Awakening on the Perpendicular Trail

Awakening on the Perpendicular Trail

I woke up on the perpendicular trail;
though I meant to stay beneath the blanket streaming videos.
Whose idea was this anyway?

Golden Gem. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Golden Gem. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I should turn around;
I need the rest.
Maybe just another switchback or two.

That obvious rock moved as I stepped over it;
I’ve been toddling stably for five & one-half decades.
Why else would I have fallen?

I should turn back;
the dirt on my knee will stain without prompt pre-treatment.
Maybe just to the clearing up ahead.

Breathe in, breathe out, I’m really worn out from the week.
Those things! Those emails and phone calls and screen work
will need a well-rested me tomorrow.

Yellow Meadow. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Yellow Meadow. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I should turn back;
wearing myself out today will only further exhaust. 
It’s probably an old athlete’s tale that moving muscles leads to healing.

Whoa!

The leprechaun didn’t notice the hole in his bag;
He never would’ve left that golden mushroom,
the one that rolled out and landed beside the trail.

Wow!

That class trip during the beige of winter didn’t pack it in & out;
I guess five-year-olds can’t be expected to know this would happen.
Their crayolas have sprouted in the warm sunshine.

Mt. Adams from the summit of Dog Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Mt. Adams from the summit of Dog Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

But I should turn back; 
all I have is a trail bar and an apple; that’s not much lunch.
Maybe just a bit longer.

Purples, yellows, whites, and
pinks sparkle beside the trail.
Cyan has chased away even the fluffy clouds,
And branches have captured the cumulus marshmallows.

Maybe just another switchback;
maybe just up to the clearing. 
A little more trail bar is all the energy I need.

Snow peaks beckon:
“Come peer at me from within a floral blanket;
and I’ll stream something better than video.”

Maybe just for a little while;
as long as I’ve come this far.

Though muscles ache and skin has pinked,
awe overtakes my soul; and
I awake three thousand feet above the azure river.

Perpendicular Trail. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Perpendicular Trail. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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Related Posts & Photos

Dog Mountain, April 2015 (Flickr)
Wiped Memories, June 6, 2014
Perseverance, June 10, 2014
Dog Mountain, June 2014 (Flickr)

Perseverance

Perseverance
Perseverance
Photo by Tim Graves

It was at the junction of two trails up the mountain that I first saw him. Well, actually, I passed him by without giving him much notice. No time for niceties; I was on a mission.

***

I’d set a goal for my post-op self. I would travel to the top of Dog Mountain, loop around, and then come down the long way. (The peak of Dog Mountain on the Washington State side of the Columbia River Gorge offers a vigorous route to a lavish carpet of wildflowers at its peak in May and June.)

Huffing and puffing enough to blow a pig’s house down, I finally arrived at a meadow overlooking the Gorge. I lingered awhile among the flowers hoping for resurgent fitness.

I sat awhile.

I ate a snack.

I breathed in the yellows, purples, pinks, and reds that surrounded me. I admired the handiwork of over a million years of geological events displayed at my feet.

No go.

Disappointed, I eventually admitted to myself that my ten-week post-operative body was not going to make it to the top. With a sigh I began the trip back to the trailhead.

***

490px-Dog_Mountain_Loop
Image from http://www.portlandhikersfieldguide.org/wiki/Dog_Mountain_Loop_Hike

I met him again on my way back down the trail. He slowly and steadily continued his ascent. I gestured and smiled, moving to the side for him to get past me.

“Did you make it to the top already?” he asked.

“Not today,” I said feeling all of the shame and disappointment that I’d created for myself. I explained that I was still recovering from surgery. “I’m still building stamina and strength,” I added.

Nodding his head, I felt his empathy and understanding encircle me. Approaching his eightieth birthday, he told me that half of his right foot had been amputated at the beginning of the decade. I listened with my best pastoral ear only later realizing that he was the pastor and I the parishioner.

Just as we were parting — I on my way down the trail and he still journeying upward — he added a few more words. “My attitude” he said, “is that as long as you’re still climbing uphill, you’re not over-the-hill.” I chuckled and wished him well.

My disappointment dissipated with each step downward. “Look how far I’ve come,” I reminded myself. Two months ago I couldn’t roll over in bed without extreme pain. Six weeks ago walking a few loops around the house required a two-hour nap. Four weeks ago a morning of work left me barely able to prepare my lunch.

And today, I climbed 1600-feet in just over a mile and a half! Not bad for someone with only half a colon!

___

This is the seventh of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

 

 

Wiped Memories

Horror.

Like a science fiction storyline, my memories were wiped from my brain. All I can do is feel a sense of disgust and fright.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough that the strange hands had moved inside the walls of my abdominal cavity or that things were placed into every orifice of my body while I was drugged. They — those I’d feared in my narcotic painkiller-induced paranoia —  had shaved parts of my body that should not be shaved. Even slicing my very body open and removing part of a vital organ was not enough of a violation of my person.

