The Colon Tiger

As Maggie drove me home following my procedure, I gulped water and munched on the snack of fruit I’d packed for this moment. Relief washed over me like baptismal waters. To be sure, the anesthesia contributed to my high but it was fueled by pure emotion.

Indischer_Maler_um_1650_(II)_001
By Deutsch: Indischer Maler um 1650 (II) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For weeks I’ve experienced just-beneath-the-surface anxiety about my second colonoscopy. My first, three years ago, resulted in the removal of my right colon three days later. I was physically healthy then, too. I anticipated a clean bill of health and ended up out of work and recovering for months.

And, so, my anxiety before my second colonoscopy was about more than the dread of the prep. What if my healthy-self was not so healthy again? Had I run my last run? Would I be pulled out of work — work I love — to tend to my health? Was my body silently betraying me as it had seemed to three years ago?

Rational analysis of the events of three years ago (no cancer, aggressive treatment, full recovery) might lead to the expectation that I’d be munching fruit en route to pizza following my second colonoscopy but…

We experience life through our emotions.

Though my self-talk had me convinced all would be well, my emotional interpretation lies in wait for a time of weakness. It was like a patient tiger stalking prey. I was first aware of the pouncing emotional tiger during my 24-hours of fasting prior to the procedure.

My growling emotions exploited my hunger.

I re-felt all those feelings of three years ago as my growling tum begged for solid food. The fears, the dependency, the drug-induced paranoia, the physical weakness, and a profound sense of mortality scratched and clawed at my rationality.

The tiger’s irrationality clawed at me during colon prep, too. I cried over stupid shows and yelled at the dog. The morning of the procedure I picked a fight with my wife over an inconsequential matter. In hindsight, I can even see the tiger of previous emotions impacting my reactions to unrelated matters weeks ahead of time.

Our past experiences influence how we feel in the here and now. I worried not because it was a productive emotion but because I am my past experiences and emotions. Though my awareness of my past emotions can help me prevent them from controlling my behavior, I will never be fully free of my past. The absence of a right colon is part of who I am.

I’m more empathetic. I can hear the fears of others facing medical concerns more deeply. I feel with them in ways that I might otherwise not. That stalking emotional tiger doesn’t just claw and scratch. Sometimes it’s more like A.A. Milne’s Tigger who pounces out of the shadows joyfully knocks me over and licks my face. Even in its power over me, my emotional tiger loves me and helps me to love others more fully.

I would never have chosen the events of three years ago but I do not regret them. I think I’ll keep my colon tiger.

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
Embracing Emotions, July 2, 2014
An Unexpected Onion, January 14, 2015
One Year Ago Today, March 28, 2015
The Long & Short of It, March 29, 2016
The Colon Tiger, October 19, 2017

Sticking with the Scar

Sticking with the Scar

One misjudgment and my car lost $300 of value, at least according to Kelly Blue Book. The bumper blemish that remains is so minor you’d barely notice especially on a 2-1/2 year old car. My dad once called this the cost of owning and driving a car.

I have options. I can choose to report the injury to my pride, letting my insurance company pay to repair it, minus the deductible, of course. But that seems silly and a waste of resources. Leaving this scar on the bumper also, for those who care to notice it, is a testament to my human proclivity to make mistakes.

I’ll probably stick with the scar.

***

One necessary surgical procedure and my body was forever changed. The incision area is minor, you’d barely notice, especially on a fifty-something man who rarely goes shirtless in public. My eighty- and ninety-something parishioners call this the cost of growing older.

I have options, I suppose. I could probably have minor plastic surgery. That, is definitely silly and beyond my financial means. My belly blemish, and its occasional  sensitivity, are a testament to my life’s journey.

I’ll definitely stick with this scar.

This scar, unlike the one on my car, adds value. I grew emotionally and spiritually through the experiences of surgery and recovery. I’m more than I was; I like who I am. I like the lessons I learned about myself, my family, and others.

I understand now why people like to show their scars. I’m proud of this scar and I’m going to try to be proud of the bumper blemish on my car. They both say, I’m living. I’m learning. I’m human just like you.

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One Year Ago Today

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today I was in surgery. One year ago today, my children and wife paced awaiting news. One year ago today, my life changed.

