After eight weeks in the hospital recovering from a liver transplant, I’ve finally been discharged and have begun to take stock of who I am and what my life is about. Being in the hospital long term and and going through transplant surgery are surreal experiences. The hospital, filled with diversity of very sick, sometimes demented people, is a place to be both coddled as well as traumatized. A transplant surgery challenges the entire physicality of the body and toys endlessly with the mind. Nearly all on my senses have changed, with smell, taste and touch being hypersensitive. My sense of sight has become worse and my equilibrium is slightly off kilter. It’s almost as if I woke up for the first time in a body, a new body, that doesn’t belong to me. I don’t know how this body might react to the outside world.
When I left hospital, I got into a full elevator from the 10th floor. I had to get out on the fourth floor and walk the rest of the way down because I was so anxious and short of breath. There were too many people, too many germs, not enough air. I’m cautious not to do too much or push myself, feeling my heart and lungs being tasked on a simple walk in the park. When my son coughs, I tell him to cover his mouth and I turn away, and the whole family washes hands far more than before. This behavior, as much as I hate to admit it, is based on fear.
The thing is, every day I was in the hospital (56, to be exact), I was told to avoid crowds, not to use public transport, wash hands often, and to avoid contact with sick people. As my operation and post transplant situation were complicated and risky, this message was reinforced at every opportunity by doctors, nurses and loved ones. Obviously, something sunk in. This, coupled with my body feeling as if it were in the twilight zone and my mind trying to gage the nerve synapses and new sensations, has forced me to take reintegration to daily life slowly. One step at a time.
Since I have experienced a lifetime of hospital visits, most of which were concluded by me bouncing back miraculously and resuming life as normal in no time, I presumed it would be like that this time around as well. Setting expectations, however, is the work of the ego, and even when done subconsciously it can be detrimental- it leads us to automatically judging ourselves and others based on whether or not we meet the expectations. This potentially leads us into a spiral of negativity which impacts everyone around us as well as ourselves. It can be a vicious circle as the more negative we are, the more we dig ourselves into a narrow hole; we can’t see or hear anything except our internal, preconceived messages from a narrow viewpoint. In other words, we are ignorant because we are unable to see the whole picture; we judge based on limited information and fear of the unknown. We label it, and then further label it with our reaction–like, dislike, good or bad. The fear of death never looms far away in a mind full of negativity, and voila! We are in the cycle of suffering. Life doesn’t have to be like that, of course.
The fact is that we are all going to die. Most of us know it from an early age. Why are we so scared, then? It’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of a loss of control, of power. Pre- transplant I thrived on this fear. Bungee jumping, anyone? My arm would be the first one up at the chance. Swimming with sharks? On my ‘to do’ list. Eating strange, exotic foods? Sign me up (but no animals, please). Now days I would be reticent to try any of those things. Ok, a transplant surgery is like trying all three of those things at once, so I can imagine I’ve had enough surprise for a few years. Perhaps the fear I’ve been feeling in the past few days is normal, like the doctors say, since I came so close to death and contemplated so realistically what it would mean to my son and loved ones. The goal most people I know have, however, is to live life happily for however long we have with as little suffering as possible. Ironically, this is exactly why we put blinders on in the first place and live in a kind of ‘ignorant’ state, pointing the finger everywhere but at ourselves, labeling things (a form of taking control), judging and familiarizing ourselves which feels safer than being in the dark. But truthfully, we are all in the dark. It is only when we come to realize this and drop the need for control and power, that we start to let light in. When we leave all our masks on the floor and strip down to the bare essentials of who we are, there is nothing left but light. Some amazing super power (we might call God) leaves us without suffering, without death. All the trying, the struggle to figure things out, the naming and deciding how we feel about it? Well, that’s the human condition called suffering.
PS II.3 Avidya asmita raga dvesha abinivesha pancha klesha
Ignorance (mis-knowing), egoism, preferences (likes), aversions; these are the five hindrances to being happy (in a state of yoga; enlightened)
So how can I get rid of these obstacles, how can I stop feeling fearful and get on with life? Well, what seems to work for me is to returning to the present moment. Come back to the breath. Let go, and let God. Ishvara pranidhanad va.