The Healing Machine.

Via Kate Evans
on Oct 15, 2014
get elephant's newsletter

after surgery Kate Evans

“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.

Kate Evans two weeks later

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.

~

Relephant:

Foods for a Healthy Brain.

How to Do Nothing & Be Exactly as You Are.

 

Bonus:

~

Author: Kate Evans

Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photos: Used with permission from Dave Rhine

306,924 views

About Kate Evans

Kate Evans is the author of Call It Wonder: An Odyssey of Love, Sex, Spirit, and Travel, a memoir about chucking it all to live on the road, having a brain tumor, talking to dead people, and loving both men and women. She is also the author of two novels, a collection of poems, and a book about teaching. She holds a PhD, an MFA, and an honorary degree from life. As an editor, ghostwriter, and writing coach, she loves helping people unleash and shape their stories. She lives half the year in Baja California Sur, Mexico and the other half she’s a gypsy. She’s grateful to be learning that, as Foucault said,“We are freer than we think.” You can connect with her on her website, her blog, on Facebook and via Twitter.

Comments

42 Responses to “The Healing Machine.”

  1. Fernanda says:

    I would love to contact kate evans- I went through very similar experience:) please message me on [email protected]

  2. michelle says:

    Excellent

  3. Kate says:

    Hello Fernanda,

    I love hearing other’s stories. Please contact me through my blog.

    Kate

  4. Marrissa says:

    Kate,

    Thank you so much. As a 27 year old woman that suffers from an eating disorder, I know what it is like to get out of my body and not "just be." Elephant Journal has posted two articles that have been huge reminders to me that the body IS a part of this journey. Ignoring it and taking it for granted do not warrant the spirit opportunity to thoroughly enjoy time here on this precious earth.

    Thank you kindly for your words about your own healing process, as they have done their job and lended me the opportunity to do the same. Sending you rays of white and pink light.
    All my love. xo

  5. Hi Marrissa, I am so moved by your comment. Loving our bodies, being kind to them, extends in so many directions. Thank you for reminding me of that. Love and light to you – Kate

  6. walkingpapers says:

    So lovely Kate. Inspiring and thought-provoking. I too have often thought that I don't give my body nearly enough "thank yous". So glad you are healing both inwardly and outwardly!

  7. marcie says:

    What a fabulous personal story, magnificent. You were forced to learn how to just be, and you were open to it. I love your description of the spirit needing the body. I love this… "is inhabiting this body going to give me the heebie jeebies? Am I going to feel like a haunted house?" Thank you, thank you for sharing this.

  8. debaumer says:

    Thank you for this, Kate. I had brain surgery in 2006 and I really love reading about others' experiences. Peace to you.

  9. I like that, saying "thank you, body." And thank you! 🙂

  10. Marcie- Seeing that quoted makes me realize that so much of the piece is really about acceptance. xoxo Kate

  11. Hello debaumer- Thank you so much for connecting. Yes, it's quite a trippy little club we are in, and I love hearing about others' experiences too. cheers, Kate

  12. Cindy says:

    Hey Kate, great story. I too had brain surgery 5 years ago. I remember being a bit freaked out about the popping and squishy sounds in my head! Then a few people in my support group said they experienced the same thing…it's always comforting to hear the stories of others in our 'club'…

  13. Hi Cindy- Word! I still get creaking noises sometimes on my scalp, especially when the temperature or altitude changes–a reminder that the body is so good at finding its balance. K:)

  14. Heather says:

    "The surgery is like an exclamation point on a sentence I’ve been composing since we left home." One of the most descriptive, fantastic sentences I've read in a long, long time.

    I have not had brain surgery, but have had my jaw/face opened so many times in my life I am unable to allow myself to count. Thanks for this brilliant article. Be well.

  15. Thank you Heather! Blessings & peace – Kate

  16. reedmagazine says:

    A great read! I know this memoir will be a bestseller no matter what the title.