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

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

I learned about vulnerability. I learned about weakness and allowing others to care for me. I learned that hospital scrambled eggs can be an orgasmic experience after  more than a week of liquid diets and IVs.

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

I felt the love of my congregation, my community. I felt the love of my wife whose love manifest in our new mantra, “No more TMI.”

I cried out to God during those days! I sobbed in my wife’s arms the day the biopsy came back negative.

When a trip to the living room wore me out, I whined that I might never hike the trails of the Pacific Northwest again.

I felt the love and presence of the divine in those days as my community prayed for me. I felt the love and presence of the divine in the loving skills of medical professionals. I felt so many things, some about which I blogged and others I could barely admit to myself.

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

My journey continues. My struggle and joys continue. My gratitude for the web of divinity that connects me to every human being and every spring bud is boundless. I’ve experienced a resurrection firsthand!

One year ago today I was in surgery. I wouldn’t change a thing even if I could, especially that tingle. Amen.
___

This is the eleventh of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy and removal of my right colon.

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
Embracing Emotions, July 2, 2014
An Unexpected Onion, January 14, 2015
One Year Ago Today, March 28, 2015

 

 

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An Unexpected Onion

An Unexpected Onion
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com Creative Commons Deed CC0, Public Domain.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com Creative Commons Deed CC0, Public Domain.

He lay in the bed with a hospital gown. Having woken from sedative-induced sleep and gunshot injuries for the first time in days, he was alone. That’s when she walked into the room, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up.”

Abruptly and unexpectedly, I burst into tears.

This relatively innocuous scene from a television show triggered powerful emotions of vulnerability and personal trauma in me.

I had abdominal surgery nine and one-half months ago. Two days after my first routine colonoscopy, the surgeon removed my right colon. The end of the story is I am healthy. Though I had precancerous cells in my body, I did not have cancer.

Apparently, the random itching at the wound site is not the only residual sensation from my experience of last spring. My body and my psyche continues to heal even as I tell myself and others, “I’m healthier than I’ve ever been!”

This causes me to wonder. If my body is still healing, as indicated by the occasional itchiness at the wound site, why would I think I’ve fully recovered emotionally? The short answer, of course, is that I’m good at repressing feelings.

The more complex answer is that each of us are, well, complex. Our emotions are much like onions with multiple layers. When we have gotten to the bottom of a feeling or experience, there are still more layers to peel. Sometimes we repress feelings as a psychological coping strategy. That can be healthy for a time but not forever.

Less than a year ago I experienced the trauma of bodily violation, of utter dependence, and the recognition that I am mortal.  If I ignore or forcibly repress these feelings, they will come out in harmful ways.

I have more psycho-emotional work to do. Time to peel another layer off this onion and allow some tears to flow.

___

This is the tenth 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
Embracing Emotions, July 2, 2014
An Unexpected Onion, January 14, 2015

 

 

 

Embracing Emotions

A cloud settles over Wind Mountain, near Home Valley , Washington. Photo by Tim Graves
A cloud settles over Wind Mountain, near Home Valley , Washington. Photo by Tim Graves

I found myself with multiple feelings on the three-month anniversary of my surgery.

As I journeyed home from climbing Wind Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I have made remarkable progress in the three months following the removal of my right colon. My body is not only healing, I am getting back into shape. Two and one-half weeks ago before climbing Wind Mountain, I thought I might collapse before the first switchback in my attempt to climb Dog Mountain (See Perseverance.)

Unexpectedly my thoughts turned to those-days in the hospital and recuperating at home. The surgery. The pain. The weakness. The sense of vulnerability. My feelings of confidence and accomplishment were gone and I felt, I felt…

I felt panic! It was a guttural, involuntary response to my experiences of surgery.

I lived in those feelings for awhile. I allowed myself to be immersed in my feelings. Then, like the comforting fog and damp drizzle I’d hiked in on Wind Mountain, my feelings of confidence settled on my skin, clouded my eyeglasses, and seeped into my bones again.

Fog hangs over Wind Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Tim Graves
Fog hangs over Wind Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Tim Graves

Both my feelings of those-days and my feelings of accomplishment are mine. I own those feelings. They are me. They are mine. They are legitimate. I choose to embrace them for my emotions are God-given.

Our core emotions are of divine origin. Created in the image of God, our emotions tell us something about the nature of the Divine. It is in our passion that the Holy Spirit teaches, nudging us to grow and become more honest with self and the one I call God.

