Unbearable Courage of Living
By Jerry Waxler
To become more knowledgeable about living, I try to find out as much as I can about dying. This is easy information to find, because writers have so much to say on the subject. Death is such an important topic, Hemingway suggested to a young writer that he hang himself and have a friend cut him down just before he died so he would have something to write about.
Perry Foster, author of the memoir “Hands Upon My Heart: My Journey Through Heart Disease and Into Life” didn’t have to go to that extreme. Death came looking for him. Foster was an apparently healthy business man, until a cardiology exam. Then he found himself staring into the jaws of death and the only way to survive was to let masked people rip open his chest and stop his heart.
His memoir brought me face to face with the unbearable courage of living. He takes me to the waiting room, the gurney, and the operating room, and makes it easy to empathize with his predicament. While he’s a nervous wreck, so am I. He lets me feel his sweaty hands and his edgy outbursts so well it makes my skin crawl. He portrays a real flesh and blood character, not a cartoon caricature.
One of the things I learn is that when a real person is confronted by death, he doesn’t necessarily put on a happy face. Foster is afraid almost to paranoia that his care is inadequate. He accuses people of misleading him. And he is shocked that just when he thinks his situation is under control, he is back for another emergency visit to the cardiologist. His edgy reactions heighten my anxiety and while I would have intuitively thought such human frailty would have made me feel more distant, the end result is greater intimacy.
This treatment of death is so different from the way it is usually handled in fiction. In a murder mystery, for example, the victim might scream for a moment, then either expire or escape. In a war movie, bodies fly through the air, and die in droves, while the tough guy shrugs off pain. In Hands upon my heart, I linger in that state between life and death, grappling with the feelings, and trying to sort out what to do next. This is real human emotion, and I feel connected with his fear, anger, and confusion. As Natalie Goldberg would say, “this writing cuts close to the bone.”
In my desire to become a more alive human being, I can read Perry Foster’s book and learn about the project of bumping up against mortality, and coming back. And even though he didn’t claim to be tough or courageous, his experience inspires me to carry on as a person, and face the unknown.
Of course Perry Foster didn’t choose to be in this situation, and so it’s possible to dismiss his tale as simply reporting from the position of a victim. But one element of his experience did require a conscious choice. After he struggled through this painful and humiliating experience, being pushed along from doctor to doctor and feeling his life ticking away with every beat of his heart, he chose to write the story.
He didn’t have to do this. He could have kept his feelings private, and when someone said to him, “That must have been a heck of an experience” he could have just nodded, and said “Yes it was.” Instead, he undertook another arduous journey, this one of his own free will. He chose to write his story. He gained the skills, wrote the pages, and exposed his inner world to other people’s opinions.
Since I want to write about my life, I gain courage not only from his experience in the book but also his experience of the book. Within his lessons about his heart are embedded the other lessons about how one man faces the daunting task of translating his very personal life experience into a written story. And by assigning himself that task, Perry Foster has invested his own time and experience to help me learn to live a better life.
Read more about how life and death keep coming up in stories: “Life and Death in Memoir”.
The quote about Hemingway was taken from David Morrell’s book “Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing.” See more about Morrell’s work at http://www.davidmorrell.net.
Tags: Book Review, courage, death, heart disease, inspirational, memoir, mortality, zipper club
I just finished reading Hands Upon My Heart, by Perry Foster, and all I can say is WOW! Perry's personal account of what he experienced before, during and after his quadruple heart bypass surgery is a story that wouldn't allow me to put the book down.
Through short chapters covering 194 pages, the author carefully provides details of each prognosis and treatment, while giving the reader an honest and accurate look at catheterization, angioplasty, saphenous vein grafts, stents, and coronary by-pass surgery.
Every concern and pain that Perry experiences, the reader does, too. His brief, but accurate descriptions, feelings and emotions, give the reader a perspective that might otherwise be unknown. Hands Upon My Heart is a book that anyone who has ever undergone heart surgery, known anyone who has, or who might have such surgery in the future, should definitely read.
Judy Wolfman, author and storyteller
Hands Upon My Heart: My Journey Through Heart Disease and Into Life
By Perry Foster
Pub: Discovery Publishing Company
ISBN: 0978967305 and 9780978967307
Every person with a heart should read this book. Perry Foster gives an honest, unadulterated account of his most personal thoughts and feelings. He takes the reader through the medical procedures reflecting his honest emotions and fears at every step. His accounts are interspersed with flashbacks of his family and friends, tenderizing the harsh realities of his horrendous journey, and exposing the source of his strength.
Everyone in the world knows someone who's gone through this agony and personal terror. Those of us who had to sit back and watch can now see, through Mr. Foster's eyes the feelings of our loved ones.
