypass surgery – often in full colour graphic detail – and the other resources available.
After weighing the alternatives, Linda and I decided the surgery would be my best option at this stage of life. I was strong and healthy enough to survive it intact, we were confident about the skills of the surgeon and the surgical staff.
One idea I came up with during this time was to create a prayer circle of family and friends online and elsewhere when the day of my operation neared; a ‘virtual’ prayer circle as one of my friends dubbed it.
As resilient and resourceful as the human body is, it necessarily houses a spirit that requires expression in the world and thrives on love exchanged between beings. That was what I wanted to tap into with the prayer circle.
I was on the cardiac surgery waiting list four weeks. On a Friday, I got my date. It would be in one week. Linda and I kept the date to ourselves during the weekend giving us a chance to mull it over and feel more settled about the whole procedure. It weighed heavy on my mind.
When we live more intensely, as in a pre-operative state, life begins to manifest itself in ways that are necessary and appropriate. As we began to inform family and friends about the surgery date, something wonderful happened! When we shared the burden of knowing, an increasing lightness started to grow in both Linda and me. The simple act of sharing the burden relieved the weightiness of the immediate future. With each successive person we informed, anxiety melted away. An unexpected confidence started to build in me, complete certainty that this was the right thing to do.
Two days before surgery I emailed the prayer circle request to about 25 family and friends. It was straightforward with date and time of surgery, approximate hospital recovery time and a simple sincere request:
“Please join together in a circle of love during and after my surgery with your prayers and positive energy. Your loving help means so much to us at this time and will aid in my full and speedy recovery. Thank you for sharing in my healing. Now that you have read this, the healing has already begun!”
Several people emailed me right back with their messages of hope and loving support. The rest I felt in my heart. On surgery eve, I was awash in the positive energies and expressions of love generated by the prayer circle; bliss in full measure took over my being. It was palpable. Linda felt it too. I had invoked the healing interplay between body, mind and spirit and wept at the sheer perfection of its unfolding. I was ready for the repairs!
There was nothing virtual about it. The reality of love and friendship, expressed with singular intent across many miles from many sources, converged in me. This aura of love carried me through the surgery, the immediate recovery and onto the ward where I spent four days. I basked in the afterglow of this healing intent, aware of how it was fueling my recovery, abetting the natural regenerative abilities of my body and lifting me when I felt some post-operative depression.
This outpouring of loving support manifested in other ways. It helped me sustain a positive attitude during my hospital stay. The people who noticed this immediately were those angels of mercy, the nurses. They’d seen people deal with this same situation in all manner of ways, some more successful than others. Maybe it was my spiritual preparedness or the intangible support that I brought with me; whatever it was, the nurses and staff recognized something extra was happening.
Looking back on this I now realize what was happening: the ‘virtual’ was being made real in the world. The prayers and loving intent that I asked for ‘virtually’ online became my reality. While the computer tool made the virtual prayer circle possible, it was the spirit and expression of our loving first nature that made it real in the world. I was living those special conditions.
And what was my responsibility? The answer came to me with such brash certainty I could not ignore it. It made perfect sense. The only way I could repay my family and friends for their limitless sharing of love was to recover fully, completely. It would answer their prayers. It was the exchange the special conditions demanded.
In the six weeks after the surgery, my recovery was nothing short of remarkable. My heart, with its new stamina, allowed me the increasing exercise I needed, the flesh and bone healed with little scarring and no infection. An unexpected benefit of the procedure was increased creativity. Suddenly I had all this extra blood flowing to my brain causing fresh new ideas to spew out of me. For a writer that’s almost a miracle! One of the risks of heart bypass surgery is cognitive decline. For the exact opposite to happen is an unexpected bonus.
The fact is, love lives large in the world and, when focused, produces amazing results! The love shared by my family and friends merged with Linda’s unconditional love and devotion resulting in a perfect healing environment for body, mind and spirit. Nothing virtual about it.
Read an earlier post about my heart surgery.