Just as climbing Wind Mountain — a mountain once used by native peoples for Spirit Quests — strengthens my muscles, being present with all my emotions bolsters me spiritually and emotionally. It builds self-awareness, spiritual-awareness, and empathy for others. And so I allow the Spirit to do the Spirit’s work in me.

I choose to grow.

___

This is the ninth 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
Embracing Emotions July 4, 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.

Mortality

Decaying Beavers & Rainbows
Like this bloated beaver I came upon while hiking along the Columbia River, I am mortal. Photo by Tim Graves.

When my wife is twenty minutes late getting home I’ve imagined what my life would be like if the worst happened. This intellectual activity has been part of my routine since the eighties when my 5-1/2 month old nephew died in a freak accident. Nonetheless, up until my surgery some sixty-seven days ago I was immortal.

Perhaps it was the look on the faces of my children, who raced via airway and roadway to be with me that made me mortal. Perhaps, it was the seriousness of my wife’s tone and her diligence in caring for me that made me human. If you’ve been following my blogs, you know I thought the removal of my right colon was No Big Deal. So, that couldn’t be what did it.

Though I’ve told my children since they were tiny that I planned to live to be one-hundred twenty, I wonder now. It’s still my plan; I have a lot of living to do yet.

But I recognize that at fifty-five, I may not live another 65-years, plan or not.

Somehow, the suddenness of major surgery jolted me into mortality. I did not expect it. I went in for a colonoscopy, a routine screening procedure for cancer and other issues, because I am in my fifties. I perceived no problem but rather than heading to the local pizzeria that evening, I was talking about the possibility of cancer with my wife.

Even talking about the c-word with my son wasn’t enough in and of itself to jolt me into mortality but here I am. Mortal. Tim Graves is mortal!

***

Reflecting, I think I became mortal the Sunday following my surgery. It was the look on the face of my first-born — my baby girl! I always get a hug but somehow her hug was more. More something. More fearful?

On the other hand, looking back it may have been on the day before my colectomy. I drove to Portland to pick my son up from the airport and lost the car in the parking garage. I had no idea where I’d left it except that it was facing an outside wall.

Isaac, my son, said to me, “This is kind of an old man thing to do, Dad.” His words were a joke but his face revealed another emotion. He knew this was out-of-character for his detail-oriented father. It might have been in that moment when I became mortal in his eyes and my own.

Or…or it was the day I finally returned home from the hospital and finally read my wife’s blog in which she writes, “An instant can change everything.   A routine screening can morph into urgent, major surgery.  Uncertainty can overwhelm normalcy.  The daily routine of work and home becomes the routine of vital signs, meal trays, and pain management. Roles can be frightfully altered” (It’s Three in the Morning).

***

I became a part of the river of humanity and creation that flows ever onward. The drop of moisture that I am will eventually evaporate. When my essence one day transforms, I will remain within those I have known. My moisture will seed another tributary or be present in a joyful tear. This is photo of the White Salmon River near Husum, Washington was taken by Tim Graves
When my essence one day transforms, I will remain within those I have known. My moisture will seed another tributary or be present in a joyful tear. This photo of the White Salmon River near Husum, Washington was taken by Tim Graves

I have come to realize that my superhero immortality belongs to the world of fiction. The concept of immortality separates us from one another and from the Divine. Immortality is about permanence and control. Endless life — the ultimate control of the uncontrollable — eliminates our need for the Divine in one another.

But we need one another. The One who I call God exists most fully in the spaces between us. The Divine spark exists within each of us but that loving spark burns brightest and fully in those times when we touch another.

I became mortal when others considered the possibility of life without me. When I experienced the emotions of others — through a hug, a joke-less jab, or in an altered relationship — I became what I’ve always been. I became a part of a bigger whole.

I became a part of the river of humanity and creation that flows ever onward. The drop of moisture that I am will eventually evaporate. When my essence one day transforms, I will remain within those I have known. My moisture will seed another tributary or be present in a joyful tear.

As I give up the charade of  immortality and with it my make-believe control and pretend permanence, I travel a divine path. I have lost nothing. Instead I have gained a glimpse of the wholeness of creation. I have glimpsed a signpost encouraging me to exist in being who I am and striving to love more fully.

___

This is the fifth 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.