Friday, November 30, 2012
It's been almost three weeks. A short lifetime of culture shock and new experiences I never expected to have. Not one bit of this time has been horrible, and most of it has held gifts that break my heart open wide at every turn.
Everything about the morning of November 12 was calm. I gave information and followed directions. I said "right hip" repeatedly. I laughed at silly comments meant to ease stress. I didn't smack the overweight, overtired, over-it nurse who couldn't get my IV port in, although Walt looked like he was considering it. I marveled at how many different people I was handed off to in such a short amount of time.
I remember thinking how huge the operating room looked and how medieval some of the tools seemed. There were masked people moving around quietly with clear purpose. I scooted onto a narrow table, swung my legs around to sit as the nurse directed, and saw the anesthesiologist out of the corner of my eye shoot something into the IV port.
The next thing I remember was being asked if I wanted water, if I'd like to get a clean gown, if I could move my feet. It wasn't noon yet. I was snaky with tubes and sticky with I-didn't-know-what and the space between my hip and knee felt like someone had implanted a two-by-four.
For the next two and a half days I lived in a world of diminishment. Diminished freedom. Diminished abilities. Diminished mental capacity. For a while it was also a world of no pain. And when the pain made itself known, the thing I'd worried about most, it was not the devouring monster I'd feared. It certainly was no worse than what I'd been living with. Narcotics helped - given freely and often.
From the beginning I knew that all of it was temporary. Which made the catheter easier to tolerate, and the moaning patient in the room next door, and the absolute weirdness of the whole situation. I'd been telling myself for weeks that every part of the surgical process and all of the accommodations would only be with me for a short time. And in that I decided I could bear anything.
I was right about the temporary part. And very wrong about my decision to bear the experience. There has been nothing to bear. It's all been interesting and freeing. Every minute of every day brings new movement, new healing, new awareness that more has changed for me than a new hip.
Not all has been perfect for sure. There was the night, as I tried unsuccessfully to swing my legs into bed, I fell over nearly in tears with the frustration of not being able to make my body move. There were a couple of days when I overdid (taking my walker for longer walks than I was ready for) and worried that I'd set myself back. And there was the whole detox experience after quitting the oxycodone which caught me by surprise.
But, in what seems to be a new normal for me, the good has far outweighed the not-so-good.
I have traveled these weeks in the most amazing company imaginable. Friends visiting me in the hospital - who knew that would be so fun, so delightful? Flowers. Text messages. Cards. Phone calls. Meals dropped off. Lovely and loving women sitting on my couch visiting, or bringing me a hamburger in the hospital, or baking bread in my kitchen. Brothers reaching out, each in their own way, taking my breath away with their generosity and prayers and attention. Walt doing laundry, cleaning the litter box, cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Walt bringing me little gifts that made me smile and reminded me how lucky I am that he's in my life.
Acts of kindness and thoughtfulness given in grace and without expectation for anything in return. I'm humbled, and so happy to know that this is the life I've earned.
Emma and Toby are my constant companions. Toby is tickled to have me home, but doesn't understand how it's possible that I'm going walking without him. Emma has taken full advantage of the new lap opportunities. I study them, and marvel at the miracle of their presence in my life.
Toby at five is mellow and sweet and affectionate. I look at him and know we're probably halfway through his life, and always feel the smallest pinch of sadness, but even more feel so grateful for his grand company.
Emma at twenty and some months is my North Star through this time. I know for certain that her days are numbered. She's mostly deaf, having a hard time jumping, her coat is lumpy and stringy, and she wobbles when she walks after sleeping for a while. Her beautiful tabby face often has the pinched look of an old cat, something I haven't seen until recently. She still demands attention, food, a faucet turned on. She still purrs. She sits on my chest as I do my physical therapy.
These days at home allowing my body to heal and my self to return contain the surprise gift of extra time with Emma. And in that I've gained this most amazing insight that there is nothing beyond love that is not temporary. I stroke her fur, rub noses, take in her yeasty breath, knowing that soon all I'll have left of her is memories and the love I've learned with her in our time together. So everything can be lived with, and every minute should be treasured, even the hard ones, because nothing lasts.
