Aging Infrastructure

Bernard family, at the then brand new freeway-side Buffalo, Jamestown ND, 1960. Richard (Dick) is not in this photo, at college down the road. Dad, Henry Bernard, probably took the photo.

Tuesday, Dec. 4, in the morning I have a date for an upgrade of my internal systems: replacement of aortic heart valve and, it was determined in a recent pre-op test, two sections of artery.  The hospital, Fairview Southdale, helpfully provides an overview of post-surgery life for me, for anyone interested.

Given a hoped for good outcome, you can ask me in awhile how it really was….  In the meantime, this is a time of reflection for me.  This is not a routine matter.  Of course, I have no idea about the outcome.  The season of Advent begins on Sunday, Dec. 2.  It is a good time to practice the skills of peace, justice and the broadest definition of neighborliness.


Uncle Vincent had this same procedure a dozen years ago, and I was his driver and attendant at the time.  I know, now, how he experienced the preliminaries to open heart surgery, up close and personal.  He lived nine years afterwards, dying at 90.

He was 81 when he had the procedure.  I’m 78.


For some reason I find myself thinking back to 1958 when I was 18 years old, heading off to college at Valley City ND.  That happened to be the very year when the first 12 mile section of ND Interstate 94 was basically complete between Jamestown and Valley City; part of the last 38 or so miles of my route from Sykeston.  I remember two things, vividly: 1) they said the road cost “a million dollars a mile”; and certain parts of that first dozen miles – namely the shoulders – had not yet been completed.  You needed to keep your eyes on the road.  But that first stretch was a very big deal, brand fresh and new.

1958 was 60 years ago, and virtually all of the interstate system is now 50 years or older, and showing its signs of age.  Every summer some new stretch is closed for a dozen or so miles to be redone.

I guess that is what facing me in this aging body.  I feel good – walk my two miles most every day, and more in between.  I will probably do so again today, depending on fresh snow, here.

The heart diagnosis came as a surprise.  Had there not been my annual physical back on May 25 – the same afternoon grandson Bennie and his Dad had their accident – I could have gone along unawares for some while yet, but inevitably there would have been a surprise.

So, off I go for repair.

Repairing the Infrastructure:

No one guarantees any certain outcome in a surgery.  Of  course, life offers no guarantees either.  Something can happen, any time, any where.  Any one of us can make a list – probably a long one – of the times something happened that could have ended our own life journey, but didn’t.

We’re fortunate to live in a time when much can be done, medically; I’m fortunate to have excellent support in all ways.

Anyone with an interest can google what is now my topic and come up with endless information.  On the spectrum, I gather I’m relatively low risk, which does not mean no risk.  I hope for good news long term.  We’ll see.

With extensive experience, the medical community has doubtless learned a great deal over time.  All patients are beneficiaries.

Still, my body, like anyone’s, feels the effect of age in differing ways.

On my life “menu”, apparently the heart was the weaker link.

It is my good fortune that there have been immense advances in successfully dealing with such ailments.  Of course, there are no guarantees.  They’ll do their best….

The Pace of Progress: 

Sunday afternoon I had an unusual opportunity to observe progress through an old movie: “Jurassic Park”.  Our 89 year old friend, Don, a Jurassic Park fan, and I, watched the movie with the full live Minnesota Orchestra playing the “soundtrack” in front of the screen.  It was a phenomenal afternoon.

On the way out I asked another attendee, “when was this film made?”  She said “1993”.  That’s 25 years ago.

Back then I saw the then-just released film at Mall of America, with a young guest from Germany, who I was taking to his host family.  I thought I was giving him a real treat.  He told me later the film was so frightening that he couldn’t watch it.

Looking at the same film 25 years later, I was most struck by how technology has changed since 1993.  DNA made an appearance in the film; a computer system supervised by a nerd was a near disaster, cloning.  There were many other “that was then, this is now” moments in this old sci-fi fantasy – a reminder about how far we’ve come; still a reminder that even the best has its downside.

Don noted the number of folks at Orchestra Hall whose iPhones were on before and during intermission inside the hall.  He’s never had a computer.  25 years ago, we’d not have seen such….

What will everything look like 25 years from now?  Even under the most optimistic scenario, I won’t be around 25 years from now.  Hopefully, progress will not go retro in the coming 25 years.  There is a danger that we could actually regress, in uncomfortable and perhaps even tragic ways.

Enough for now.

