Tuesday, November 4, 2008

No contrast dyes!

The internet thinks Mark Twain originated the saying: "I've seen many troubles in my time, only half of which ever came true." Or maybe Josh Billings or Alfred North Whitehead. I thought it came from a Native American and began, "I'm an old woman, and I've seen many troubles, most of which never happened. "

In teaching meditation, many of us like to say, "Try it for six months or a year, see how it works for you." This is so unAmerican, isn't it? We want to be happy now! And the truth is, ten years is a better trial period. Then the change in you begins to show up at odd moments.

This morning I had an odd moment, registering for a CT scan at 7:30 a.m. I was given the usual multipage form to fill out, which led my mind idly down the path of One-of-these-days they're going to get this computerized. All this information about my surgeries and medications and allergies is in fact in the OSU computer system, from the extensive workup for the transplant list. But radiology can't get there.

Filling out forms is repetitive, inefficient. I remember how I used to get mad - frustrated, really- but I didn't this morning. However, my ears went up at the questions about the use of contrast dye.

There it is on the medical info sheet I carry with me, No Contrast Dyes, highlighted in yellow. This is because these dyes could further harm my kidneys, and there's not much left to lose. Hmm, I thought. Well, they're going to have to talk to my kidney doctor before I take a contrast dye. I might have to reschedule. That didn't make me mad, either. Waste of my time, I would have once thought. I used to feel so overloaded, so stressed, to have to go without my morning coffee like this, to waste two hours, that would make me crazy. Now I'm in touch with reality: if you are going to deal with a big western medical system, you are going to run into inefficiencies. That doesn't have to mean people are careless or stupid.

I took the form up to the receptionist, who told me the technician would talk to me about the contrast dye. He came for me in a few moments, and assured me we weren't planning to use one. It's just that everyone gets the same form. In a few moments, I had been scanned, having made the required joke, the one he hears 40 times a day, "Where's the cat?" ("They run around in the machine") and was on my way home to a really satisfying cup of coffee.

What was equally satisfying was thinking how different I am from the person who got practically hysterical just four years ago, when I happened to have a nuclear stress test scheduled on election morning. In fact, I got so frustrated waiting for that test in a cold, inefficient office that I walked out, which turned out to be a good idea; anger can sometimes lead to useful action.

But you can walk out quietly, without hysterics, as I was contemplating this morning.

I still have anxiety about medical procedures, going all the way back to a couple of gruesome childhood experiences. I'd had a little nightmare in the night, and slept fitfully after that. (Maybe if I live to meditate another eleven years, I won't have that.) But this anxiety is nowhere near the level it once was, even for a quick, noninvasive test like this.

My first thought was to credit meditation and Buddhist thought. I can think of myriad ways it has impacted my reactions, mostly by teaching me that they're just my reactions. Emotions brought forth by thoughts and memories, which are mental emissions that will pass if you let them. Sitting quite still in retreat, we learn not to scratch an itch, to watch our impulses pass.

Then there's the Buddhist emphasis on "skillful means," which is not usually whirling in a frenzy of rage like the Tasmanian Devil. Ah yes, he used to be one of my favorite cartoon characters. It's only fairly recently that I took him off my bookshelves, but I didn't throw him away. You never know when he might be just the skillful means you need.

Was it just meditation that turned a nightmare into an errand this pleasant morning? Not at all. These last years I have worked to cultivate a low-stress, nourishing life, and done intensive therapy regarding those childhood issues. Truly taking ownership of your body and your feelings is not just a spiritual matter, but involves psychological growth as well. Well, that's as abstract as I want to get today.

If you are an American, enjoy voting. We are privileged.

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