  17. lee says:

    Amazing story. What a great attitude you have to something that would be considered frightening and yet you have attitude of acceptance. I am on my own journey of acceptance to heal my body so I feel like I can relate. Thankyou for sharing. it inspires me and reminds me I am on the right path

  18. Stacy B says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story Kate.
    Just a few hours ago, some friends and I were talking about the physical body/spiritual connection.
    I had emergency surgery to remove a uterine tumor in August and will be going back for another surgery in February. I alternate between feeling sad and mad that my body is betraying me, and feeling peace and warm compassion for my physical being. My friend (and you) have reminded me that my thoughts are very powerful and can be healing or hurtful.
    You are a very beautiful and strong survivor.
    Thank you 🙂

  19. Elena says:

    I was ready to read more of the story! Thanks for sharing.

  20. tinadeK says:

    love love your article ….i scrolled down to read further…you captured me 🙂

  21. angie Sandvig says:

    I start radiation therapy in a week. I have a tumor in my left eye. Optic nerve damage. I’ve lost sight in my left eye due to the tumor. Had a mild stroke 2 days later. Life changing… no nite driving …my life is different.. and yet better.

    Radiation is to save what I have left. I have been very scared. Your story was perfect timing. Thank you! !

  22. Kate Evans says:

    Thank you, Lee. I was kind of surprised by my feeling of acceptance, but at the same time I think I had been on that path for a longtime. I feel blessed that you were inspired.

  23. Kate Evans says:

    Thank you for sharing yours too, Stacy. We are all in this together, if we allow it to be so. Yes, that's been my biggest discovery of the past few years: the power of my thoughts. You sound like a beautiful and strong survivor too!

  24. Kate Evans says:

    That's great to hear, Elena, since my book will be coming out next year! 🙂

  25. Kate Evans says:

    Gracias tinadeK!

  26. Kate Evans says:

    "My life is different…and yet better." Wow, thank you for that. Isn't it amazing how something so "terrible" can turn out to be our greatest teacher? I've learned to love my body, to soften toward others and toward life. Sending you ongoing healing vibes as you face radiation. If you can think of the experience like you would going to a spa–as the ultimate self-care–then it might have even better results. All the best, Kate

  27. Don says:

    Hi Kate. How is your hand ?

  28. Kate Evans says:

    Hi Don, Thank you so much for asking. It's really good. Thanks for the reminder to give it extra love each day! Happy New Year. -Kate

  29. Melanie says:

    Dear Kate,
    I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was seventeen and underwent surgery in 2001 to remove the non malignant tumor.

    My hope was to live life without seizures, although the 'magic' did not happen – or shall I say I did not see it then.

    The magic began when I was able to share without shame about my epilepsy (it has taken about 15 years) and along with occasional seizures, I still struggle with acceptance.

    After the surgery I felt different, and did hear some of the squishy sounds in my head. I experienced the world in a way that I did not fully understand, and even the clear sentences in my head came out of my mouth in a jumbled manner.

    Every person changes daily and it feels now my brain has grown back into my body, or perhaps it is that I have progressively allowed it to do so.

    Time, love, and most recently – yoga, have allowed me to see both my brain surgery and my epilepsy in a different light.

    Thank you for the story, and I wish you all the best!

    Cheers,
    Melanie

  30. Dear Melanie,

    Thank you for sharing your story. So powerful. I understand that feeling of shame–and I believe when we release shame about our illnesses and our bodies, we help shine a light on ourselves and the world.

    Time, love and yoga–indeed, a healing triumvirate!

    Blessings,
    Kate

  31. Marci says:

    You may enjoy the book Waking, by Matthew Sanford. He is a paraplegic yoga teacher who learned more about the mind-body connection at a tender young age than the rest of us may learn in a lifetime.

  32. kattacruz says:

    Thank you, Marci. I will definitely check it out.

  33. Helen says:

    I started to read your post and within the first few sentences started to make 'tsk' noises and think 'oh puleeezz.. really?' Then …. I read further. You see I'm overweight and there's all kinds of 'reasons' etc blah blah … BUT ….. I then read .. further! …. and … saw it, realised it and understood. Thank you for opening my eyes ♥ Namaste ♥

  34. kattacruz says:

    Wow, Helen, thank you.

  35. Tomas says:

    Get better!

  36. Maggie says:

    Loved your article! Wish you the best!

  37. Lori says:

    This is one of the most wonderful things I have read in quite a while.

  38. kattacruz says:

    Thanks Tomas! This was two years ago. I am now better. 🙂

  39. kattacruz says:

    Thank you, Maggie! <3

  40. kattacruz says:

    Very sweet to hear, Lori. Gracias.