Back in 2006, I drove Uncle Vince and Aunt Edithe to Fargo as he took his trip into the unknown of open heart surgery.  We stayed overnight in the motel next door.  His brother, Art, and wife Dee, were there too.

He was to report for surgery very early the next morning.  I brought him to the hospital.

This was his first time for such a confrontation.  For 81 years he’d lived on the home farm in rural Berlin ND.  He knew the procedure had to be done, but he’d much rather have been back home.

I watched him walk, resolutely, in to the prep area; later the same day saw him right after surgery; sometime later ushered him into the rest of his long life back in LaMoure ND.

Next Tuesday I report, at 5 a.m., as Vincent did a dozen years ago.

He and his sister, Edithe, are on my mind as these days continue.  They made it to 90 and 93 respectively.

We’ll see.

Have a great December, Holiday season and New Year in 2019.

17 replies
  1. John Bernard
    John Bernard says:

    First off, hope all goes well – advances in medical what they are – hopefully it will be a much more tolerable procedure for you. Of course, what do I know – speaking as one who has yet to wake up in a hospital…

    So I digress now also – haven’t seen Jurassic Park in a long time – must’ve been an experience with the full symphony orchestra behind it.
    My one take away line from that movie was the Elliot Gould character saying earnestly (paraphrased) “They spent too much time thinking of what they could do; and not enough time thinking of what they should do!”

    • dickbernard
      dickbernard says:

      Well, we take away what we take away! The movie is based on a sci fi book which was a best-seller, so we start with that. I saw it once, 25 years ago, and I mention that in the blog. Back then, I hardly knew word-processing, and dna and cloning was still almost a fantasy, and and the others were way off in the future, but are now very much in the present. So, I went really with not much in the way of expectations. Don, our friend, loved the movie and the sequels, so he was sold before coming to the Orchestra, and he loves the Orchestra too. For me, the pervasiveness of technology now, of what was novel then, was most interesting. It was a little like seeing 1984 (George Orwell) come true, when it was only a novel in 1949. My opinion: watch the film again! Thanks for the comment.

  2. Rebecca Janke
    Rebecca Janke says:

    Hi Dick,
    Oh my goodness what shocking news. And to think you received your diagnosis the same Dad as Bennie and his Dad’s accident! You have all been through so much. Like Bennie may you have a road of recovery. I’m holding you in my thoughts and prayers. Much love and strength for your healing journey, Rebecca

    • dickbernard
      dickbernard says:

      Well, it has been a long year. But I have been very fortunate in many ways. Bennie is doing better by the day; there are ever improving technologies for help with situations like mine, etc. We all need to count our blessings, and they are abundant. Thank you, Rebecca.

  3. Larry Gauper
    Larry Gauper says:

    Best wishes for a successful surgery and outcome. Those of us in these age brackets we, fortunately, find ourselves, never know what’s around the corner. The heart is an area they’ve achieved some amazing repairs in and I hope for the best with your situation. Please do keep us posted. Blessings to you and your family.

  4. Dawn Cole
    Dawn Cole says:

    Dick, you have a great chain of friends who pass along important information, and news of your surgery eventually made it to me. I wish you the best on Tuesday! My husband Mike had a quadruple bypass at Fairview Southdale in 1998 when he was 48 years old. You’re in a great place for hearts! My thoughts are with you and your family.

    Dawn Cole

    • dickbernard
      dickbernard says:

      The technology ‘net’ is often a great nuisance, but it sure comes in handy! Great to hear from you. Thanks for the thoughts.

  5. JoAnn
    JoAnn says:

    Oh, Dick. You are in good hands. It is a blessing that the issue was discovered and can be tajen care of, as you said. Routine checkups are a first line of defense against surprises later. Always better to do the early intervention, right? You are strong, and have taken good care of yourself. Your walking and other routines are good preparation for a speedy recovery, which is what I wish for you. And we both know that you are in good (God’s) hands. Peace be with you.

      • JoAnn
        JoAnn says:

        I know you will, Dick. You always do, and your best has been a blessing to so many. Now, you have some time off, but I know you will be back doing your best for others, in good time. For now, let others care for you. Peace.

  6. Mary Schlosser
    Mary Schlosser says:

    Wishing you well on your surgery, Dick. As friends have already stated, there have been so many advances in the field of cardiology. So, if it was successful for Vincent 12 years ago, you can feel confident that things will turn out well this time. He’ll probably be looking down at you during the surgery and saying, “You’re going to be fine, Dick. I’ll put in a good word for you – payback for when you were there for me.”
    We will keep you in our prayers.


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