i’m sitting in my hospital bed waiting to be discharged after a week’s stay. when i practice the meditation exercise of being present in the body, i ache all over, especially in the muscles and organs that were cut, severed, and dissected during monday’s surgery. when i practice the meditation exercise of gratitude, i surrender to being alive, to the pain and joy of being alive. when i practice the meditation exercise of loving what is, i relax my jaw that tightens against pain, i drop my shoulders that tense in response to pain, i open my heart that closes to pain, and i breathe slowly.
on monday morning before surgery i remembered too late to inform the anesthesiologist (who figured it out after a frustrating hour) that even though i don’t weigh much, i require five times the amount of anesthesia normally required to put a patient under. my brain is hard-wired to be hyper-vigilant, an adaptation to survive a violent childhood, with the result of a brain and body that resist anesthesia. there are extra risks in the copious amount of anesthesia required to put me under for surgery. there were complications during my surgery that prolonged the procedure for hours longer than anticipated. when i awoke in the post-op recovery area, there were four worried doctors and nurses standing around my bed, shouting for me to “WAKE UP!” i awoke with complaints of an aching shoulder. the surgeon removed my sick kidney plus half of my diaphragm which the kidney had welded itself to plus portions of my intestines the kidney had wrapped itself around. but during the first half-hour after waking from surgery, only my shoulder ached, which i quickly learned is called “referred pain.” referred pain occurs when the body is overloaded with such intense pain at the affected site that nerves send signals of pain elsewhere to diffuse the pain. as i type, my shoulder aches. as i type, my incisions burn. as i type, my intestines cramp. as i type, every breath stretches the remaining diaphragm and i feel pain. this pain means that i’m alive. this pain means that i wake up. this pain means that i survived.
out of immediate necessity, i modify my experience of pain. i create mental and emotional space to contain the pain, big enough for pain to float freely without restriction, constriction, or judgment. without judgment, the pain feels like gripping, burning, stabbing, grabbing, wrestling. after a few moments of observing these sensations, pain transforms into a water snake fighting with a feisty fish intended as prey in a gray river at sunset. i watch the snake. i don’t judge the snake. the snake does what is natural and healthy for the snake to survive. then i return to the sensations in my own body. the snake disappears. my body is doing what is natural and healthy for the body healing from being cut, dissected, and severed.
i go home today with this pain. i go home today without a kidney that had been making me chronically ill for two decades. i go home today with less diaphragm and shorter intestines because the sick kidney tried to use those to support itself as it died. i go home today with more gratitude for aliveness. i go home today with hope that i will feel better, stronger, and healthier each day.