Richard and I drove to Denver last Tuesday to prepare for his surgery for bladder cancer. First came a day at the VA Hospital--a wonderful place despite the many difficult cases it serves, because the staff has a culture of caring and competence. (It's what healthcare should be, with equal emphasis on "health" and "care.") After six hours and lots of tests, we found out that he's very healthy, but for that "beautiful" carcinoma with its filmy petals waving gently in the current of his bladder and for the fact that his blood is too thin--it's not clotting well. So he's got to give up his daily pot of green tea and give his blood time to thicken up, and his surgery has been rescheduled for July 1st.
Hearing his surgeon say that she was pushing back the surgery for a month was like sucking on lemons. We just wanted it over with. But you can only feel sorry for yourself for so long. So we made lemonade: We spent the rest of the week we planned for his surgery in Denver with my folks and Molly, our daughter, who had already flown in from San Francisco. It wasn't a vacation. But we did take all five of us in our Subaru Forester on a picnic to Barr Lake, northeast of Denver, where we walked a boardwalk over a lapping marsh--my Mom clumping along in her special boot after foot surgery and my Dad spotting birds passing on the breeze. We saw more orioles in the spring-green cottonwood trees lining the shoreline there than I've ever seen at one time in my life. And Molly and Richard spent a morning exploring art galleries. We took walks through the Capitol Hill neighborhood where we stayed, admiring the architectural details in the old stone mansions and 1920s apartment houses. We smelled irises and roses and lilacs in gardens growing from spring into summer.
And when we returned home, our kitchen garden was bursting. We picked a huge bag of spinach along with the first harvest of mixed lettuce. When we sat down to dinner that night our thoughts were not of bladder cancer or postponed surgery, but of the culture of caring at the VA Hospital, the chatter of orioles, and of tender new greens flavored by our very own patch of ground.
It seems to me that being healthy is not just about the technology and pharmacology of modern medicine. It's about how you take what comes, whether you use the lemons for lemonade, or let them lie bitter on your tongue. It's about taking joy where you can, and never forgetting to stop and smell the lilacs drooping over the garden wall, to walk hand in hand with the people you love, and to savor the taste of new lettuce, fresh from the soil.