Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Embracing the new day

[calligraphy by Sengai]
I haven't been blogging much. I was thrown by the nephrologist's recommendation, in the face of labs that show decreased kidney function, that I get an access surgically installed, so I am ready for dialysis. There are logical reasons to dread total loss of kidney function; hemodialysis is simply not adequate to keep you healthy; and is fraught with problems. Add to that a psychological dread of being strapped down, helpless to move because you are tied in to a machine that is taking blood out of you, filtering it, and putting it back in. Your safety depends on a dialysis tech doing their job.

But this upsetting news has been pushed aside by the sudden development of a painful and limiting disorder related to kidney failure. It is described in this quote from the Neuropathy Assocation web site:
Peripheral neuropathy is caused by damage to your body’s peripheral nerves. This damage disrupts the body’s ability to communicate with its muscles, skin, joints, or internal organs. It is like the body’s wiring system breaking down.
Some of the symptoms I am experiencing are--
* constant burning and freezing pain
* sharp, jabbing pains
* extreme sensitivity to touch (feet can't stand bedclothes)
* muscle weakness
* difficulty walking; the pain exhausts me
* tingling, numbness

You get the idea.

Pain is pain, a sensation. You experience a lot of it, sitting on retreats, and you learn how to accept it and watch it change, along with everything else. I can ignore my burning feet when I'm here at my computer. It's getting up slowly and limping to the kitchen that's hard. Then it's hard when, walking back, I spill coffee on the floor - that's the muscle weakness. "Losing your grip" isn't funny.

Meanwhile, I am debilitated by anemia, another side effect of kidney failure. The good thing is that my nephrologist is willing to order doses of an EPO drug for me to inject myself at home, saving the hours wasted driving to a doctor's office, sitting around waiting, just to get a simple injection. The bad thing is that the wheels grind slowly, and it will be at least the end of the week until the stuff arrives in the mail. Meanwhile, I am anemic. That alone makes you tired and lackluster, easily out of breath. Believe me, you are your red blood cells. I hope if/when we get my red blood cells up over 11, I will remember how to spell. What an odd thing to lose (and I was spelling champion of my third grade).

There are so many dissatisfied perfectly health people in the world, doing things they don't want to do. If I had my health back - if I get a transplant - I swear I would never waste an hour. I would never forget my gratitude at just being able to walk, able to stand and cook something good. Able to think clearly again.

As for troubles, I'm not done yet. Last night while I was doing nothing, I pinched a nerve high in my back. It makes it painful to be upright, and to pour a cup of coffee. I think that's about my osteoporosis, another byproduct of kidney failure (and kidney patients can't take the bone-building drugs). I'm hoping the acupuncturist can fix it.

Meanwhile, it is today. And a beautiful spring morning. One special daffodil has already bloomed and is on our altar, and I'm expecting more today.

What does Buddhism say to help me? The Five Remembrances (on the bottom of this page) remind me that human beings get sick and age. All the face creams and plastic surgeries in the world won't change that. Remembering that truth, I think of friends who are in worse trouble than me. They parade before my inner eye, valiant people who are facing death.

And there is the central truth of Buddhism - reality. The only thing real is this moment - not all your fears and sorrows, not your preferences and disappointments, those mental emissions. This moment I have the sensations and the form that I have, and all I have to deal with is now. It is simply a new day. When we sit in meditation, we just sit like a frog in the present moment, training in being here. The bell rings, and we get up, and continue to be here with whatever we confront.

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