Being Human Is So Vulnerable: Reflections On a Colonoscopy
Sitting in meditation this morning in a post-anesthesia haze I was awash in gratitude for my health after having just undergone my first preventative colonoscopy. I am utterly aware of the tenuousness of this human existence and how fragile these bodies are.
Lying in bed at the crack of dawn this morning prior to the procedure I felt the fear of possibly not coming out of the anesthesia. What if something went wrong? My thoughts harkened back to my dear friend Shira who passed away two years ago from rectal cancer leaving a wonderful husband and two young children who are close in age to my own daughter Meera. This could’ve been me or you or any one of us. There is no rhyme or reason as to why one person gets an illness while others drink a bottle of scotch, smoke two packs of Camel straights a day and live into their nineties.
Every moment we have here is beyond precious.
Each day that we are healthy and can walk, run, dance, sing, work and play is a miracle— truly a miracle. It’s easy to take life for granted and on this beautiful California day I sensed the grace in being alive and well.
This was a watershed moment for me— I was aware of the lack of control I had over my life the moment I walked into the clinic accompanied by my sweetheart— his steady presence gently reassuring me that I would be fine as I walked into the unknown. There was something pretty wonderful about his tending to me with such kindness especially since I felt shaky from fasting which combined with the rather gruesome preparation which involved ingesting a solution that is close cousins with Draino and made me feel nauseous for 7 hours was a pretty harrowing first step on this initiatory process.
As we left the house the morning sky was lit with rich subtle oranges and yellows that only the sunrise brings and both of us sat quietly as we drove along. I noticed the beauty around me and that spring had mysteriously sprung. The trees hung heavy with large blossoms of pink and white while others draped with currents of yellow umbels gently danced in the wind.
I thought, “wow, what a stunning day this is,” meanwhile realizing that there was a remote possibility (I know that colonoscopies are fairly routine and therefore not terribly risky) that this day could be my last. My heart was tender and I felt a pang of fear ripple through my body. I inhaled deeply to calm myself and to stop my mind from going into a terrifying sinkhole. I marvel at how breathing has saved me from the perils of the mind’s tendency to wander so many times and how the breath grounds us in presence so immediately.
And in that moment I knew I was committed to living and willing to die.
When we arrived at the Endoscopy Center of Marin I was struck by the genuine kindness of the staff and by the bright-eyes and warm smile of my doctor, a young East Indian woman who held my hand as they inserted the IV into my arm. All of this was new to me since so far in my 51 years I’ve been blessed with very good health (knocking on wood for good measure here). I felt so vulnerable and my eyes brimmed with tears.
The reality that I was a patient dawned heavily on me and I felt humbled that one day I could feel strong and full of energy and the next I could be weak and tired. It is remarkable how quickly the body can change. We as human beings are subject to these physical fluctuations— there is no way around it.
I was attended to by several nurses and a very kind, clear blue-eyed anesthesiologist called Jeremy who spoke to me in a reassuring tone saying, “I do 3,000 of these every year and I will be with you the whole time taking care of you and watching your vital signs." His manner touched me and my breath softened.
I was thankful for his gracious bedside manner as I lay there with an oxygen tube in my nose, heart monitoring patches on my chest and tubes protruding from my right arm which had been fitted with the IV.
Small human kindnesses make all the difference in moments like these.
Ten seconds later the anesthesia took hold. I awoke feeling groggy though mostly fine as I looked up to see the smiling face of my partner walking toward me and that of the nurse who said, “it all went well and you are healthy.” I got dressed slowly on my wobbly feet and said goodbye.
We walked out into the warm spring day. It was done. I’d made it through and felt a tremendous sense of relief. The initiation was over. Sitting on the soft blue sofa in my living room as the sun poured through the windows I felt a welling up of gratitude for my life— for this life that is fleeting, for this heart that is tender, for the sound of my beloved’s breath as he paints on his pen tablet creating beauty for all to see, for the intimate connections I have with the many people I love, for the chirping of the birds and even for the loud buzzing of the chain saw next door.
Why not? This is life in the world and I am thankful to be a part of it; for it is in breathing into the trials of life that we become ever more present to the beauty and grace that are essential to being human.
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