Something I’m not putting a provocative title on, though I easily could have

My first thought after waking from this nightmare was that I would never tell anyone about it. I chose two people to use to unburden myself with the memory of that dream and then a bit later in the day I decided I would blog about it. There, we should be past the part that shows on facebook, so it’s just us. Seriously, I don’t want to tell the whole world. So I was in for surgery, laid out on the table with doctors working around me, and they injected me with something to make me high, which was the only good part of this dream. Then I realized they were about to start. “Wait! I’m going to be awake for this?” A doctor sort of stepped away, looked calmly at me, and said, “That’s how it has to be done.”

I should just say, rather than save it for a surprise, that I was having a testicle removed because of cancer (the left one). So in the dream I felt faced with two options, go ahead with the procedure and live or get up off the table and walk away, and this, in the dream, felt like a difficult decision, like about 50/50. But I told them to go ahead. Then I felt no pain, because of the drugs, but I felt this distinct sawing of my ball off that is a feeling I’ll never forget.

So why am I divulging this personal, graphic dream with all the world that stumbles onto my blog page? Because narcissism is progressive and anyone who’s been writing for fifteen years has a clear case of it? No, not true. Maybe true, not the reason. I realized the dream was about my mother’s courage. My mom has had cancerous portions of three organs removed over the last fifteen years. All of them, thankfully, after early detections, but that posed unique challenges, because she was virtually symptom free. She had to be brought in to have a lobe of her lung, a portion of her pancreas, and an eyeball surgically excised from her body. The last was probably the least invasive or risky procedure but the one most difficult emotionally, both for her and those of us who love her.

I’ve gone through several surgeries in the last few years. For some of them, I was too incoherent to recall my thinking beforehand, but for the others I was terrified. For my surgeries that fear was probably barely more rational than a fear of flying, but that doesn’t diminish the intensity because it’s emotional thinking and there’s no outthinking emotional thinking. When you’re scheduled for surgery, they tell you to show up at the hospital two hours early and to not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before. You think, F that. I’m going to sleep in, eat a four-egg and cheese omelet and a pound of bacon, get in my car and drive until I reach a beach, and spend all day watching water get moved by the moon. Then you do exactly what you’re told. At the Cleveland Clinic, they roll you down a hall and stow you out of the way under a shelf outside the surgical room until they’re ready for you. You’re alone on a bed and you’re not tied down and you’re staring up at a ceiling a foot above you. Yes, it feels a little like what I imagine it would be like in a coffin. And you can still flee! This is where we realize we are simply animals. Name me an animal, not human, that would submit to this willingly.

What I’ve learned is that I manage it by going into this Zen state of acceptance where I let go of that fear because I have to, which is really quite incredible, but what’s really going on is even more fascinating. I’m entrusting my life to human skill and knowledge woven into the fabric of our society, I’m trading temporary pain and discomfort and even risk of end of life for an imagined future. I’m managing to fall asleep at night in my own bed knowing I’m going to wake up in the morning and not just allow but participate in all this happening to me. In my cases, my surgeries were all immediately necessary, which facilitated my participation. In the cases for my mom, something just showed up on a scan, a doctor told her surgery would give her the best prognosis, and she went in and had it done. That sounds easy, or it maybe doesn’t sound easy but it sounds less hard than it is, because we’re used to trusting doctors, we maybe follow doctors’ orders with little reflection, but that stronger emotional attachment to a body part like an eyeball illustrates the courage that act requires. My dream seemed to be showing me my mom’s courage.

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