I’m now home recuperating from yet another kidney stone operation, but even though I followed all the "rules" and drank lots more water after my kidney stone operation 3 years ago. It turns out that some of us are "stone makers," who will simply have to get this sort of thing done every once in a while. This stone was even bigger than the last ones, which were "gravel," and had to be removed surgically.
I spent 3 hours under the knife as my doctor took out a kidney stone the size of a golf ball. When I learned how big it was (from a CT scan before the operation), I asked him if I could keep it, maybe to use as a paperweight or desk ornament–I could say, "Look, that came out of ME"–but he had to break it up in order to take it out. The strangest question I ever got from a doctor after an operation was when my obstetrician asked me if I wanted him to save my caesarian stitches, so that I could put them in a wall hanging or something (but I drew the line there).
My two kidney stone operations just happened to be done by two different physicians, but I was interested to see that both are Asian, although of different ethnicities (and both were brought up and educated in the US and have "American" first names). I wonder if this might be because Asians tend to have smaller hands, which might be a necessity when it comes to removing tiny stones or pieces of a formerly big one. I might get up the nerve to ask my doctor about this when I see him in a couple of days.
Basically, I’m sitting around in my recliner chair taking pain pills intermittently and feeling languorous. It’s been raining here, which is perfect weather to recuperate in, since you can’t go outside for a walk anyway. I won’t be walking much for a few weeks in any case, because I have what is called a "stint" inside me. Doctors seem to want to place this near the bladder "to hold things in place while they heal" whenever you have surgery in that area, and this is the third time I’ve worn one, so I know that these are the REAL problem when it comes to recovery. Removing it is no problem–akin to having a pap smear at a gynecologist’s office–but while it’s there, it tends to poke up against the bladder and make you need to pee NOW. After my last kidney stone operation, Whitley and I were taking our daily walk. We decided to loop around our neighborhood so I’d be close to a toilet if I needed to "go." We were walking along when Whitley suddenly said, "Don’t worry, we won’t be far from home if you need to piss." For some reason, the WORD "piss" opened the floodgates, and I suddenly let loose and peed copiously in my jeans. Since I’m too old to get away with peeing in my pants, I crept back to our apartment by going down alley, using Whitley as a "watcher." When I told my then-doctor about this, he was surrounded by acolytes and they all had a big laugh over it.
This time I remembered the female astronaut who drove cross country without stopping, determined to murder her boyfriend, and got some adult diapers. They’re actually not bad–they might even be handy to wear to a long opera (where the Ladies Room lines are always seem to stretch for miles) or to New York City, where it’s almost impossible to find a bathroom (the last time we were there, I ended up sneaking into a public library to use the toilet there. This was after I tried a Starbuck’s and–when I went up to order a coffee–was told in no uncertain terms that "You can’t use the bathroom here!")
I had psyched myself up ahead of time for what I knew was going to be an onerous couple of days, so I’m not surprised by how I’m feeling, although–as one who’s been in the hospital quite a lot over the years–I find that hospital stays are a lot like plane trips, in that most of what goes on is out of your hands but you can still improve your experience enormously by being polite and friendly. I guess this should be obvious, but it’s surprising how harsh and demanding some people are in both these situations (probably for the same reason–fear–although in the case of the hospital, you can add pain to the equation).
Being sick brings out the empathy in OTHER people as well, of course. I had emails of encouragement and concern from people I really hardly know. I’ve also had the kinds of phone calls where the person starts out by being sympathetic with me, then goes on to recite a litany of THEIR OWN physical and psychological problems, and I find myself ending up soothing THEM. I’m going to try to remember not to do that the next time I have a friend who’s ill. It’s like Christmas: I wasn’t really sure how I felt about all the commercialism of the holiday until I realized that I could use it as a kind of spiritual "tool" to analyze the people I’m buying presents for and give them what THEY want, rather than what I THINK they should want or what I WANT to give them. If you get a present you don’t want or can’t use, it’s probably because the person giving it didn’t take the time to do this. It’s a subtle difference but it’s a real workout in empathy, which is certainly part of the spiritual path.
Sometimes just steering the conversation the right away that is the best tool in your kit. I remember chatting with a woman whose mother had just died. I recollected how, when another person’s mother had died years ago, one of the children–who couldn’t face the fact that her mother was dead, probably because they’d never gotten along, and she’d never taken the opportunity to reconcile with her–contacted my brother-in-law (who’s a lawyer) about getting the body disinterred, because she was just SURE the old lady had been euthanized with too much pain medication (he didn’t take the case). Then I mentioned that a doctor once told us that this kind of thing is done all the time, because physicians can’t stand to see patients suffer needlessly, when there is absolutely no cure on the horizon. I suddenly saw my friend’s shoulders drop from up around her ears to their normal position, and realized that I had somehow said something meaningful to her. It turned out that, a few days before she died, her mom was in such pain that they had to give her huge amounts of medication and that this, rather than the disease itself, was probably what actually killed her. My friend might have felt somewhat confused and even guilty about this, and my words–uttered in complete ignorance of all this–turned out to be just what she needed to hear. Flowers would have been too easy–This was the best gift I could have given her.
This wasn’t an example of empathy, it was simply the luck of being in the right place and the right time. Sometimes being used as a spiritual "tool" by Whomever or Whatever is the best gift YOU can get too.