Recently, I received some unexpected health news, which is why there has been a longer break than usual between posts. Just as I was getting ready to resume regular posting, everything changed.
Impermanence is like that.
The bone graft in my cervical fusion—C2–C4— is not fusing. There is no healing; the graft is not “taking.” Initial x-rays seemed to reveal healing but x-rays taken six months later do not.
You might think that after nearly 40 years of dealing with chronic illness and disability, I would take this news in stride. I did not. I was devastated. Myriad scenarios, all of which began with “what if,” descended.
I buckled under the weight. The bottom of my world fell through. I found myself in the depths of my vulnerability. I cried. A lot. Rarely have I felt so hopeless. As I wrote to a friend, “I really wanted to beat this.”
Ah, but I am not in a race.
I am experiencing life as a human being. My life is not a race against chronic illness or disability—it is not a competition on any level — it is a moment of life, one stitch in the tapestry of existence.
To live, to be a stitch in time, is to be vulnerable. Let me not build “castles in the air”; let me “inhabit” my vulnerability.
The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance….
David Whyte, Consolations: the Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning.
I had to become comfortable with my vulnerability. Although it runs deep, so do the wells of compassion and courage. And from them, all I had to do was drink. Vulnerability connects us with one another but it is courage and compassion that reveal us. They keep us fear-less.
I am not seeking the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It may or may not be there. I am experiencing my life as it unfolds, putting a foundation beneath my castle and inhabiting it.
The bone graft fusion in my neck—C2–C4–is not fusing is a thought never far from my mind, a frequent visitor during my morning meditation, accompanied by fear in all its forms. Words weave in and out, some wounding and others opening old scars.
It is a circle of wolves. I feed each one.
I sit in my vulnerability as I observe all the reasons the bone graft is not taking. There is the donor bone, possibly not a good match, always an unknown.
I was not the best surgical candidate. This was the fourth surgery on a spine with degenerative disc disease. And after nearly 40+ years of autoimmune issues, my bones may just not be good enough for that donor bone. After all, my cervical vertebrae did pinch my spinal cord.
My breath brings me back to what is.
In this moment, a metal plate and four screws are holding the vertebrae and donor bone in place. This is my reality, not what was or what might be.
A silent wolf patiently awaits the stillness. There is a possibility—a long shot–that the graft may take two years to fuse. No one gives this wolf much attention but I feed it as much as I feed the others.
The wolf demanding the most attention concerns the low dose of prednisone I am taking as well as the limited, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Neither of these is a surprise nor a secret– each reduces my pain level and keeps me mobile–together, they are now viewed in a new light.
It is possible the autoimmune disease medications reduced the level of inflammation so the fusion cannot take place. Without the medications, my mobility would be so limited it would slow if not stop the fusion from taking place.
It is my neurosurgeon, the reader of x-rays, who says so succinctly, “you are between a rock and a hard place.” Indeed. Autoimmune disease versus spinal fusion. Which one do you feed?
New blood tests reveal neither prednisone nor the over-the-counter medications have dramatically reduced my body’s inflammation. Still, “between a rock and a hard place” remains the medical phrase.
Mine, however, is not to look for the fringe of the future. Rather, I inhabit my vulnerability, exploring the reality I have. The balance in the circle of wolves remains fluid.
Daily, a new experience awaits me. I sip from my wells of courage and compassion, content to reside in my castle of vulnerability. And like everyone else, with each experience I become more intimate with disappearance, the exit each one of us will take someday.
15 thoughts on “When the Bottom Falls Through”
Karen, I keep expecting you to bounce back, maybe that’s too much to ask. How about a few lines to say how it is for you at the moment. It sounds like you’re convinced this is the time to let go – hey, that’s ok too, no beginning, no end. Thank you for all these posts, wish I’d got to know you better…
I am glad you enjoyed the posts. I have missed blogging as well reading other blogs, yours being one. I’ve posted more than a few lines but it appears I am back. 😉 Writing muscle is a bit weak but all that takes is a bit of flexing. 😉 Thanks for all the support. 🙂
Well, it’s very good to hear from you again. I can imagine the blogging muscle is a bit weak, it can be hard work sometimes. But for the key members of your support group, a little is a lot. Not much, very little in fact is expected of you 🙂 Take care and thanks for your reply
Others have said my feelings already. I join the chorus. Embracing you with light.
Hi Karen – I am so sorry to hear your news! I know how difficult auto-immune problems can be, and how even specialists struggle to deal with them and to understand the way the issues interact with medications. I have been struggling with this problem myself – not to anything like your extent, though. It is a field little understood, not least – I suspect – because medical thinking and training has long been imprisoned by the mechanistic certainties of the twentieth century; and because new medical research inevitably ‘follows the money’ – funding which does not, alas, have too much to do with matters that have until recently fallen outside the philosophy of the profession. You are right: Zen provides the wisdom by which the experiences that follow such difficult confluence can be understood and accepted. And I do wonder whether the older philosophies of the East actually reflect metaphors not just for the workings of human nature, but also for the systems of our physical reality which they perceived in ways western thinking still struggles to come to grips with. All best wishes, and you’ve got positive thoughts going your way from the Southern Hemisphere!
“I really wanted to beat this.” Ah, but I am not in a race.
Such a powerful touching insight Karen.
What is known is being applied here … but there is so much more that isn’t known and isn’t in our thinking or past experience. Taking time to be in this space of not knowing and fully embracing each moment as it unfolds is a path of courage and inspiration for me and so many others.
Sending you a gentle ((HUG))
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Karen, I frequently wonder how I would feel if I myself were faced with the kind of situation you are in. It’s impossible to know. And few people in your position speak publicly about it. So I appreciate you reporting from the front lines to let the rest of us know how it feels, and how one person deals with it. It is brave of you to bare your feelings so publicly, and instructive for the rest of us to see how your profound spiritual insights come to bear. There’s nothing the rest of us can do to help you, but know that because of your blogs, your intimate, thoughtful, and highly articulate blogs, we are walking the path alongside of you. Thank you.
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Sending love. Sending strength. Sending flowers of heart.
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What can you do except roll with the punches….although you said it much more eloquently. Love and hugs from my heart to yours ❤️❤️
Hugs and much love, Karen. Not a race. Such a beautiful post about something so personal. You have incredible strength, compassion, and courage, my friend. But if your wells of courage and compassion run a little low, let your friends fill it with some love and compassion.
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Sending extra loving light of healing for you. Also, I keep hearing as I read this to avoid all dairy. Have you tried that for the autoimmune issues?
Oh, I’m so sorry. And that feels inadequate. I will keep you in my prayers. It is so hard, I know, to choose love and peace instead of succumbing to the fear and despair. Praying for healing and peace for you.
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What a beautiful post. I love the wolf metaphor, as well as the part about sipping into the wells of courage and compassion – just precious. Wishing you many treasured moments along the way.
Your grace and ability to return again and again to the idea: “Ah, but I am not in a race” are so inspiring. Crying and raging are not losing; acceptance is not winning. All we have is the practice.
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Oh Karen, I am so sorry. I feel the frustration in your “voice.” Even though you live in the now, it’s still a hard, painful road. I will be better in keeping in touch with you. Meanwhile, I send you my love and lots of hugs. Hang in there my friend! 🙂