Friday, October 4, 2013

This is Your Life

There's anxiety, and there's pain; then there's anxiety about pain, which more than doubles the pain.  By 9:00 last night the pain in my back and neck had gone up through my TMJ until the left side of my face hurt, and I had to do hot compresses.  Dammit.  Part of it was just too much sitting upright, the rest was the irrational anxiety about what the MRI will show and what comes next for this back injury. pain has been worse since the MRI of my upper back and neck Monday night.  And I am waiting, waiting for a call from the neurologist who ordered the test, and who will, I hope, suggest some way to cut back on the pain, which seems to be made worse by walking.  Now it's Friday, which means if I don't hear today I'll have to go through the weekend trying not to imagine the worst, which is, for me, being in a hospital.  After that dreadful night last December - and that was in one of our better hospitals - my tolerance of the constant abuses there has turned to something quite negative.  Like hate.

Furthermore, the fact that my fall in May was caused by Seroquel has amplified my distrust of the whole American medical system and led me to notice that there have been a lot of lawsuits about these drugs, and the movement disorder they cause that never goes away.  (It is called tardive dyskinesia.)

I don't like to be anxious or angry.  Don't Want! any of this.

Well, this kind of adversity is a common enough feature in the landscape of old age, but I like to think it isn't necessary to melt down over it.  My formal Zen study led me to find a post from a blog by Ben Howard that happens to help just a bit my perspective. The author refers to a passage in Dogen's Instructions to the Cook, which I decided to format as if it were a poem:

Do not get carried away,
by the sounds of spring, 
nor become heavy-hearted 
upon seeing the colors of fall. 
View the changes of the seasons as a whole, 
and weigh the relativeness of light and heavy 
from a broad perspective.

My first teacher, Ama Samy, said to me, at least once, "Experience everything, but don't get carried away."  He has a rich Hindi accent, so it sounded like "Don't get caddied away."  This is good advice for anyone with moodswings, or who golfs.  

More from Howard's blog:  "Commenting on this passage, the Soto master Kosho Uchiyama urges us “to be resolved that whatever we meet is our life,” and to “see the four seasons of favorable circumstances, adversity, despair, and exaltation all as the scenery of [our lives].” Oh yes. The default scenery, in fact, that the Buddha warned us about. Life is not that fabled isle of bliss they promised . . .
but more like this at times:

Heavy.  And that's just the way it is.  Everything broken, including the medical system and, maybe, the doctor's phone.

This is making me think it's time to publish a poem I wrote years ago after being forgotten in an exam room. Really.  (A nod of thanks to Ken Vail, who drove me to that doctor and waited patiently.)

or, Jean-Paul Sartre in the Examining Room           
Here in a windowless room–this dying body–
naked beneath a paper towel,
waiting, waiting for Doctor to come and ask,
How are you?  Where do you hurt?
How long have you felt this way?
Doctor is busy, invisible accountants
issue denials of benefits,
nurses in running shoes flash smiles.

Doctor is here I think he is running late,
this will explain our policies.
You are responsible sorry
I know these rooms are cold
but Doctor wears a suit under his lab coat
we keep it comfortable for him
here, here is a paper blanket
sorry we have no tea, the pot is broken
no one has time, time . . .

Are you still here?
sorry the office is closed
the computer is down please call
tomorrow for an appointment we are
automated for your inconvenience
please hold please remain
on the line, your call is important to us
your call will be received in the order 
in which you enter your patient account number
date of birth and death, social
followed by the pound   invalid   invalid

Sorry, Doctor has no more appointments
this year.  Doctor is at a convention
and does not answer his page
will try to get back to you
in the order your call
was tomorrow

Wait—we have just been informed
Doctor is no longer with us. 
Doctor is dead.
You are condemned to be free.
p.s.  Put in one more call to the doctor just now.


  1. Love the poem! Aren't we all just so broken. Sucks! Hugs for you through the weekend.

  2. Perfect. All of it. Thank you.

  3. Thank you both. Faithful Readers are the stars in my sky.