The Expedition of No Return

“You are one injury away from becoming a quadriplegic.”

“Now, you are not pregnant, right?”

Both of these sentences are great openers for blog posts. Certainly, each could be its own blog post. Yet, these two statements reveal the range of emotion as well as the kinds of obstacles that marked my recent health expedition.

In my last post, I referred to my mind-body expedition as the exploration of the two as one, a single continent. I knew I did not have a map, not that I am one for maps. They are so…directional.

This was not that kind of expedition. That, I also knew. And it turned out I was correct. The number of detours/new routes still stun me. I am not returned from the expedition–not really–for I am no longer the person who left.

Peeking 0215

With detours, direction constantly changes. Consider the issue of my being pregnant, at the age of almost 63. “Almost” is the operative word. Neither the fact that I have a uterus and have not had a tubal ligation would have been questioned if I had been 63, as I will be a month from today.

The pregnancy test was a pre-op procedure requirement. The morning of my spinal cord surgery I was informed the test showed lightly pregnant, whatever that may mean. Another test was required, which showed negative.

I could not have waited any longer for the surgery. The statement regarding quadriplegia was no exaggeration. My spinal cord was pinched at the C3-4, C4-5 vertebrae in my neck. Each day, the deterioration in all of my limbs increased.

This was no detour but an entirely new route, and a life-changing one at that. There are no maps for life-changing events for the route chosen is, ultimately, the new life to be lived.

Yet, there is order in chaos, always has been. I think it is Buddha nature, the permanence in impermanence. Life plays out against this backdrop of constancy where all is ever in balance. It allows us to meet the chaos of our present and then, to let it go.

Closer Reflection 0215

Returning to the land of traditional medicine was full of detours/potholes/obstacles too numerous to mention but too many ever to forget. But this is not a post about traditional medicine. That is for another day.

This is a post about meeting life anew. I am not what I was, which was its own kind of strength. Now, I am the mind-body I create. That is the test of strength I face.

Strength, as Brenda Shaughnessy writes, is to “acknowledge each…feeling, question, and idea in faith and terror, a meeting that comes with the full force of your heart.”

I do my best to keep my heart over my head as I make decisions. I suspect that may be why I woke up from my surgery “happy.” Truly. A friend said I was beaming. It felt then and now like new life.

It is early days yet as the cervical myelopathy surgery was July 6. Essentially, I had surgery to decompress my spinal cord. The surgery involved removing two discs, replacing the discs with bone and then fusing the two with a plate and screws. The cause was not lupus but degenerative disc disease, first diagnosed in 2000.

The surgery is to keep more damage from happening. It is not a surgery to recover sensation. That said, 70% report some improvement. I am glad to be among those who see consistent improvement.

ocean pine 0215

Before the surgery, my gait was like a Frankenstein, drunken stagger. I had to have a surface to touch to be able to walk at all. Now, my gait is almost normal, if I use a walker.

A cane will steady me, and in my apartment, I practice putting one foot in front of the other, literally. There is progress every day.  My gait is the best it has been in months.

I have returned to using voice recognition software for typing is still too frustrating. The numbness/tingling/grittiness in my hands and thumbs remains but is decreasing. I am able to grasp and hold onto objects with more than reasonable assurance.Every Day 0215

This is a new life, an unknown, part of the chaos of being alive. And in the background is the permanence of impermanence.

The generosity and support of online and off-line friends has been like winning the lottery. I do not purchase lottery tickets and now, there is no need. I already won.

My refrigerator was always full, rides were available wherever I needed to go, and friends waited with me for hours and hours as we made our way through the medical maze. Online messages of support appeared daily.

I have read and reread the comments of the two preceding posts. Just know each word is its own bit of light, day or night, and I carried your words with me then and now.

I am not who I was when I began this expedition. It could be as long as a year before I know how full my recovery will be. There is no returning to what was nor should there be. I have a better idea of my mind-body continent. I will begin there.

Early on in the expedition, I was given these words for my journey. I have kept them with me in all moments, and before every morning’s meditation, I look at the Chinese characters:

Endurance 0515

“Be patient and endure while

The wind will calm, the waves subside

Draw back a step and realize

The boundless ocean, the vastness of heaven”

And so I do.

 

 

32 thoughts on “The Expedition of No Return

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  4. Goodness. Glad that you have goodness in your life, Karen. You offer hope, too; a close friend of mine has been diagnosed with DDD and the surgery option sounds frightening. But now I have some hope. Continue to heal!! Light and joy be with you as you do so.

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    • I have not forgotten about your comment; things take a bit longer these days. 😉

      So far, the surgery has been the easiest; recovery requires a great deal of patience. Still, the surgery is frightening but as you can see, I had no choice. My hope is that your friend will have other options to try–corticosteroid injections, acupuncture, physical therapy are just a few–these treatments can have significant effects. Of course, diet and lifestyle are critical. I’ll keep a good thought for your friend. Thanks, Ann, much appreciated.
      Karen

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  6. I love that you are being showered with generosity and good things in the midst of a challenging time. Sending you good thoughts, prayers, and a smile. Your happy makes me happy!

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    • Showered with generosity I am, Kay! I am a most fortunate woman. If anything, all of this good fortune really feeds my curiosity, and in curiosity, there is such commitment. Thanks for all the good wishes, Kay.
      Karen

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  7. Karen, you are a trailblazer. Hearing about your medical challenges is a very fearful tale, but you prove that a person can face them with strength and wisdom, and that just maybe, if I was in that situation myself, I might be able to stand up and live as well as you. thanks for setting the example.

