Biff America: Prayers for my pumper

“Would you like me to pray for you?”

I would have been nuts to say no. The guy standing next to my hospital bed was wearing a clerical collar, and I was about to have heart surgery in a Catholic hospital.  

Now to be clear, this was a year ago when prayers were offered. And I will say they might have worked since I’m currently on the correct side of the dirt. 

At first, I was worried that since I’m no longer a practicing papist, I would be accepting a blessing under false pretenses. So I confessed that to the padre and he said, “You need not be present to win.” So my conscience was clear.

Being raised Roman Catholic and suffering through 12 years of Catholic Christian doctrine, I can still remember all of the words to the big hit prayers like Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and Apostles’ Creed. But the truth is, though I’m spiritually hopeful, I cannot call myself religious. That’s not to say I don’t ask God, or whoever might be listening, for help. Just this morning, I asked her to give grace and solace to both the casualties and survivors of the Turkish earthquake and to also resurrect my cell phone that I inadvertently dropped in the sink. But to be clear, I suggested she prioritize the Turks.

So naturally, when that Roman Catholic priest stood over my bed and asked if I would like to be prayed over, and after I admitted the main reason I still wear my St. Christopher medal around my neck is that it distracts from my double chin, I said, “please and thank you.”

I have to say the guy prayed as I do. He didn’t fall back on the standards like the “glory be” or “Hail Mary.” He simply riffed and free-formed asking God to give the surgeon “awesome skills” and to give me strength in recovery.

When he finished, I instinctively made the sign of the cross and thanked the priest for his efforts. I added that I hoped I would not be revisited any time soon for my last rites. He smiled, touched my shoulder, and left.

A year ago just after Christmas, I felt poorly. I went to the doctor who told me I had pneumonia and mentioned that he could hear my heart murmur from across the room. He gave me antibiotics for my lungs and said I should get my plumbing checked as soon as possible by a heart doctor. A few days later I got the results that a valve in my heart was leaking like a nervous poodle, and probably had been for years.

The truth is that the news was not totally unexpected. Both my father and oldest brother had the same condition. Though being aware of my genetic predisposition, I was hopeful. Both my dad and brother were intelligent and good dancers so I thought I might have dodged that genetic bullet. Seems that I did not.

So that brings me back to a year ago early February when I was getting prayed over.

That surgical procedure was not my first rodeo. Years ago I had knee and shoulder surgery, and I’ve had a handful of colonoscopies (all but one done by a doctor).  I was reflecting on all that with a beatific glow as I waited to be wheeled into the operating room.

The operating nurse came in and asked if I was ready and if I had any questions about what was about to happen to me. Frankly, I did not want to know the gory details, though Ellie asked when the nurse thought I’d be healthy enough to operate a vacuum cleaner and if she happened to know the lunch special in the hospital’s cafeteria.

As I was wheeled away, Ellie touched my hand and said through tears, “Take care of him — he’s a good guy.”

And they did take care of me. Twelve months later I feel better than I have in many years but unfortunately, look the same.

Hopefully, there will be no more major surgeries in my future, but if there are I’m going to click the “blessing” box on my intake form. 

Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you say your entire life is thank you, then that is enough.”

Thank you is a simple prayer that I don’t say often enough. I would guess I’m not alone in that regard.

Certainly, I owe thanks to the priest who comforted me, the surgeon, nurses and staff who plugged my leak, and my mate who doesn’t complain when she is the butt of my jokes. But my prayers will have to be more creative before I go in for my next colonoscopy. Perhaps, “Thanks, I needed that” will work.

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