Around noon 12 days ago, I had no idea where I was or how I had gotten there. More important, I didn’t know why I was struggling to take in air. It felt as though only half of my lungs were working, so I struggled to force air into the parts that were blocked.
A male voice told me I was OK and my lungs were working, but I knew otherwise. I had to continue the struggle. I had been flat on my back with reassuring voices above me several times before, so my memory suggested that I might be in a hospital recovery room. But I didn’t remember…
…deciding, after more than five years of arthritic pain, to go ahead and have my right shoulder replaced…
…meeting with the surgeon and setting the date…
…showing up with my wife that morning at the hospital…
…being offered a nerve block as a form of pain control…
…hearing that, when I awoke from the general anesthesia, the nerve block might still have me paralyzed from my shoulder to my waist, and I could feel as though my lungs weren’t working right.
Contrary to previous experience in recovery rooms, I remembered none that for another few minutes and felt utterly helpless, confused and alone.
Now let’s jump ahead to this morning:
I’m at home. With my wife away for a few days, my Unitarian Universalist church friends keep a regular schedule of checking in on me and bringing meals, because I’m limited in how I can use my right arm and, of course, unable to drive. But on my own, I shaved and took a shower with only slight modifications from my pre-surgery routine.
Even though I have taken no oxycodone for a couple of days, I experienced no pain. I felt so free and happy that after the shower, I sat in the tub and meditated in a spirit of gratitude. I dressed myself, put my sling back on, and sat on my front porch enjoying the crisp spring day and the sunny skies that are supplying our electricity.
Emaho! Ain’t it great!
In the first scenario, I wish I could say that my Buddhist equanimity, developed over decades of practice, kept me from panicking, but I’d be violating the Fourth Precept, the one about false speech. Once I regained my senses, though, I remained calm through the rest of my 34 hours (But who’s counting?) of hospitalization.
I like the way the Brits say “in hospital,” making the word, without the definite article, stand for a state of being rather than a building. That state of being often is imposed, and sometimes unnecessary, helplessness. I won’t list here the stupid hospital tricks from this time around. The surgery itself went great. Let’s just say the most frequent sound I heard afterward was: “Oops!”
I don’t know yet if I’ll put myself through this again for my left shoulder. I do know that in 12 days my Unitarian Universalist church community and my Buddhist practice have helped me back to feeling in charge of my life.
Emaho! Ain’t it great!
— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine