“Your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
~ Walt Whitman
It’s the morning of my brain surgery. As I’m wheeled down the bright hospital hall, the white institutional ceiling floats by.
Two months ago, Dave and I left home and jobs to live as nomads. After traveling through Australia, we flew to Boston to be with friends. At their place in Cape Cod, I had a seizure. Diagnosis: meningioma. Size of a walnut. Needs to come out. So we flew to California to stay at the home of friends for my surgery and recovery.
In the pre-op room, the anesthesiologist, who looks like a surfer with a hangover, says: “I’m going to inject your IV now with something to get us started.”
I watch him do so then close my eyes. I open them. My surgeon, Dr. Whittaker, stands over me in scrubs.
“Hi,” I say. “When are we starting the surgery?”
“It’s over,” she says.
That afternoon in the ICU, a memory comes to me, a memory of something that happened during surgery. My body was stoically enduring the breaking open of my head, and my spirit decided it was going to take off. I’m outta here. I could be anywhere right now. I want to be free.
And my body, like a dog trainer, commanded my spirit: Stay! And then more calmly, Hang around, you might just learn something.
Just a few hours out of brain surgery, covered in bandages and tubes, and I’m astonished at the image of my body ordering my spirit around. It seems ludicrous. Comical. Yet it feels true. I realize I always thought of my spirit as being higher-ranking than my body.
I now see their relationship is symbiotic.
The spirit needs the body to experience this sensory plane, this here and now. Perhaps the spirit can learn from the body—not just the other way around.
Released from the hospital, I recline on Roxy and Tim’s sofa, redwood trees towering out the windows. The surgery is like an exclamation point on a sentence I’ve been composing since we left home. As a wanderer, I am becoming more and more aware of how my body is my true home. If that is so, then I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling not at home.
I wonder why I haven’t been nicer to this miraculous spacesuit that propels me through the world.
I’ve judged my body harshly, berating it for being too much this or not enough that. Judging my body creates agitation, ongoing dissatisfaction, an inability to be fully at peace. Any time I judge my body, it’s as though I’m trying to jail-break. My discontent has led me to abuse my body through extreme exercise, numb it through too much booze or food, and ignore it by spending all my time in my head.
Now, as I focus on healing, I want to comfortably inhabit my home. To create a gentler, more peaceful relationship with my body. I focus on feeling myself from the inside out.
I meditate on my organs, thanking them for doing their work. I begin to understand more deeply how my heart doesn’t need me to beat it, how my digestion happens without my conscious effort, how my lungs will continue to breathe even if I am unconscious.
Due to the nature of brain surgery, I can’t use avoid-my-body strategies. I’ve had to give up alcohol and caffeine. I can’t focus on screens: no TV, no computer, no tablet. Talking on the phone makes me dizzy. I can’t read a book. Music hurts my head. Dr. Whittaker went so far as to say, “Don’t think too much. Let your mind rest.”
I can’t take a walk or do yoga. I can’t even escape into sleep because sleep is elusive. I nod off for an hour or two and then jolt awake.
The challenge: just be.
But be here? In a body that was sliced open at the top? The one where the scalp was peeled back and the skull drilled through? The one with a gap in the brain slowly and noisily filling with spinal fluid?
For days after the surgery, I hear creaks and groans and pops in my head. Only they aren’t just “in my head.” Dave can hear them too.
All that surgical poking around in the pre-motor region of my left brain has affected my right hand. I can’t hold a coffee cup or remove the toothpaste lid.
I have to decide: is inhabiting this body going to give me the heebie jeebies? Am I going to feel like a haunted house? Am I going to think dreadful thoughts that might hinder my healing? Am I going to freak out each time I experience a weird noise or sensation? Am I going to go to the dark place and imagine there are so many things wrong?
I consciously cultivate the notion that nothing has gone wrong. That all is well. Even in the dark of night, waiting for dawn to light up the room, I gently dwell inside my body.
I think of the knocks and pings in my head as a symphony of healing. What a miracle that my head is being held together with medical versions of glue and staples.
My body is a healing machine.
I thank my right hand for all it has done for me over the years. Lovingly, slowly, I touch each finger to my thumb, back and forth like practicing scales on the piano. Like a child, I press Silly Putty into my fist.
I think about the miracle of my shaved hair sprouting forth like little leaves of grass.
Author: Kate Evans
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Used with permission from Dave Rhine