‘This Body Is Not Me’

This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.

So begins a beautiful poem for the dying by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I don’t expect to die anytime soon, but the quotation seemed appropriate to begin a column about the next replacement of part of my body. I have scheduled a total replacement of my right shoulder for May 3.

3d rendered illustration of a shoulder replacementI’ve already had three total replacements of my left hip and one of my right. The reason for the three surgeries on one joint involves a long story that includes three even more painful events — hip dislocations. Take my advice: That’s some dukkha (suffering) you just don’t want to mess with. During one of those dislocations I was introduced to some very interesting stuff called Dilaudid, also known as hydromorphone. You don’t want to mess with that, either, but once was enough for me.

About five years ago, my orthopedist (the one I chose after my old ortho botched my left hip) told me there was nothing to be done about the pain in my shoulders except total replacements. He said to come back when the pain is so bad I know I want the surgery, which seemed like good advice. Because my last surgeries had gone so badly, I held out until the pain on the right side became too severe for me to sleep comfortably, or even to look forward to getting out of bed.

About a week ago, I used a riding mower on the lawn of my new home, and the pain for five days afterward told me the time had come. I went to see the doc and was glad he could schedule my surgery so soon. Now that I’ve made up my mind, I want very much to get it done.

My arm will be in a sling for about six weeks after the surgery, during which time I won’t be able to drive. I should be pretty much recovered for the July 16-22 retreat I’ve registered for with Lama Surya Das and to go with my wife on our planned September 23 – October 2 European vacation. Then I’ll decide of I want a left shoulder replacement.

So, indeed, this body is not me. It’s nothing like the body that ran three marathons in 1979 and ’80. It’s not the body that each morning jogged up seven flights of stairs in a suit and tie carrying a briefcase without working up a sweat. And most likely by the end of this year this body will have four artificial joints.

I wonder if there’s an organ-donor card I can sign that includes selling my joints for scrap metal and donating the proceeds to charity.

P.S. About 20 years ago, when Thich Nhat Hanh was in his 60’s, I did a retreat with him in Vermont. He would come into the hall to give his dharma talks, seat himself in a lotus position, and remain perfectly still as he spoke. When he was finished, an hour or two later, he would rise without using his hands and without showing any effort at maintaining his balance. This body of mine is decidedly nothing like his and never has been.

— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)

Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine

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