Robert Talbert


Math professor, Dad, Catholic, cat herder.

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Twas the night before

If all goes according to plan, this time tomorrow I will be on the operating table. This will probably be the last post I make here before the surgery happens, and (assuming all goes well) for several days following, since I'll just be too mentally out-of-it to write anything coherent. (Although coherence never stood in my way before.)

Yesterday I was at GVSU for some final closing-out tasks and a couple of meetings. More than one of my colleagues was surprised to see me there -- and a few more were surprised to hear that the surgery is Wednesday. I'm gratified that my January sprint was successful and all my "stuff" is now handed off to a colleague or else on auto-pilot until April. It was kind of a bittersweet day. I'm ready to have the surgery done; but the kindness of my GVSU Math colleagues was so meaningful, it's hard to walk away knowing I'll miss sharing work with them for basically the whole semester.

When I was still at Franklin College, I worked with a sociology professor named Virginia Seubert. She liked to be called "Ginger". Although I was never very close with Ginger personally, I came to really value her mind, her humor, and the work she did. Then one day, the word came down that Ginger had been diagnosed with a terminal disease -- I believe it was cancer -- and she would be leaving the college mid-semester for medical care which eventually became hospice care. One day after the news was announced, I was coming back to my office --- which was on the first floor of "Old Main", the primary classroom/office building on campus --- and stumbled across a scene I will never forget: Ginger and a friend, with Ginger's office belongings on a hand cart, exiting the building and the campus for the last time before she entered hospice care and eventually passed. It was her final moment leaving a career, a professional life, she'd spent decades building and would never see again.

That was over a decade ago and I have thought about that scene often, wondering what it would be like to be in Ginger's shoes, leaving my work and my colleagues for good. Although my condition and my surgery are the same kind of health issue that Ginger had, I have to admit that yesterday, closing up the office and making my way back to the car, I got a bit of a sense of being in that scene.

Don't get me wrong. Although I struggled when the diagnosis first came down, I have been and remain positive and optimistic that tomorrow's procedure will be a success, and after a time of healing up, I may end up feeling 10 years younger thanks to a properly-functioning heart. At the same time, this is a serious procedure, and I'm fully aware of that seriousness despite being positive and making jokes about things.

I have a monthly newsletter for my blog readers, and today I sent out the January 2019 issue. I wanted to end here by sharing something that I put into it about how I've dealt with "What Might Happen" when it comes to the procedure.

People have asked me if I'm anxious about [the surgery]. The surgeon said there is a 1/100 chance that "something really bad" could happen during the operation -- stroke, heart attack, or just plain old death. It's not every day that you come face to face with that high of a probability of dying. Am I anxious about it? I have to say --- not really. My personality is such that if something is obviously completely out of my control, I have a hard time getting emotionally invested in it. And also, maybe we come into contact with 1/100 chances of dying more often than we think. (I'm particularly thinking about the weather overnight --- a quarter inch of ice predicted --- and thinking the drive to the hospital might be more life threatening than my procedure.) Additionally, I see the outcome of the surgery as only partly a scientific or medical issue, and from my vantage point more of a spiritual issue. I've spent this week thinking a lot about life --- what it means to have one, and what it means to live the one you have --- and after thinking, praying, talking with my priest, and engaging with the Sacraments of the Church, I'm honestly ready to go get this surgery done, and 1/100 probabilities don't scare me.

So as we come, finally, to the time to get all this done, I'm well aware of the possibilities both positive and negative, and my family and I are heading into this with our eyes open and confident of a good result.

I appreciate your continued prayers, well wishes, and good vibes. If you're local, do check in on Cathy's Facebook feed as she will probably have the best updates over the next week.

See you on the other side.

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