November 29, 2015, marks the third anniversary of my second open-heart surgery.
I am grateful for how far I have come, but I will never forget those days when my physical and professional futures were both so cloudy. I look back … not just to this date three years ago but also to my first open-heart surgery in July 1996…
“Rabbi Fuchs to Have Open Heart Surgery,” read a late-June 1996 headline on the first page of the local news section of The Nashville Banner.
While I had neither hoped for nor wanted such publicity surrounding my surgery, the headline symbolizes the difference between the surgery I underwent at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville in 1996 and the more complex open-heart surgery I underwent at the Cleveland Clinic on November 29, 2012.
In Nashville, because I was known in the community my surgery to replace a congenitally defective aortic valve attracted more attention, advice, visits and support than I could ever imagine.
By contrast my surgery in 2012 was in Cleveland where I knew almost no one.
My Connecticut cardiologist encouraged me to have my 2012 operation done in a major heart center “where they do lots of these unusual procedures.” With his encouragement, we settled on the Cleveland Clinic.
It was a great choice.
The surgeon, Dr. Lars Svensson, is word-renowned, and the medical, nursing and technical care were all superb! The problem was that except for one incredibly wonderful and supportive family with whom we are very close and a couple of very gracious and concerned rabbis, we knew no one in Cleveland.
The love and care I received from my wife Vickie is priceless, and my three adult children all interrupted their very busy lives to fly in for the surgery from both coasts. But after a few precious days, my children – as they should have – flew back to their spouses, children and professional responsibilities.
Enter FACEBOOK into the breach.
When I travelled the world for an 18 month period as President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism – making 65 visits on five continents and living both in Israel and in New York City – I checked in on FACEBOOK only occasionally and posted even less frequently. Since my surgery three years ago, I have been a frequent contributor.
I repeat the words I posted from Cleveland two days before my surgery with even more feeling than when I wrote them three years ago:
“FB friends, if ever you wonder whether the short messages of encouragement and support you are thinking about writing to people facing difficult challenges in their lives (illness, surgery, loss of a loved one or a job a few examples) do any good, trust me they do. My FB contacts have made the surgery I face Thursday and the events leading up to it much easier to deal with, and I am very grateful to each one of you who has reached out …”
One of the first things I did when I returned from intensive care was to post the following:
“Dear FB friends, It is still difficult for me to type, but I have read with deep gratitude (and will surely read again and again) each and every one of your messages to me. I cannot express how much they have meant. Although I feel as weak as a kitten, your prayers, thoughts and good wishes have given me strength…”
It was strength I needed. People I knew in elementary and high school, college and grad school, in the three communities I served as rabbi and in my travels for the WUPJ have lifted me up. Some I knew intimately, and some I had never met in real life.
I have tried to pay it forward because lifting the spirits of another is a huge return on an investment as small as typing a few short words or even simply, clicking “Like.”