Category Archives: Medicine

When the Going Gets Tough…

circus-tent.jpg

…the tough go to the circus.

The Kinoshita Circus is Japan’s largest* and it’s a real circus, staged in a tent, complete with clowns, jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and animals. It was pure delight from start to finish (except for the motorcycles in the giant sphere. That act was entirely too loud and scared the pickles out of me). It was charming, totally professional and yet not quite, especially when the juggler dropped his bowling pin for the third time and the acrobat missed the trapeze and fell into the net. Kudos to him, though, as he climbed right back onto the platform and completed the act. There was an aged elephant who stood on her front feet, then her back feet, then looked right at me as if to say, “Well, what do you expect?” Four bored-looking zebras trotted around the ring in one direction then the other, barely stifling their yawns, eager to get back to their cabbage and carrots.

George feet
We weren’t allowed to take pictures. Just imagine George’s feet times 100.

But then there were lions. There were eight lions, two each of tawny males and females, and four pure white females. They didn’t do much, just jumped through a hoop and did a couple of group poses. The males reared up, but there was no pretense at fierceness, no gnashing of teeth or snapping of whip. The tamer clearly loved them and was loved in return as he patted their magnificent haunches and tugged on their swishing tails. They walked around the ring, swaying their powerful shoulders and flipping their enormous paws. And we were seated less than ten meters away. I cried openly throughout the act, overwhelmed.

By the time we got home that evening, my scalp was beginning to show. So the next morning, armed with the lingering flush of being that close to so much feline magnificence, I plugged in the razor, took a deep breath and mowed a swath right along the top of my head from the middle of my forehead, a reverse Mohawk, an irreversible, total commitment. When I asked Rochi to help with the bits I couldn’t reach, he didn’t flinch, even though I know he was at least as scared as I was.

head shaving

Picking up that razor brought back the feelings of waking up after my second surgery. As I gradually became aware of the tubes leading in and out of my body, the machines I was attached to, the medical staff bustling around, the difficult and painful recovery that lay ahead, I panicked. All I could think was, “I can’t do this. I just did this. I can’t do it again! I can’t!” I wanted to leap off the table, yank out the tubes and run away from the sterile room, the sterile hospital, the entire sterile, surreal medical world.

Instead, I remembered a visualization I had learned. I closed my eyes and found myself sitting comfortably on a warm rock in a sunny glade under trees swaying in a breeze lightly scented with jasmine. Surrounding me was my tribe, who had taken the form of pastel colored unicorns. Waves of empathy, compassion and love flowed from their soft, gentle eyes, all toward the center of the circle, all toward me.

I experienced all of that in just a few moments but it was enough. My heart stopped pounding. My breathing slowed. I opened my eyes.

Over the past few years I have kept having experiences that left me thinking, “Wow. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” And I keep being wrong about that. But I have learned a valuable lesson: Courage isn’t a lack of fear. Courage is being afraid of something and doing it anyway. And I give thanks every single day for continuing to find that courage in myself and in the people around me.

*Big, squishy clowny hugs of gratitude to Randy and his friend for making this happen.

Things Change

Rebecca Quirk unicorn

Late last fall, I wrote about the faceless old lady who had vanished into the dust along with her house. The site is now a parking lot and she is gone without a trace.

Late last fall, I finally managed to do a yoga headstand on my own. I was rather pleased with myself.

A couple of days after that, I found a lump in my breast.

Fast forward six months. Countless doctor and hospital appointments and two major surgeries later, I am now a person living with cancer. My body and life are changed forever.

Other than knee surgery 25 years ago, I’d never had much to do with the medical world beyond being grateful not to need it. So this whole process has been a series of shocks. It sometimes feels like the doctors and nurses have a storage room full of old, mismatched boots and each time I go for an appointment they judiciously pick one, dust if off, and then lob it at my head. I don’t want to go into all of it here; the details are out there on websites and blogs written by cooler heads than mine. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot to learn, a lot to absorb, and between overwhelming shocks there is endless waiting, endless questions the doctors and nurses can’t answer, endless gnawing fear that must be mastered because I just can’t live that way. I remind myself daily that it is what it is; it will not go away and must be coped with.

