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I am a Patient

It’s the first few weeks of summer. I’ve missed the entire spring and most of the winter.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was blogging, “I am a writer.” For the last couple of weeks, I have been wondering, “Am I still a writer?”

As I was getting ready for my most recent hospital discharge, -- I’d been in and out for months as Dr. Li worked on repairing the complications from my February angioplasty -- one of the nurses said to me, “You are the most patient patient.”

That felt good. I’d done well in the hospital. I’d finished what was for me the second draft but for the world the first draft of The Zen Imperfections. I would send it to the first readers as soon as I got out of the hospital. (For some reason, I was not able to send and receive emails on my computer from the hospital, although all other internet functions were working).

I’d also finished a first-readers version of my first detective story. That, too, was waiting for discharge to go to first readers.

My daily word production had fallen off, but I expected that when I was in re-write mode.

Things have been different since I’ve been home. I was not such a patient patient anymore. I was frustrated. I kept thinking that I’d missed the Spring. I’d pretty much missed the first 6 months of the year. My memory album for 2024 stops in mid-January when we returned from Antigua to find that my cardiologist had Covid and that my angiogram, -- that’s what I was still calling it, had been postponed until early February. I waited, patiently. Well, not so patiently. I was looking forward to having the look-see done with. I was looking forward to returning to my “normal” activity. Once the cardiologist said he wanted to take a look just to make sure that everything was okay, I figured I should take it easy. If he was worried enough to take a look, I shouldn’t push it. I cut back on my daily steps. I cut out my resistance training routine entirely. I was eager to get the look-see over with so that I could get back to the gym.

Things didn’t quite go as expected. My coronary arteries were more of a mess than expected. What had been intended as a “check to make sure everything is okay” turned into a major roto rooter project and two stents. Two more are needed but would have to await another day. The roto rooter was enough for one day. What had started out as an angiogram was now officially an angioplasty and a second angioplasty would be scheduled as soon as I was ready. The cardiologist guessed, “Four weeks.”

That’s when the complications started. The pressure applied to close the surgical incision in my groin caused a clot and didn’t quite get the incision in the artery shut either. Instead of going home the evening after the angiogram, I spent two nights in the surgical ICU. I went home on major blood thinners.

One week later, on a Friday, when I went back for the sonogram to check the status of my clot, there was good news and bad news. The good news was that the clot had been dissolved, the bad news was that the blood thinners had allowed the blood to pour through the unclosed artery leak. I now had a pseudoaneurysm that would require surgery. The surgery couldn’t happen for 72-hours, until the major blood thinner I was on, cleared my system. I spent the weekend in the hospital awaiting surgery. 

Monday morning the surgery happened. Li had been thinking about me all weekend. He had an idea that he might be able to get away with a minimally invasive procedure. It was worth a try. In the worst-case scenario, my pseudoaneurysm would shrink and a major surgical incision, if necessary, would be smaller and recovery would be shorter. I stayed in the hospital two nights recovering from my minimally invasive procedure and then went home.

When I came back for my follow-up scan in a week, there was only bad news. The pseudoaneurysm had grown. I was readmitted immediately. Li took out the pseudoaneurysm, closed the wound and, after observing me for a couple of days, sent me home to heal.

Two days later, I was back. I wasn’t healing the way he’d hoped. He could tell from the pictures of the wound Dee was sending him. Li kept me in the hospital suspecting infection and started antibiotics. Two days later, infection confirmed, I was back in surgery. Li opened the wound. Now when I healed, I would have an heroic scar. I was on a wound vacuum. I went home as soon as the portable wound vacuum arrived with visiting nurses three times a week coming in to change the bandage. I’m making progress. The wound is healing. It was 2 centimeters deep when I got home. In a week the depth had decreased to 1.5 centimeters. Another week and the depth was down to 0.6 centimeters. The visiting nurse thought I might be off the wound vac in another week.

So, what am I being such a grump about? I don’t want to go through this all again. I still need two more stents. If all goes well, I’ll have to stay in the hospital following angioplasty one night at the most. But what if we have to go through all the complications again.

I say that’s why I’m grumpy, but healing an open wound takes energy. I know this is taking a lot out of me. I look at my daily word count. I haven’t been writing much since I’ve been home. I haven’t been moved to write. I don’t feel blocked. I just don’t feel like saying much.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was saying, “I am a writer.” I knew that was not a description of some essential nature. I knew it was an observation. I was writing every day. I was a writer.

For weeks now, I’ve been barely writing. I am entitled to a fallow period. I’ve finished drafts of three books in less than a year. My first novel is out looking for an agent which is all that I can or want to do with it. The Zen book will soon start looking for a publisher. The third book is a set of three detective stories. The first story is about to enter a contest.

But when I asked myself this morning, “Who are you?” I don’t say, “I am a writer.” I answered, “I am a patient.” I am suddenly relieved. I am not saying that "I am a patient" in my essential nature. All I am saying is that what I am doing most of the day is healing. I am paying attention to my wound vacuum, schlepping it around, unhooking to go for a walk, but making sure that I am reconnected in less than two hours, worrying when we’re out at a restaurant about how much charge is left in the vacuum battery.

The wound vac is heavy, portable but heavy. Obviously lighter than the hospital wound vac which stayed attached to the hospital bed frame. But it is a schlepp. I’m walking everyday now, and I’ve gotten my steps back up to 5,000 a day, but I haven’t been to the gym in more than 6 months. I’m managing to sit on the floor every morning for zazen but I’m keeping my right leg straight. I’m a patient twenty-four seven. I’m paying attention to my wound vac. Getting up to pee in the middle of the night, I unhook and then reattach, checking to make sure the pump is working.

I’m a patient. Funny thing, having said that out loud to myself, I am suddenly thinking of things to write, a semi-autobiographical series of stories, and a second Zen book, a series of reflections on the emperor of China’s famous koan question to Bodhidharma, “Who are you?”

I am working with that koan now. “I am a patient.” And in embracing that instead of resisting and rejecting, I am beginning to feel again that I am a writer, too.

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Dale Goldstein
Dale Goldstein
29 ביוני

Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the “one thing necessary” may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest.  For then, by a divine paradox, we find that everything else is given us together with the one thing we needed.

                                                Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island


Dear Ken, I send you good wishes for healing and much love! Thank you for all your beautiful talks! May you enjoy a happy time, Barbara

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