By KM Huber
For the last two-and-a-half months, I have been on a healthcare expedition, an exploration of the continent that is my mind-body. There is no map for this type of expedition, not that I am one for maps. They are so…directional.
A healthcare expedition is one of detours and unknown routes. Direction changes constantly, old routes abandoned in favor of the new—always, there are detours. In the land of the mind-body, re-routing is a requirement for living.
In a single expedition, it is possible to be told, “You are one injury away from becoming a quadriplegic.” This is not a detour but an entirely new route, and a life-changing one at that.
There are no maps for life-changing events for the route chosen is, ultimately, the new life to be lived.
But before the new route is even possible, there is a detour. Detours are often questions such as, “Now, you are not pregnant, right?” I am 62 years old.
I am told as part of my pre-op procedure for spinal cord surgery, I must have a pregnancy test. The test is required for all women between the ages of 18 and 62 who have a uterus and who have not had a tubal ligation. I will be 63 in less than a month.
I had to take the detour. I could not wait any longer for the surgery. My spinal cord was pinched at the C3-4, C4-5 vertebrae in my neck. Each day, the sensation in all of my limbs decreased as my chances of quadriplegia increased.
The morning of my spinal cord surgery I was informed that the pregnancy test showed lightly positive, whatever that may mean. Another detour, another delay. The second pregnancy test was negative. The new route was now possible.
Yet, there is order in chaos– always has been—I call it Buddha nature, the permanence of impermanence. The chaos of life plays out against a backdrop of constancy where all is ever in balance. The balance allows us to meet the chaos of our experiences and then, let them go.
It allows us to meet life anew, taking detour after detour to create the new route for our mind-body. It takes strength to meet the chaos; it requires endurance to face the unknown.
Strength, as Brenda Shaughnessy writes, is to “acknowledge each…feeling, question, and idea in faith and terror, a meeting that comes with the full force of your heart.”
I do my best to keep my heart over my head as I make decisions. I suspect that may be why I woke up from my surgery “happy.” Truly. A friend said I was beaming. It felt then and now like new life.
The cervical myelopathy surgery was to decompress my spinal cord. It involved removing two discs, replacing the discs with bone and then fusing the two with a plate and screws.
The surgery is to keep more damage from happening. It is not a surgery to recover sensation. That said, 70% report some improvement. I am glad to be among those who see consistent improvement.
Before the surgery, my gait was a Frankenstein, drunken stagger. I had to have a surface to touch to be able to walk at all. Now, my gait is closer to normal, if I use a walker.
A cane will steady me, and in my apartment, I practice putting one foot in front of the other, literally. There is progress every day. My gait is the best it has been in months.
I use voice recognition software for typing is still too frustrating. The numbness/tingling/grittiness in my hands and thumbs remains but is decreasing. I am able to grasp and hold onto objects with more than reasonable assurance.
The cause was degenerative disc disease, first diagnosed in a 2000 healthcare expedition, a route that is now abandoned.
This is a new life, an unknown, part of the chaos of being alive. And in the background is the permanence of impermanence, routes old and new.
Early on in the expedition, I was given these words for my journey. I have kept them with me in all moments, and before every morning’s meditation, I look at the Chinese characters:
“Be patient and endure while
The wind will calm, the waves subside
Draw back a step and realize
The boundless ocean, the vastness of heaven”
And so I do.
KM Huber is a writer who learned Zen from a beagle. She believes the moment is all we ever have, and it is enough. In her early life as a hippie, she practiced poetry, and although her middle years were a bit of a muddle, she remains an overtly optimistic sexagenerian, writing prose. She blogs at kmhubersblog.com, may be followed on Twitter @KM_Huber or contacted by email at writetotheranch[at]gmail[dot]com.
© 2015 KM Huber. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact me at the above links to request permission.