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    • Craig, the scroll of endurance and patience guided me through many a dark moment. I suspect it will for the rest of my life. On the day you gave it to me, I was struck by your thoughtful generosity for the moment I read the translation, I knew you had given me the gift for the rest of my life. The feeling was that strong. May we all stand up and live as you, Craig. Again, thank you.
      Karen

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  8. Welcome back! Like Cynthia, I had no idea you were facing all of this. OMG! All my very best wishes for your recovery. Your journey is very clearly different from what you once imagined; but I feel that the incredible spirit you’ve shown throughout will carry you through from what, as you say, has become a new beginning point – and I’m sending positive thoughts from this side of the world.

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    • To say that I was surprised, Matthew, is an understatement. There had been no injury just a gradual deterioration of discs. Although it now seems quite obvious that with disc degeneration one outcome could be compression of the spinal cord. And I cannot say that it was obvious to either the traditional or alternative medicine communities, in general. The consensus was lupus inflammation and involvement with the central nervous system.

      Turns out that lupus was not a part of this at all. However, lupus was a conversation I seemed to have with each physician/specialist for when they discovered I was treating my lupus with diet/lifestyle changes, they were more receptive than I had expected. In fact, I now have a primary care physician who is quite interested in epigenetics and a mindfulness approach (a local hospital has a research grant) to autoimmune disease. And so far, there has been no major lupus flare regarding the surgery or my recovery. I still have my “lupus days” but no more than I did before the surgery. It is nice to know I was doing something right…. (;)

      Thanks for the good wishes, Matthew. It really is great to be back blogging.
      Karen

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    • It definitely had some bumps, Tiramit, and at times, I wondered if I were at journey’s end. But as you say, I have arrived, and so I begin. Thanks, Tiramit.

      Karen

      P.S. Wanted you to know that I thought of your comment on the previous post–“nice knowing you”–many times. And each time, it brought a smile, for you were so accurate.In my response to you, I had not yet let go. I knew and did not know, which is usually the way. Your words were quite a gift to me. Thank you.

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      • Thanks Karen, it’s all very motivating and inspiring. I went though the surgery experience a long time ago, abdomen opened up and tumors removed from the colon. Then stitched up and 3 months later opened up again. The center of my being so much like a battlefield, legs and arms like useless appendages, it took a long time to get back to normal. Now I realise I have no memory of much of the experience. I advise you to record your feelings, like a diary with your voice recognition software (I use Dragon Dictate) because it’s likely you may forget, as I did. The mind has this way of covering things over with a comfortng blanket…

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        • I use Dragon as well–for a PC–and am in the process of recording these feelings, as you say. There is a lot in this experience that I want to explore. I may do something with another blog for I have a lot to work through, and I know it. Thanks, Tiramit, for your thoughtfulness, as always. 🙂

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  9. Wow, Karen. I had no idea you were having such major surgery. You write about it here so eloquently that I am at once shocked and calmed. I’m so happy you’re doing so well. I love slowdancejournal’s comment above and this: “I do my best to keep my heart over my head as I make decisions. I suspect that may be why I woke up from my surgery ‘happy.’ Truly. A friend said I was beaming. It felt then and now like new life.” I’m also amazed that you wrote this post with voice-recognition software–I can only imagine that as so tedious. But each word takes on new meaning. Keep recovering–one foot in front of the other, perfect. Happy new life.

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    • I am quite the voice recognition software enthusiast. I think Nuance’s Dragon is the best but a dear friend was part of that company for many years so I am biased.

      On and off for the last five years, it has been necessary for me to use the software but I never found it difficult to use. Even when it is not physically necessary, I use the software for first drafts of any piece of writing. I seem to capture more in speaking these initial drafts. At first, these drafts were more circumlocutious than usual but no longer. In these last two months, I no longer find editing cumbersome. For me, the software is quite freeing, actually. Probably more than you wanted to know about voice recognition software. 😉

      As I have mentioned, this new life is so large and bright, which is not to say the previous life felt confined or dim. As Adrian (Slow Dance Journal) mentioned, something was so different so immediately, unlike any experience I have ever had. It may take me to rest of my life to write about it.

      Thanks, Cynthia!
      Karen

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    • Onward indeed, Ruth! The world seems so much bigger but even better, so much more seems possible. There has been such a broadening of my perspective. Thanks, Ruth.
      Karen

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  10. So delighted that you’re improving. Your resilience and ever positive attitude are inspirational. You are not only a lottery winner, but you generously share your winnings. Thank you for your posts. May you receive as much light and love that shines from you!

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    • And improvement, in some way, really does come every day, Lynette. That, too, stuns. As I say, it is not the life I had but that life seems to have prepared me for this moment, which is one full of remarkable gratitude and true curiosity. Thanks so much for your kind words. They mean a lot.

      Karen

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  11. Your expression after surgery was “happy” of a whole different order. You were stunned with happiness. Incandescent with it. I wish I could quote you exactly, but you murmured something like, “Something is different.” I got the feeling lost parts of your body were already reporting in, letting you know they were still there, and willing to give it another shot.

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    • I think I am still stunned, Adrian. It all remains different, unknown, and yes, as if I really have another shot. I cannot imagine these last two months without you and Ray. The two of you made all the difference.

      Karen

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