On becoming sedated (The Recovery Series)

I’m lying in my bed. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember pain like this. Even the brilliant drugs that they give you in the hospital doesn’t work. So what best to do with pain but to write. This is my recovery series. It mightn’t make much sense. I blame the pain. 

Day surgery. I love the concept. It seems as if it’s all sorted in the matter of a day. What comes next in terms of healing is beside the point, but the day is all that’s needed to put things right. Politicians have surgeries. Police have surgeries. It’s a neat little concept.

We all got there at 7:45 and were taken, one by one, into a marvellously pristine ward. We were all positioned in chairs, neatly to the right of our beautifully made beds (which turned out the be the trolleys on which we would all be getting whatever cut open or cut out, asleep or not, but whatever, again, beside the point). Just to the front of us, out of reach, were our own, individual blood pressure machines. It was our very own medicinal ‘Cell Block Tango’ and I kept expecting someone to burst into song. The order of it was mesmerising. There was a single, polite cough into the silence. And then the overture began. The conversations trickled in then swelled to a steady crescendo. Each made their entrance – nurses, anaesthetists, doctors, surgeons, more nurses. The chorus of questions in counterpoint – names, dates of birth, allergies, removal of jewellery and makeup (though who could bother to put on jewellery and makeup at 7:45 in the morning, I would never know), previous surgeries, knowledge of the procedures, consent forms, ifs, ands, why, buts and wherefores. The costumes were put on, the gowns – open at the back, anti-embolism socks – for those pesky veins, robes – to hide the openings at the back, slippers – to complete the sock look, wrist band – to remind you of who you were meant to be playing in this scene. And just like that the hubbub abated, as the swirling orchestra of gowned and masked professionals went off to prepare for their own special scenes. Astounding.

And then the wait.

I took with me my textbooks for my child development course for my psychology degree. I figured if I had to wait for four hours (and I did), I might as well make the most of the time and the quiet. There was a little fear gliding around the room. But fear, for the most part, is silent, especially in a room full of dignified women holding desperately on to whatever dignity remained in an open-backed gown. I also took with me one of the best books I have ever owned, a Christmas present from one who loves me more than I will ever deserved to be loved. It is called ‘Philosophy For Life – and Other Dangerous Situations’ by Jules Evans. And it is an awesome book.

In it I was reading about the Stoics, about our overly optimistic expectations and the art of lowering it. About managing our anger and the flexibility of our will to know that we cannot control the other but we can control how we receive that with which we are presented in this world. That we can know ourselves, or at least come to know ourselves, and that we do not have to mindlessly be governed by emotion or irrational thought. This is not an argument for thinking over feeling, but for the existence of both without prejudice or control. I read about the modern Stoics’ constant efforts, and of each man’s journey to live well in the life that he was given and thought that there was hope for this world yet. And I wondered if I could ever truly understand how to live in the moment with peace, relinquishing control, or need, or pride and understanding that wherever I was, was where I was, and nothing more.

And then it was my turn to be wheeled in. And I chatted with my doctor and my anaesthetist about their children and the great hope I have for the young people of this world who will have to be more creative than we have ever had to be to make a life for themselves (that in another post). We talked about psychology and theatre, religion and wars. And then my doctor said, ‘But at least today, for this moment, in this room, there is no war. Here in this moment, there is only peace.’ My universe tilted ever so slightly and I could see exactly the meaning of it all; people coming together, in one place, with nothing in common but a common objective, for only a fleeting slice of life that was just a drop in the ocean of history that had already been made and was yet to be made. It meant everything and nothing all at the same time. And I didn’t have to control or understand any of it.

The first of my anaesthetic was injected then. And I said aloud, ‘Wow, I didn’t realise that it would work this quickly.’


Published in: on February 22, 2013 at 7:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On becoming body aware (The Recovery Series)

I’m lying in my bed. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember pain like this. Even the brilliant drugs that they give you in the hospital don’t work. So what best to do with pain but to write. This is my recovery series. It mightn’t make much sense. I blame the pain.

In the middle of last year, my breast started to bleed.

Just like that, no explanation, no trauma, no illness. It just started to bleed. I dutifully went to my GP, but as appointments are hard to come by, by the time I got into the doctor’s office, the bleeding had stopped. I was told to go away and to keep and eye on it. I trust doctors, so I went away and forgot all about it. At Christmas time, the bleeding returned. Back to the doctor. Quickly to the hospital. An examination, ultrasound and mammogram later and soon I was in surgery.

Abnormal cells.

Cells, so tiny, so significant. All merrily working away, specialising, doing their thing. All with their function, single-mindedly fulfilling their only known duty – to build, to grow, to survive. They have no meaning, no purpose, no malice. They are just cells, merrily living their cell-life, doing their cell-thing.

But their cell-thing could kill me.

You become so acutely aware of your ‘self’ when you are told that your ‘self’ is broken in one way or another. I became so aware of my skin, aware of sensations on and in my body. I became aware of my breasts, and this time not just to bemoan their size and the inadequacies of engineering that befell them regularly. My breasts – they were mine. And inside of them something was attacking me.

Except it wasn’t attacking me. It was just doing what it did. It didn’t have me in mind. It wasn’t holding a grudge against me. It wasn’t plotting or planning my demise. It wasn’t jealous, or fed up of me. It wasn’t trying to rise above me, or hold me back. It was just doing what it did, in its own way, with no knowledge of my existence. In fact, with no knowledge at all.

