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Mr. Angiogram

Updated: Apr 9

Our practice goes on and on. It sounds so simple. We should be able to get to the end, but things are not so easy.  We find our attachments everywhere, often where and when we least expect them. My recent discovery: I’d become very attached to my morning routine. Mr. Angiogram jolted me out of my routine and forced me to change.

I had been feeling good about the discipline, emerging in my life, a morning routine I was proud of. I was getting up even earlier. The 6 AM wake up began this January in Antigua. I wanted to sit on our oceanfront deck through the sunrise. Antigua’s on Atlantic Time. The sun rises early.

Our deck wasn’t the perfect place for sunrise sitting. A tiny mountain rose on a point across the bay between me and the sun. By the time the sun cleared the crest, that special glow of dawn was lost. But sitting there was special, nonetheless. To sit through the dawn as the gray turned, occasionally through pink, more often directly to the yellow white of day, to do my first-thing-in-the-morning zazen out of doors in January, what could be more special than that?

I have become a person of morning routines, my latent monasticism shines earliest. I soon had my Antigua routine. After zazen, a short walk to the porch of the main building where the coffee pots were waiting, to sit on the veranda with my morning coffee and do my morning pages, waiting for Morrigan to join me for breakfast. It took a few days for me to find my go-to breakfast, granola parfait, and sometimes a croissant. Then back to the porch where I’d read for an hour until Dee came down for breakfast. I would have another coffee with her, and sometimes a second croissant. The luxury of winter in Antigua, temperatures never varying beyond a 6 degree range, high 70’s to low 80’s, always a breeze, always lovely. We ate every meal outdoors.

I was on vacation. I left my computer at home, and aside from my morning pages, it was a vacation from writing. I read more. I finished the first two volumes of van der Wetering’s Zen memoir and got started on the third. I finished a Forester novel. I got three-quarters of the way through Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, although I was losing interest. I was still struggling with it on the flight home, and then I quit. Enough is enough. The further I went, the more philosophical Dostoevsky waxed, and the less interested I became. Dostoevsky’s a great writer I know, but I couldn’t force it down anymore. I just meditated for the final hour of a bumpy flight. 

In Antigua, I stayed away from the water sports. I took it easy on the walking. I was feeling fine, but my cardiologist had insisted on an angiogram, scheduled for three days after we got home. I hadn’t been told to restrict my activity, but if my cardiologist was worried, then I would worry too. I’d take it easy until he had his look. It was no wonder that I gained weight on vacation.

As soon as I got home, there was disappointment. My cardiologist, Bhavesh Gala had COVID. My angiogram was postponed. I was spooked. I would take it easy for the next two weeks. No resistance training for sure. I cut my walking back further. I wanted no medical emergencies. Finally, I went in for my angiogram. If there were no complications, I would be home that night. I would soon be back to walking and the gym.

I was missing walking, although down to 10,000 steps a day from the 15,000 I’d been averaging for the first three months of retirement. With morning and afternoon walks, I had joked that walking was my new vocation and my avocation. As a new retiree, I was relieved to have no worries about what to do with my time. I just walked, walked, walked. Late last summer, getting into a disciplined writing routine, inspired by Stephen King writing 2,000 words a day, I’d cut back on my walking. I missed my walking. 

Things didn’t go the way I’d planned There were complications and more complications. Gala was just going in for a look-around, and if a couple of stents were needed, he would put them right in. Things didn’t work out the way Gala expected. One artery was way more clogged than expected. It took the roto-rooter to get it cleaned out. I was on the table for three hours in a long procedure which was expected to last 45 minutes. The roto-rooter had taken so much time, Gala decided that I’d had all I could handle for one day. He would go back in a month to place two stents in another artery.

Was that complication enough? We had been warned that there were always two risks with an angiogram: a stroke and a bleed. The good news was that I didn’t have the stroke. That was what I had feared. I had watched Roshi Bernie struggle to rehabilitate himself from his stroke. 

The bad news was that I did have the bleed, and the news only got worse. While the medical team worked to control the bleeding at the insertion site in my groin, a hematoma developed, swelled to the size of a baseball. Instead of going home the night of my angiogram, I stayed two nights in the hospital. I slept the first night on my back with a sandbag strapped to my groin to force the swelling down. Heavy duty medication was required. They got the swelling down to golf ball size by the time they sent me home, feeling very beaten up. The upper chest pain receded within days. My groin and right leg were a nightmare of black and blue and for several nights it was difficult to sleep. Lifting was out of the question. No way I could go back to resistance training yet. After a few days, I tried walking. I was too beaten up. The second procedure would have to wait three months.

Knocked off my exercise routine, I worried that I might be too old to get it back.

But something wonderful was happening. A new morning routine was emerging. I hadn’t planned it. It was just happening. When I was having difficulty sleeping, I shut my alarm off, but found I was waking up between 6 and 6:30 anyway. I was getting up. I had more pills to take, but I couldn’t do the seated, morning meditation with our group. I couldn’t cross my legs. It took three weeks for the groin swelling to shrink to acorn size, allowing me to get back on the floor. It took a few more days for me to be able to sit again for 30 minutes.

I had more time — no walking, no resistance training, couldn’t do most of my chores, couldn’t put the garbage out or do the laundry; about all I could do was wash the dishes — so I threw myself into writing. I took Zen Imperfections, my memoir, out of the drawer where it had been aging, and going through the whole thing from the beginning finished the first draft. Back in the drawer it went to mellow again. It’s out again now and I’m going through it once more. Once I’ve finished this rewrite, it will be ready to go out to first readers.

While Zen Imperfections was in the drawer the first time, my first novel came out of the drawer. I’d heard from first readers, and I had work to do. It’s back in the drawer again percolating. It will get one more rewrite and then I think it will be ready to go out in search of an agent.

I’m loving my new routine. I am getting back to walking, but walking no longer comes first. My writing is coming first. Strangely, Dunkin' has dropped from my routine. My sister-in-law, Ro, had gotten us a new coffee maker for Christmas, and I’m loving it. We get it all set to go the night before so when I come downstairs, zazen and tidying complete, I just push the coffeemaker button, and the coffeemaker does its thing while I take my vitamins and wash any dishes left from the night before. 

And then I take my coffee into the den, do my morning pages, and then I begin writing. About halfway through, I get a second cup, but before I stop for breakfast, -- either a fried egg sandwich or granola parfait, my 2000 words have been written. In the morning for the last two weeks, my 2000 words have been detective stories. I’m on my second one, and I’m enjoying my husband and wife detectives.

In the afternoons, I’m doing my Zen Imperfections rewrite with the first novel waiting patiently in the queue for its rewrite turn.

Without even realizing it was happening, I slid effortlessly back into intermittent fasting, a part of my routine that was lost when I retired. Without any effort, I’ve lost eight pounds since Antigua, most of the weight that had crept back post-retirement. I’ve begun walking again, easing back into it, now around 5000 steps a day. I’m telling myself to be patient. My 81-year-old body needs time to recover. The resistance training will have to wait a bit longer. Be patient, Ken.

The biggest teaching in all of this surprises me. The joy of discipline, of routine, lies not in the particulars. Life changes. Routines need to change with life. A new routine emerges, and the routine makes life so effortless.

Thank you, Mr. Angiogram.

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