Tuesday, May 19, 2015

what I learned from a hernia

To anyone with a chronic disease or a major injury, this experience isn't even a blip on the radar, but it was a lesson for me.

I'd been having some intermittent abdominal pain for a few months, but I wasn't really paying attention to it, chalking it up to gas. Eventually I noticed that it was always in the same place. Then came the flu in January. I coughed for two solid weeks. The abdominal pain got worse and bigger. 

Bigger? I could feel a lump above my naval. Lumps aren't a good thing, so I started doing what all smart people do, search the Internet. Not go see a doctor, oh no, the Internet is much smarter than any person with years of training and clinical experience. In this case, the Internet was pretty clear. Time to go find one of those doctor guys with all that training and practice.

I'm 56 years old. Aside from some muscular-skeletal issues that were simple and fixable, I've never had any problems with this body. It's a body I have trusted to perform all the tasks I give it to do. It's seen me through 2 babies, 8 years of martial arts, 10 years of yoga practice, the Couch to 5K running program, thousands of kilometers walked, heavy things carried, masts climbed, sails rigged, etc. In turn, I try to take care of it by getting enough sleep, eating whole foods and washing my hands (dang flu!).

Who would have thought this body has begun to wear out? Certainly not me. 

So, it was off to see the surgeon. It took a few weeks to get the first appointment and get scheduled for surgery when we were both in town. By the time the big day arrived, I was more than ready. The pain had progressed to the point I could no longer get through an hour long yoga class. 

Speaking of pain... I'm a big sissy baby, but I respect and appreciate pain. Pain is the body's language for telling the brain to slow down and move differently. Because I know I need to listen to pain, I'm not a big fan of pain killing drugs. I'd rather whine. But I learned pain wears one out. It's an interesting lesson.

It's been almost 4 weeks since surgery and activities have resumed. Walking was first, since that's a fundamental piece of my life. I can walk for an hour now. I climbed a few walls at the rock gym. I got through my first yoga class.  Running will come.

While the body has it own parameters for functionality, the mind has lots of options for coping with change and unmet expectations. I'd like to say I weathered this with patience, grace and optimism. Instead, I was whiny, frustrated and miserable.

Unexpected was a fundamental feeling of resignation and depression that made my days grey, my art irrelevant, and my weight balloon from beer (ok, some pain killers make sense at the end of the day) consumption. And this was just a hernia - nothing big, complicated, or terminal. 

What I learned was that people who experience life-threatening and/or chronic disease/injuries have a whole lot more to deal with than the change in their bodies. Daily living with pain, uncertainty, loss of movement and the ability to exercise, loss of productivity, fatigue - the list goes on - must be hell. I have great respect for people who can endure health issues with patience, grace and optimism.

I also learned how much our country needs universal, affordable health care. The bill for this little fix-it (before insurance) was $26,000, a fair price for the training, practice and tools required to get it done right. It's unacceptable that there are people for whom hernia surgery is not an option due to cost. It's unacceptable that there are people who can't get help for simple health problems that can lead to bigger health problems. It's unacceptable that people can't get help for bigger problems. 

There are still several states in the U.S. that have not approved the Medicaid Expansion for the Affordable Healthcare Act. I live in one. Do those legislators realize how much the health of our bodies affects our total emotional health: our ability to work, learn, feed ourselves, keep our homes clean, and effectively nurture our families and communities?

I've learned from this experience that healthy bodies are a big deal. Bodies need to be in good working order for our minds to be healthy. Now that I understand just how much I appreciate good health, I want to turn my learning into some actions. Aside from committing to write a few letters to our legislators regarding Medicaid Expansion, I've also decided to get myself back to the blood mobile. It's been longer than I care to admit that I've been "too busy" to donate. I'm O- and don't take any medicines. It's a small thing I can do for people who are sick or injured.