My very thoughts have been taken from me. I cannot trust my own memories. Photo by Tim Graves
My very thoughts have been taken from me. I cannot trust my own memories. Photo by Tim Graves

My very thoughts have been taken from me. I cannot trust my own memories.

***

Weeks after the surgery in which my right colon was removed, I had an epiphany during a discussion with my wife. In a moment, I realized I had been conflating my experience of the surgical suite before my colonoscopy with another surgical suite before my two-day later colectomy.

Horror descended.

Try as I might, I could not pull up those memories. I’d been doing a mashup of two events in my head, believing them to be accurate memories, for nearly three weeks. Ten-weeks post-op, I still cannot find those memories.

They are gone.

This is not the kind of memory loss that can be jarred by others who were present. It doesn’t feel the same as walking into the next room and forgetting why you went into the room. When I walk into another room, I immediately know that I’ve forgotten. I do not replace a lost thought with another.

I imagine a cavernous space in my head.

In a typical reaction to certain kinds of anesthesia, surgical patients often lose memories before and after administration of the necessary medicine. All this was explained to me by the anesthesiologist before I left pre-op. Or so my wife assures me.

My knowledge that I’ve endured this type of memory loss frolics with doubts about trusting my own mind. It holds hands with my other feelings of personal violation following major surgery. It’s not that I’d have wanted to have my belly cut open with a local, but…

But it is unnerving to have lost a memory so fully and completely. My humanity has been violated.

***

I thought again yesterday about the nature of memory. Memory is a subjective view of an experience. It is fickle. Trying to catch a memory can be as elusive as the butterfly that flits from bloom to bloom.

As I struggled to climb Dog Mountain, I was reminded a little late of the trail’s steepness. Dog Mountain is a popular Washington State hiking destination along the Columbia River just west of Hood River, Oregon. The difficulty of this trail flooded back into my consciousness through straining muscles and heavy breathing. Either I was in better shape when I last climbed Dog Mountain or I’d forgotten the challenge of the ascent. Both are distinct possibilities.

Photo by Tim Graves
Much too close to the trailhead, I found a rock to catch my breath upon. Photo by Tim Graves

Much too close to the trailhead, I found a rock to catch my breath upon. I pulled out the small book in which I jot down notes and thoughts when hiking.  Turning through the pages I read what I’d written when I last hiked this path.

“No vistas [yet]. Just heavy breathing and ears filling up,” I wrote.

In a moment, memories of that hike returned. Yes, I was in better shape last time but even in better shape, I remembered. I recognized the pilgrimage as “challenging.”

Though memory can be fickle, a few written words and my thoughts returned. Details of that particular journey were fresh.

I thought about other times when I remembered forgotten things. Sometimes, the re-membering is triggered by a place, a smell, a song, or a similar experience.

Journeying to the promise of wildflowers at the mountain’s peak, I will learn to embrace this ambiguity. Photo by Tim Graves
Journeying to the promise of wildflowers at the mountain’s peak, I will learn to embrace this ambiguity. Photo by Tim Graves

Often re-membering comes about in the midst of relationship. We need one another to maintain our memories and stories. Our stories are prompted when another begins to talk about that-time-when. Usually, we each recall only a part or single perspective. Together two of more folks piece together the most complete memory.

I typically find comfort in re-membering. Even remembering difficult times holds some comfort as the distance of time allows a kind of self-reflection from which I can learn and grow. I never know which memories will hold potential for enlightenment. The tiniest of memories sometimes hold significant revelations.

***

The memories removed from my mind by anesthesia will not return. I have been robbed of any potential learning and growth from those moments.

The horror of wiped memories is real.

As I mark the ten-week anniversary of my surgery, feelings of violation and being out-of-control of my own thoughts remains. Lurking just beneath the surface, tears of loss and invasion of my body and mind threaten to burst forth when I think about it.

Still.

Still, time has lessened the intensity of the trauma. The rawness of my shock has become its own memory. The memory that something is missing which was intimately mine, my very thoughts, has begun to open itself up to more than emotional outrage.

In my own personal science fiction drama no cure that miraculously returns my memories will be found. This is my reality. Though my body and mind were violated, I owe my health and, in the long term, even my life to the removal of my right colon.

Photo by Tim Graves
As the rawness of shock continues to fade, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other as I climb up the mountain. Photo by Tim Graves

The feelings of loss, dismay, and violation are mine now. The ambiguity of not-knowing — of not remembering — belongs to my life journey.

As the rawness of shock continues to fade, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other as I climb up the mountain. Climbing the steep trail, my muscles may ache and I may wonder. Journeying to the promise of wildflowers at the mountain’s peak, I will learn to embrace this ambiguity.

It is mine.

My heart pounds in my chest  because death’s terrors have reached me. Fear and trembling have come upon me; I’m shaking all over. Psalm 55:4-5 CEB 

___

This is the sixth of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.