Recently I found myself in the Intensive Care Unit of a cardiac wing of a Tokyo hospital. Unexpectedly and with very little warning, I underwent several hours of open heart surgery to put in place four coronary bypasses; veins were ripped from both legs to serve as replacements for the damaged arteries that could no longer supply the blood needed for my heart to function properly.
A matter of hours later, I was back in the operating theater for a second procedure to keep me from bleeding to death.
I was mercifully completely unaware of any of this, just as I did not share the anxiety suffered by my partner and other loved ones as they faced the distinct possibility that I was headed fast for the exit lane. But the brilliant team of surgeons had other ideas. They wanted me back on the highway that would lead to the slow but certain road to recovery. Thanks to their skill and dedication, and later the extraordinary spirit and commitment to duty of the ICU nurses, I was soon moved to a room in the general nursing ward, there to begin the healing that continues now that I have been permitted the comforts of our own home.
They say that impending execution concentrates the mind. So, too, it seems does a brush with the Grim Reaper by any other means. I am so conscious of being given, and so very grateful for, another chance. I used to readily agree with the wise old saw about taking time out to stop and smell the roses. Only now, though, do I realize where those roses are, and smell them I will: I promise.
Oddly enough, since leaving the hospital, I have noticed that my sense of smell has returned along with a renewed appetite and an awakened awareness of just how beautiful the riverbank and my immediate surroundings are. It has long been my practice to try to be mindful and to lead a contemplative life. How much more important that seems to me now, along with the need for compassion; as I have written before, that begins with the self.
I have been astonished and humbled by the number of calls, cards, e-mails, floral and other gifts that have reached me, and for the moment I am at a loss as to how I might respond in a way that is both appropriate and sufficient to the task of explaining just how much each and every one meant — still means — to me. But I know I will find a way — I will be guided to it — to express my sincere thanks to everyone who has held me in their thoughts and prayers and to share the extraordinary promise of a second chance to acknowledge the miracle that is life.
Ian de Stains is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The views expressed in this column are strictly his own and are not necessarily endorsed by or shared by the Chamber.