A book deserving of more accolades than I can express! Well done, Perry.
- Reviewed by Wanda C. Keesey
"Perry's work is expressive, detailed and informative, capturing the real-life drama and transformative reality of chronic coronary artery disease. I highly recommend it for wives whose husbands have had coronary bypass surgery."
- Rose Smith, public librarian
In Hands Upon My Heart, the author carefully details each prognosis and treatment along his path to wellness, giving the reader an insider's look at catheterization, angioplasty, saphenous vein grafts, stents, and coronary by-pass surgery. Foster's willingness to share his inner most feelings about his condition, his care, his quickly changing life, and his deepest fears about life and death is what makes this book a 'must read' for anyone who is suffering from heart disease or knows someone who is."
- Jamie Saloff, author of Transformational Healing
"Hands Upon My Heart is a gripping story about the pitfalls of modern medicine as told by a perceptive patient who has experienced them."
- Gene L. Cary M.D., F.A.P.A.
"A very frank and honest book. After reading it, I feel much better prepared to face open heart surgery, if I should ever need it."
- Lee Fisher, entrepeneur
"Perry Foster leads the reader step by step through the intricacies of coronary bypass surgery. His keen observations balance a scale of emotional highs and lows on his journey through pain, doubt, fragile relationships, and faith. A sensitive study that reveals the truth about coronary artery disease."
- Arleen Shealer, writer and community service coordinator
"In his personal story, Hands Upon My Heart, Perry Foster shows the reader how he survives his personal confrontation with coronary artery diseases, how family history plays a role, and how heart disease takes its toll on family members as well as the patient. I recommend the book to all who have loved ones affected by this disease... The words flow easily as the story unfolds."
- Sally Fisher, retired school teacher
"Perry's drive and determination not to give up shows how the human spirit can overcome a health crisis. His book is an inspiration to all who are challenged with any major health problem."
- Linda Duran
The following is a www.PolkaDotBanner.com interview with Perry Foster about his book: Hands Upon My Heart: My Journey Through Heart Disease and Into Life.
PDB: Perry, congratulations on winning PDB's top vote for October.
Your book won by a landslide!
PF: Thank you. I was quite surprised by the total number of votes cast for me. I certainly wish to thank all of the people who voted.
PDB: How DID having heart disease change your life for the better?
PF: First, I'd like to say that I wouldn't wish my coronary experience on anybody, even though it has changed my life for the better. I had allowed myself to become so ensnared in our culture's dash for materialistic gain that I'd charged through life neglecting my family and life's simple pleasures. You've heard the cliché: "take time to smell the roses." On a scale from one to ten, I'd say my score for taking time to smell the roses was about two. Today, I'd give myself an eight. I now hug, feel closer to my family, take long drives over back roads with my wife and granddaughter, walk, exercise, eat a healthier diet, and enjoy reading a good historical biography.
PDB: Why did you decide to write a book about your experiences?
PF: At a family reunion, a few months after my bypass surgery, my wife's cousin slid his baked-bean stained paper plate aside and said to me, "That's quite a story. You should write about it." The following week, I began jotting down notes. A few months later, I bought a computer and began writing in earnest. The more I wrote, the more I felt compelled to write. Then I thought maybe my story might help people.
PDB: Who will gain the most benefit from reading your book?
PF: Family and friends of the patient will definitely benefit from reading my book. After my wife and daughter read it, they both said they had no idea what I had gone through. And they were at my bedside through the whole ordeal.
Doctors and nurses will also benefit. They are very familiar with technological procedures, but do they fully grasp the emotional impact that bypass surgery has on the patient? In layman's language, my book deals with both: technical procedures, and the emotional impact.
Men and women who have already had bypass surgery may also benefit. Surviving open-heart surgery is kind of like surviving combat. An all-knowing, keen insight develops among us. Hearing and reading about another person's experiences can be therapeutic. Also, before my bypass surgery my life was spiritually vacant. I was a skeptic. I'm no longer a spiritual skeptic.
But perhaps those who will benefit the most from reading my book is the high risk group, men and women with a genetic predisposition, a history of heart disease in their family. If they avoid my mistakes, and follow their family doctor's advice, they might avoid developing full-blown coronary artery disease. Of course there will always be those who bury their heads in the sand, but if they have the courage to face the truth, medications and life style changes can help prevent invasive intervention.
PDB: How is your book different from other books on heart disease?
PF: I don't think there is another book on the market quite like it. It's written to read like fiction, with dialogue and narrative. It details every cardiac procedure and its emotional impact upon me. I lived this story. I know what I'm talking about.