Note: BWIWD stands for Back When I was Dying. See yesterday’s post.
THE SET-UP, Scene 2
The nurse led me through the labyrinthine hallways of the hospital’s “Emergency Room,” its closed doors left and right. Aside from hospital personnel, I couldn’t see or hear any other patients, but she said they were extremely busy that night.
She placed me in an examining room on a gurney and pulled a warmed blanket over me, telling me to make myself comfortable. I asked her to please turn off the light and close the door.
I had to rest, was determined to rest, sensing that I would need it, and not just to get through the next day. Something greater seemed to be at work. Even then, I seemed to be at least subconsciously aware of a subtle shift in my being and was unconsciously gathering the energy that was to hurtle me like a slow motion cannonball into the vast unknown. This early morning drama in my unconventional, peripatetic life was about to shock me into an altered state so pure, so powerful, and so utterly foreign that, looking back on it now, I’m having trouble remembering. It’s as if, in embarking on that strange journey I was given first a truth serum, then an amnesiac.
But I want to remember it. I must remember it. I want to be able to record the mundane details of that three-day ordeal? epiphany? of presumably impending death (and rebirth) and I want to invoke the surreal atmosphere that surrounded it, for this experience both changed me and connected my life to others as never before.
Toasty under the warmed blanket and embraced by darkness, the pleasant oblivion of the examining room imperceptibly morphed into an awareness strangely serene and relaxed and yet highly alert to opportunity. Contrast this to earlier in my life, when I would have spent my time waiting for the doctor spaced out, feeling sorry for myself, and, groggy with missed sleep, both listening intently for the doctor’s footfall and longing for the ordeal to be over.
Instead, I lay there on that gurney under the warmed blanket in the welcoming dark consciously recognizing the unusual circumstances as a valuable opportunity to practice awareness in the present moment.
At around 5:00 AM, the doctor entered. Probably somewhere in his 50s, though he seemed older, and exhausted; had a paunch and moved slowly, hair and clothes in disarray. (Later, he told me he had already stayed three hours past the end of his shift, due to the unusually busy night and short-handed staff.)
He palpated my belly, especially the lower right quadrant area. Nothing. No pain. In fact, now that his presence prompted me to once again focus on the pain, it hid. He asked about the pain’s severity on a scale of one to ten. I felt embarrassed to tell him that it was so mild that I would not have considered coming in except for its location, the fact that it had lasted maybe 24 hours, and seemed (until I got to the hospital) to have moved on that scale from a two to a three.
The doctor said he wanted to order a CT-scan, to rule out appendicitis.
More waiting in the dark. Again, I concentrated on awareness, on being at one with the muffled sounds from the hallway, the rise and fall of my own breath, the cascade of feelings and images and memories — all while catching glimpses of that larger mysterious space that holds them in suspension and stills the mind. At least another hour went by.
An aide entered, walked around to my head, and started to wheel me out of the room. We’re going down the hall for the CT scan, he said. I was feeling more and more foolish, having not felt the pain since before the doctor came in, and — I could certainly walk on my own! The gurney slid into a big round tube. A machine quietly whirred while moving back and forth over my abdomen.
Back in the darkened room, once again I settled into the practice. By now I was almost relishing this extended opportunity to practice moving into and holding awareness of the present moment in such an unfamiliar, uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing situation. Another thirty minutes went by. Or was it an hour? I was getting good at this — this lulling myself into a hushed, nearly restful awareness with hardly a twinge of the old impatience.
The tired old doc came in again. Turned on the light and stood close to my left leg. I have made sure to document what he said as precisely as I can because his words proved remarkably disjunctive with what happened later.
He glanced at the notes in his left hand, then looked at me and said, “There is no problem with the appendix. It’s not appendicitis.
Good, I thought. I can go home.
“But,” he continued, “ you have cysts on both ovaries and . . .” he paused, “a large mass in your uterus. Usually these are fibroids, very common, but this mass is very large and has a larger blood supply than we’d like to see.”
What? This surprised me, since prior to menopause I had never experienced any symptom of this condition. And what condition? What did he mean, “a larger blood supply than we’d like to see”?? Too startled by the unexpected information to think straight, I didn’t voice that question out loud.
He finished by saying that I needed to see my gynecologist within one to three days. I didn’t have a gynecologist; indeed, except for regular appointments with a dermatologist to check for skin cancer, I hadn’t subjected myself to allopathic medicine of any kind for over forty years. I’m not sure what his response to this was. Incredulity? Disgust? Whatever it was, he disguised it well, jotted down a referral and left the room.
As he closed the door, I noticed myself feeling stunned and overwhelmed. Desolate. My eyes winced under the overhead fluorescence as I wearily pulled on my sweatshirt and pants. Now that the drama/trauma had apparently climaxed, I seemed to have gone into shock. And with shock, came the dawning realization that I longed for the comfort of another human being, someone to gently curve his or her arm around me as we walked slowly out of the hospital after an ordeal that had dragged on for five full hours and resulted in a pronouncement that I was having a great deal of trouble taking in.
During the fifteen-minute drive home I kept checking my belly and finally had to conclude that the pain was indeed gone. Vanished! Hardly even a twinge since the doctor first entered the room. My focus on the seemingly uncanny timing suddenly yanked open my perspective, to include the pain as a knock on the door from my higher self: I concluded that it had needed to gain my conscious attention and did so by creating a bodily symptom possibly serious enough to drive me into the E.R. For though the diagnosis turned out to be other than expected, what a subtle, elegant way call my attention to a large uterine tumor!
One minute earlier, I had been wallowing in the desolation of existential aloneness. Now, voila! The sudden widening of perspective to include the higher self and its apparent purpose instantly settled and grounded me securely in the arms of the universe.
This feeling of ultimate safety and security remained, provided a rock-solid foundation during the days that followed. Good thing, too, because within minutes, this foundation was rocked by an earthquake. Were this a fictional tale, I might point to the earthquake as the final obstacle that the hero must face, the ultimate turn of the screw that forced yet another shift in consciousness, only this one much, much more profound.