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Posted: July 31, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Priorities

What’s most important in your life right now? Do you find yourself running a routine, following a calendar, or tending to whatever your electronic personal assistant device tells you is urgent today?

Every once in a while it’s good to stop and smell the roses, or the coffee, and to think on the importance of things. Those of us who have faced health issues know how they pretty much stop us in our tracks and force us to reconsider our priorities. It’s funny how things which absolutely, positively had to be accomplished get pushed far into the background when the simple act of drawing one more breath suddenly becomes laborious.

Way back in what seems at times another lifetime, I experienced a modicum of success as a football coach. I like to think that prioritizing development of fundamentals and addressing the team’s most critical needs in a timely manner in limited practice time contributed to those results. But a quote from a great collegiate coach, Lou Holtz, may be more apt: "I was a lot smarter coach when I had the best players!"

Similarly, when working in the operations tower for the busiest airline at the world’s busiest airport, I was forced to prioritize between the truly urgent and the merely important in order to direct efficiently teams of ground personnel.

That being said, I’ve been out of the airline business for 26 months now, and the airline hasn’t skipped a beat. Despite my concern that the entire operation would collapse without me, evidence to the contrary suggests I was merely an insignificant cog in a big machine.

All of which serves to remind me of the need for an occasional stop to re-evaluate those things which demand most of our attention on a daily basis.

What’s important? What should be important? If the two answers are markedly different, are we able — or willing — to break out of the "comfort zone" which has brought us to this point in order to effect a change in the way we do things?

Last week my nearly 95-year-old mother suffered a fall in her apartment. She broke two vertebrae in her back, which subsequently were magically repaired with Kyphon® Balloon Kyphoplasty at Newton Medical Center by Doctor M. Dalton Hanowell. The best way I can describe this Kyphoplasty is to say that it is for bones what angioplasty is for arteries: a balloon is inserted through a hollow instrument into the broken bone and inflated to create a cavity; the balloon is withdrawn and replaced with cement injected through the instrument; the cement hardens, forming a cast from the inside out, and — voila! — the pain is gone and the bone is returned to 99 percent of form, placement and function.

I cannot sing the praises of this procedure loudly enough. Back in the good old days, two broken vertebrae meant excruciating pain for a long time. Rehabilitation might not have even been possible.

But in 2010 repairing my mom’s two vertebrae took one hour, start to finish. Local anesthesia. Four band aids. Recovery consisted of lying prone one hour and then sitting upright for one hour.

I’m telling you, folks, it’s magic. Kyphon® Balloon Kyphoplasty. Right here, at our hometown Newton Medical Center!

That being said, things at our house and in our lives came to a screeching halt last Monday morning when my mother took her tumble. Nothing stops time like hearing your aged parent say, in a trembling voice, "Son, I’ve fallen and need your help right away."

Time nearly grinds to a complete standstill when you’re in a hospital, doesn’t it? I hate just sitting there thinking of all the things that need doing, all the things I’d rather be doing, yet none of which can be done due to the reassessment of priorities.

But watching television news programs certainly taught me a lot.

I learned nearly $9 billion is missing from funds allocated to America’s armed forces in Iraq. And something called WikiLeaks published 90,000 documents, some affecting national security issues related to America’s ongoing war in Afghanistan. China suffered a gigantic oil spill on the Yellow Sea coastline, and floods have forced poisonous chemicals into China’s rivers. Anthrax appeared and killed 82 hippos in Uganda. Facebook lost the personal data of 170 million users, and Toyota recalled 400,000 more vehicles.

I could not impact any of those issues, but to my amazement one person who could, President Barrack Hussein Obama II, chose to appear on a morning talk show last Thursday to chat with the ladies of "The View."

How comforting it was, as time ground to a standstill, to see from a hospital room how responsibly the leader of the free world demonstrated his priorities.

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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