Nothing lasts. Not pain. Not constraints. Not even grief. It all changes, expands, diffuses with each passing moment.
Only love. And that clearly has the power to make everything else shrink into the shadows with the brilliance of its confident and perfect light.
I'm headed out into the cold gray of this first day of December. I'll walk until my leg says no, enjoying each smooth and rolling step, not limping, and knowing tomorrow I will probably walk a little farther, a little easier - knowing soon my walking companion will be Toby again, and not my walker. I claim all that this day offers with gratitude, knowing tomorrow will be a whole new adventure in itself.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
It's been less than a month since I first saw the surgeon who will give me a new hip in the morning. From the moment I limped out of his office into a beautiful fall afternoon I felt changed. It took some time for me to identify what the change was.
At first I felt shocky. I had just willingly decided to have a part of my body removed and replaced with metal and ceramic. After a lifetime characterized by an avoidance of all things medical, my world was suddenly about to be full of doctors and procedures and endless questions about every nook and cranny of my body.
By the next day as I talked to the scheduling nurse to set up the four appointments necessary before the surgery, I found myself more curious than anything. This was a whole new world for me with new people to meet, a new language to learn, new stuff to experience. And it had started to sink in that on the other side of the surgery I would walk fluidly on both legs again with no joint pain.
As I talked to the people who line my life with their soft and grace-filled care and love, I heard gratitude and wonder in my explanations of what was coming for me. "I'm getting a new hip!" "Isn't it amazing to live in a time where joint replacements are so common?" "I feel so blessed to have the resources to be able to do this."
Overwhelmed at times by the long list of school and life chores I felt I needed to get done before surgery, I managed most of the time to stay present and to do calmly what was in front of me to do. As the time grew shorter, however, I found myself doing odd things like writing and rewriting lists, organizing drawers and cleaning out my email address book. Finally on Wednesday last week, although I'd heard her say it many times before, when my best school friend Kelly said, "Let it go," I was finally able to.
Last weekend I was in the kitchen fixing dinner when I heard a thump. The unique thump that told me another bird had flown into the bay window of our dining area. When I went to investigate, there was a round spot of dust and feathers in the middle of the window. I moved closer, scanning the ground, not sure I wanted to see what might be there, hoping against hope I would see nothing.
I saw a fairly large bird, big-sparrow-sized, not the junco I expected. It sat with its back to the window, clearly stunned, but also clearly alive. Something was off though. The head didn't look right and for a minute I thought maybe it had been smashed in the collision. But then it started to rotate — slowly, slowly, slowly in my direction. Owl!
A Northern Pygmy Owl to be precise. Only the second I've ever seen. Certainly not a regular visitor to our feeders. I stood and watched it for the longest time. Walt ended up finishing dinner. While I studied that amazing little bird and watched it slowly regain its equilibrium, I was filled with a sense of joy and well-being. Not a new feeling exactly, but one brightened and enhanced in some way. After a bit, it was clear the owl was going to be okay—his head rotations increased both in number and speed—so I wasn't at all surprised when he flew to the fir tree at the side of our yard.
For the rest of that evening I returned again and again to both the owl and the feeling. Wondering why I was moved far beyond my normal reaction. And I realized somewhere in those meandering thoughts that I had been feeling that joy and sense of well-being, a feeling of everything being exactly right, since the day I walked out of the surgeon's office.
And more, I had been feeling— I still do—like I'd been opened. By making myself vulnerable to this great medical adventure, somehow I let go of defenses I wasn't aware I still held. And in that openness, underneath the skin of protection, I found a tenderness that exceeds anything I've ever known. The tenderness makes everything so much more - like new skin, or sunlight after months of gray skies, or falling in love.
I'm as prepared as I can be for tomorrow. I believe them when they say the first ten days are hard. I know it's going to hurt. But I've done hard before, and well. And this pain will diminish a bit each day, unlike the pain I've been living with for years now. But more than anything I'll travel into tomorrow, wide open and as tender as innocence, held in love and prayers and support that humble me and make me sing with gratitude.