Monday, April 23, 2018

Fainting Away


There is no form, no feelings, perceptions, impulses or consciousness.
No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind.
Therefore, no color, sound, smell, taste, touch or thought.
The world of form does not exist, nor the world of the mind.

無色無受想行識
無眼耳鼻舌身意
無色声香味触法
無眼界乃至無意識界
                                    from the Heart Sutra (Hannya Shingyo)

During my chemotherapy I wrote about my fear of keeling over, but even though I felt I came close at Aaron Lee’s memorial service (see November 1, 2017 post “Ten Thousand Nien-fo”), I managed to stay upright. With my two hospitalizations for fever in December and January I was a mess but didn’t lose my footing. Then this past Monday after my surgery, I experienced how it feels to lose consciousness.

I’m grateful to the anesthesiologist that I was completely knocked out for the surgery. I woke up when they were taking me out of the recovery room and my niece was there to greet me. I got settled in my hospital room and received other visitors for a while. When everyone was gone I was glad I could look at my smartphone and catch up on Facebook.

I called the nursing assistant to help me get to the bathroom. When I was standing in there waiting for her to tear off the sanitary strip and put a measuring hat in the toilet, I felt myself going down, grabbing onto whatever I could. Next thing I knew, I was sitting on the toilet with the assistant and two nurses hovering over me. They talked excitedly as if they had just rescued me from the brink by dousing me with cold water. The main nurse told me I was white as her coat and my eyeballs had rolled back.

[from Vertigo, scene in Midge’s apartment]
The explanation for my fainting is that I had lost a lot of blood in surgery and so my blood pressure was very low. Although the normal hospital stay after mastectomies is overnight, I felt too weak the next day and had to get a transfusion. Only after that did my blood pressure return to normal and I could be released the next day.

At home I found I couldn’t sit up for very long without feeling light headed, so I’ve been lying down a lot. Until I can over this feeling that not enough blood is going to my brain, I’m stuck at home.

There are many kinds of disabilities and people have found ways to go about their lives without being fully able-bodied. In the Heart Sutra quoted above it sounds like there are six senses. While there can be life without sight, hearing, smell, touch or taste, can there be life without consciousness? I’ve seen people, including my own parents, near the end of their lives in a state of unconsciousness – I can say they were still alive but with only the sense of hearing connecting them to the world. Or so I’d like to believe – a tear came from my father’s eye when I chanted the pillow service for him and my mother seemed to grunt when my niece said goodbye before leaving her room.

I feel it’s not really being alive if I have to go on years and years in an unconscious state. But to know I could suddenly go unconscious – even if for a fraction of a minute – is scary. There are people who have occasional seizures who somehow get around for work and play. Maybe they’ve just resigned themselves to “it will happen when it happens” and prudently avoid activities such as driving by themselves.

This doesn’t alleviate my sense of restlessness to know it will be a while before I can take a long walk or drive a car (hoping I can eventually). For the time being, books and movies will be my escape and the internet (mostly Facebook and email) is my means of keeping in touch with people. But it doesn’t feel like a time of much needed rest (or even meditative “reflection”), but rather a time of passively receiving the expressions of others and frustrated with not being able to have much impact in this world. “December Fan” my eye – and ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Thinking of Kiyozawa Manshi is maybe my reminder that one doesn’t have to feel emotionally settled down to know that one and all are already spiritually settled.


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