So I became body aware, not in the sense of finally understanding the frailty of it all, the underlying fragility of life. I knew that anyway, you merely had to turn the news on and watch tens of thousands die, or just the one, senselessly shot by one who loved her the most. I didn’t need reminding that ours was a feeble flame, shaking against a mighty wind, resilient but vulnerable. But I became aware of the meaningless-ness of things. Of the fact that things just are, that they happen and then other things happen and that this life is just a series of happenings one after the other, affected by or affecting other things. And that all we can do is get on with it

And hope, because we have knowing, that how we act will have meaning.

And know, because we have hope, the the actions of others might not mean what we think.

Published in: on February 21, 2013 at 8:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The promise

My humanity is a constant self-overcoming. – Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

I have been thinking a lot lately about what my purpose is in this life. What legacy do I want to leave? What mark do I want to make on this world?

I am not a mother, nor will I ever be. I doubt very much that I will invent something in this lifetime or that I will ever be a great leader. I do not even think that I will ascend the ranks of my chosen profession to esteemed heights and peer accolades.

I will be in the ranks of the ordinary, the ranks of the everyday people striving daily to earn a crust of bread and live well while doing it. This does not sadden me, in fact, it fills me with a freedom that is thrilling because I do not have the burden of greatness to attend to. But I have a desire, a burning desire to contribute to the lives of my fellow man.

It is a desire to be of service.

I pledge to you that I will always try to help. I will always try to spend the time to understand where you are, where you are coming from and where you are going. I will always try to give you the time and space you need to express yourself. I will always try to hold up the good things about you, to reflect your greatness and your goodness, to challenge your assumptions and your apathy and to stand with you in the uncomfortable times. I will always try to hear you and experience things as you experience them and let you know how I experience things and match those two up together and marvel at the similarities and differences. I will always try to confront the negative for you, to prop you up against adversity and to cheer you to your chosen finish lines. I will always try to be honest about my own hardship and the steps I take to overcome it. I will always try to be honest about the times when it it difficult to remain positive, I will give it my best shot and I will fail in front of you. I will always try to share my fear, so that you know that I do not stand above you, nor below you, but with you.

I hope that you will call me to account if you see that I am not living my best life, or being of service to you. I hope that I will be of some use.

What is your promise?

Published in: on September 26, 2012 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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Someone else’s story

The next time someone cuts in front of you in a queue, the next time someone bumps into you, takes the last of something off a shelf, joins in the group, drinks and leaves without paying, and you feel that rage bubbling up in you, feel that indignation rising, know this…

That person did not do anything to you.

Most times, unless a person has particularly malicious intent, people do not have you locked in their sights, hoping to do you harm. Even if the person has malicious intent, it is their own pain that is the source of their intention and you just become the unwitting recipient.

You are not the centre of other people’s stories.

The annoyance you suffer stems from the fact that you feel someone has broken some personal rule, some individual code of conduct. Someone has broken the rules. The difference is they are YOUR rules. You are failing to recognise that they have their own code by which they are living, and that they are the centre of their own story. You feel slighted because they are not the centre of yours.

The next time the quiet frustration and sense of injustice bubbles up, take a moment to breathe. Breath reconnects us to our centre, reconnects us to the very source. Follow your breath in and out. And as you exhale, let love carry on the breeze. Love yourself enough to not give yourself anxiety to hold over things you cannot control. Love the other person, because everybody needs a little bit more love coming their way, whether they know it or not. Love the situation, because it has brought you back to yourself and to the awareness that there are other people in the world who exist with you, each making their own stories, each adding to the colour and richness of daily experience.

Take responsibility for your authorship. What will be the quality of the lines that you are adding to your and someone else’s story

Published in: on September 26, 2012 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Do you hear the people sing?

What do people hear when you speak? As a matter of fact, what do people hear when they see you coming?

It is a well known fact that, based on your past behaviour, people will already start to hear what will come out of your mouth, the tone, the content, the language, long before you utter a word. You know this by the attitude that they take on when you approach. Observe the next time you go up to someone to ask for something. What’s their body language saying? Are they happy to talk to you? Do they take on that professional glaze, a pinned on smile and glassy eyes, because they know it is their duty to listen but they would rather be elsewhere? Do they become impatient and closed down when you call their name?

And if they do any of these things, why do you think that is?

If all you ever do is go to a person to complain, if all you do is pour your heart and soul out to one person, listing your litany of woes and trials without engaging the other, if all you ever do is boast about your accomplishments because you know that the person will listen, because they always do, then what do you think the physical, emotional and psychological response of the other person will be when they see you approaching?

What is the noise you make when you go through this world? Is it a joyous one, that helps to lighten the mood and bring a smile to the other person’s day? Is it one full of sexual energy, that makes one half the population sit up and swoon and makes the other half regard you with scant courtesy or at least regard you as trite? Is it a weary noise, a constant dull hum of woe and worries, that sucks the energy of the listener, deflating them at the mere sight of your lips poised in preparation for speech? Is it an angry blare, that causes the other to tighten up and ready themselves for the onslaught of war?

You are responsible for the song that you bring into this world. And, of course, we cannot sing the same song at every moment of our lives. But we can have a predominant sound. And it is that predominant sound that people respond to, it is that aural aura that surrounds you that reverberates with the other souls whom you encounter.

What is your song going to be?

Published in: on June 15, 2012 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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