Stop what you are doing, breathe deep, and be! Now notice the experience of endings, new beginnings, changes, and transitions, the psychological adjustments to changes.
It was October 21, 2020. A shock! Yes, like a meteor hitting earth outside a bedroom window! It was 6:00 PM, Cindy, wife and soulmate of 48 plus years, and I had finished our daily exercise and evening meal and were sitting in lounge chairs in the living room watching CNN Cuomo Prime Time. Cindy glanced at me and commented she had a painful bubble in her abdomen. She tried to belch, took tums, took Gas-X, and lay on a pillow on her stomach on the living room floor. In a few minutes, she hurried to the bathroom and threw up: having had a similar issue before, neither of us was alarmed. After several more trips to vomit, she was waving her arms and in much pain. She tried to lie down flat on the bed in the bedroom and commented that she needed help. Something was wrong! The decision: call an ambulance or make the 20-minute car trip to Banner Baywood Medical Center Emergency Room (ER). We decided to make the trip via car; and arrived ER about 9 PM.
ER did not appear to be busy: now in a wheelchair, Cindy was promptly admitted, and care began. X-rays, CT Scan, pain killers, nose-stomach decompression tube, and IV’s with diagnosis of an intestinal block. On October 22, about 3 AM, Cindy was moved to Room 410; and had emergency surgery about 8 AM. Several years earlier a right breast mastectomy required a tram flap ablation, with mesh reinforcement of incision closure, generating scar tissue that had caused an internal hernia, catalyzing a closed loop obstruction of the small intestine.
“These are the times that try men’s souls!” Wife and soulmate of 48 plus years has emergency surgery and the surgeon offers Cindy has a 50/50 chance of surviving. This gets one’s attention, is a strong message and stirs conscious mind suffering and a litany about what could have been done better, said differently and what will be missed. Wilber et al offer,
Time spent struggling with oneself, especially in the vicious recycling of negative thoughts, attitudes, and feelings, binds energy and attention and impedes growth…When you see that you’ve been blindly self-possessed, and that you’ve wasted valuable time and created suffering in others and yourself, and you feel disgusted and ashamed-that’s great! You do not have to defend, remedy, or explain it. Appreciate and welcome this precious awareness. It brings the opportunity to make a new and different choice in the next moment.
Toughest issue of my life: being with a loved one who is suffering; and there is not a thing one can do but touch the forehead, touch the boxing gloved hands, keep her from pulling the ventilator tube up, feel the neck, kiss the forehead, kiss the lips. She acknowledged with tears, waved hands, and wanted to speak. She responded to telephone text videos, would wake up momentarily, and return to sleep; she continued to have heart issues and frequently vomited. Yes, toughest issue of my life: being with a loved one who is suffering; and not able to help them not suffer. All one can do is touch, breathe deep, acknowledge, feel, be there and notice the experience. As Naropa University divinity-hospice care classmates were told, “Just hold their hand.”
Amid COVID-19 visiting restrictions, over a period of 43 days, there were three surgeries, septic shock, peritonitis, IV’s, nose decompression tubes, ventilators, three different hospital floors, several hospital rooms, operating room, ICU, numerous doctors, nurses and hospital staff, blood samples, x-rays, CT scans, MRI’s, medications, cardioversion and shock treatments, approval of transfusions and two weeks at a rehabilitation facility. And step two of the transitions was just underway: Cindy came home December 2 to a new beginning as a small bowel syndrome patient (loss of 15 cm ascending colon and cecum; loss of 170 cm ileum and loss of the ileocecal valve) with home healthcare and a husband “caretaker in-training.”
Our work-in-process “game plan” includes Cindy’s mantra—I am a perfectly healthy, wellbeing and am committed to integral health and wellness, simply program the subconscious mind, positively, with hope and optimism, in six dimensions: mind and emotions; physical body; relationships; socially; institutionally; and by helping others. The “game plan” includes objectives: to enjoy the Small Bowel Syndrome diet; to target for optimum food and fluid absorption; to sleep well; to face post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that may manifest; to have human systems functioning properly for the new reality; and to be independent and have quality of life. Some of the dimensions that have surfaced for possible change and psychological adjustment include diet, food, grocery shopping, and eating out; medications and nutrients; exercise program; COVID-19 avoidance; intimate relationship and sexuality; family; piano and music; Starbucks; golf; finances, money, and insurance; and medical team coordination. There are measurable outcomes, too: reduced stool frequency for optimal enteral absorption; improved stool consistency and fluid balance [improved urine output; prevent effects of dehydration and renal compromise]; sense of improved control, well-being, and quality of life; and nutritional autonomy.
Cindy is experiencing and learning what a small bowel syndrome patient is; and the author is experiencing and learning what a small bowel syndrome caretaker is. We both need to take one step at a time, ask for help, as necessary, and face everything and avoid nothing: life holds the dance cards, just dance to the dance card played, targeting to be one with the dance card and music. Simply, be open to and accept the evolution of a multitude of endings, transitions-adjustments, and new beginnings. Am experiencing that there is no better self-awareness coach and opportunity than serving a loved one: sit in the flames, the joy, hopes, the tears and fears and cherish each moment and experience. Stop what you are doing, breathe deep and be! Notice the experience!