I used to schedule my haircut appointments on Wednesday mornings, because that’s when the salon wasn’t busy. They’d give me a nice, long head massage when they washed my hair, then a hand massage, sometimes two people at once, while my favorite cutter did my hair. It was heavenly. But the salon changed owners and my favorite cutter got transferred to a spiffy salon in a spiffy neighborhood which is just a tad too spiff for me.

Wednesday mornings are now designated chemotherapy time at the doctor’s office. The people who work there are all terribly kind and understanding. There is genuine compassion in their eyes; they know I don’t want to be there. But even so it’s hard to walk through the door. The urge to turn and flee is strong. Instead of massaging my head and hands, they’re going to pump poison into my body. And I’m going to let them and try to be graceful about it. As a very wise friend said early on, “It’s your boob or your life. Pick one.” Seems an obvious choice.

Something I have learned is that you don’t really “treat” cancer. You don’t even fight it, really. You either cut it out or you kill it. It comes down to a primal animal instinct: kill or be killed. It’s as simple as that.

And so I step forward into the unknowable, shoulders squared and head held high. If I need to take a moment to sit down and rest, I know I have my family and my friends and my tribe and the Goddess and the unicorns, and they’re all on my side. You couldn’t ask for fiercer allies than that.

Lisa Edmonds unicorn

The Mighty Colon: A Tale of Trauma

I told my doctor that I was having some belly pain, which I thought was probably just constipation.

Fun fact: When you quit smoking, it takes at least a year for your metabolism to get back to normal. That’s why almost everyone who quits gains weight, not because food tastes better.

“You should have a colonoscopy,” says the doc.

“For constipation? Isn’t that a tad drastic?”

“It’s best to be sure. I can recommend a specialist. He’s a good doctor. He studied at Harvard and speaks English.”

Well, OK. I met with him and he explained the procedure. I made an appointment.

The next time I saw my doctor, she said she’d seen him and they’d discussed my case. (Gee, could we get some more people involved in this?) I told her that the problem had resolved itself and I was probably going to cancel the appointment.

She laughed and said, “You just don’t want to do the test.”

“Of course I don’t want to do the test.”

Big, innocent eyes. “Why not?”

Why not? WHY NOT??? If that wasn’t the most dumbass of the dumbass questions I’ve ever heard. For one thing, I don’t think it’s necessary. For another, I will have to purge myself and that can’t possibly be pleasant. Then, I have to get half naked so some guy I’ve met once can stick things in my butt. Who in their right mind would want to do that kind of test, much less specialize in that kind of medicine…is what I wanted to say, but instead I said, “Yada. (Yuck.)”

At which point I was given a lecture about how women of my age commonly develop polyps and such and it’s best to have them taken care of.

So I did the purge, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was twice as bad. You try pooping stomach acid for a couple of hours and let me know how you feel.

My heart rate was off the scale as the nurse did the prep work. Yoga breathing didn’t help. She said, “Relax. I’ve done a thousand of these. It will be fine.”  And she was right; it was fine. Turns out I had a tiny polyp which was duly removed and am otherwise pink and healthy.

The thing is, you can tell your brain it’s a medical procedure that is done by professionals on a daily basis, but that doesn’t stop your heart from feeling humiliated and your body violated. It’s how we are socialized: those are private parts that are meant to be kept covered and out of polite conversation. I even used the word “ass” above to imply stupidity and ignorance.

I came home, slept twelve hours and woke up with swollen hands and feet and joints so stiff I could barely move. I must have been wound tighter than a spool of coaxial cable.

I suppose it’s a comfort to know that nothing is wrong, but I take very little pleasure in being right this time.

On a lighter note, this is a real thing.

CollonSomebody must have wised up. They don’t make the chocolate ones anymore.