Abide with the Uneasy: Carpal Tunnel Bliss

Caught in the Bliss (My title for this Chilyapa Lwando painting)

Pema Chodron extols the uneasy, the queasy — the in-between places we fall into countless times each day — as the closest thing to heavenly bliss we will ever experience. These are the points when you are free — and motivated — to change what you’ve been doing all your life, to change who you are. Cherish the queasy, stay with it, let it inform you. Go to the place where your round little “o” mouth begins to square.

Carpal tunnel release. Physical therapy and stretching exercises had worked for two and a half years, but now my hand was spasming. My thumb muscle was atrophying. It was time for surgery, before nerve constriction turned into permanent nerve damage. In carpal tunnel release, the surgeon cuts through the ligament running across the bottom of your hand so all the nerves running beneath it are freed to breathe again. It takes three to five minutes. No big deal, right? Right?

No! For some reason, I’d been acting like I was having open heart surgery and yes — for sure! — I was going to die on the operating table. No, I’m not a complete jerk. I was feeding an old storyline that was making me miserable, frightened, scared. In 2001, I almost died not once but twice on the operating table, so every encounter with the medical profession seems like it’s going to be my last. If you ignore a burst appendix and peritonitis, they WILL kill you, for sure. They almost did me. My storyline around medical intervention and hospitals is rightfully fraught. Justified, right? No! It was preventing me from getting a quick and easy treatment that would prevent long-term damage. Time to take three deep Pema-breaths, drop the old storyline, and get back in the present where miracles can happen, where I’d like to be.

I call this Danny Luando picture “Please Don’t Hurt Me”

Not so easy. Waiting in the surgical center holding pen, I was tempted to feel as lightning-struck as the villagers in Chilyapa Lwando’s 2010 paintings*, that kind of please-don’t-hurt-me-I-promise-to-be-good, caught-in-the-headlights look surgical centers can produce in the least faint of heart.

But when I dropped the old storyline and opened my heart, I learned that my welcoming nurse was the new mother of twins (I’m one – a twin, that is), and the nurse in the recovery room volunteers at the same little theater company as I do. The anesthesiologist drives a bad-ass sports car (Really?). The surgeon has to initial my right hand to remember where to cut. I’m a tiny “small” in the sea of other “smalls” and we’re all doing the best we can.

The moral to this story? I might look like a jerk and feel like one in my hospital johnny, but I don’t have to act like one! As Shirley MacLaine would say: “Ultreya!!! Forward with courage! Fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.”

*For more about Chilyapa’s work, see my next post

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