That fateful Friday
On my way to the airport to see my beloved son Doing three things at once, whilst driving Talking to my travel agent, unseatbelted Listening to NPR and whatever else I can no longer remember As usual, trying to be cleverer, as usual, Trying to do too much Squeezing out of life more than I thought was meant for me, in the moment.
Suddenly a semi hits me, broadsided, T-boned they called it locally throwing me into the passenger seat. (Thank God I was not seat belted) After the impact I was crouched on my belly curled up. bruised and unable to breathe.
Soon a rescue worker was there asking me about my neck but I was so short of breath and could not move. I lose consciousness and awake in the ER Oh boy I never realized what pain was, How searing and engrossing. leaving me no thoughts for anything else Demanding my total attention. Any movement, any breath tore me apart.
That was until the morphine; a friend for the next week The PCA pump would be there for me And the only struggle would be my reluctance A head-game of conflict between relief and the price to pay In bowel inaction and visual focusing.
So the CT showed rib fractures, lung contusions, pleural effusions, chip fracture of the humerus, as I debated in my medically trained mind, whether the shoulder pain was referred pain from the ribs or localized pathology in the rotator cuff or even a shoulder separation.
People flowed in and out of consciousness. My children never felt so close. Their presence softened my existence until Sarah arrived. They truly were a lifesaver. Naftali then Tsiona read me the page-of-the-day from the Talmud so I would not fall behind, my biggest fear (as we speak I am slated to complete it on my 60th birthday!) Tsiona read from Rabbai Nachman's prayers (Likutei T'fillot) which talk of suffering and purification and the need to see the Lord even in the midst of the suffering. Eliyahu acted as my press secretary protecting me from the outside world as I healed slowly, for in my pain I just could not handle emotionally the outside world.
Slowly day by day I slipped into a greater consciousness enlarging the circle of my awareness and begin the process of making sense of this brush with death. If you were to ask me whether I ever met the angel of death I would tell you he looks like the front end of a semi with big teeth and huge jaws sitting in the drivers seat of my car. 'Why was I spared' is a good question for deserved I am not. The next question that burned in my brain as I lay in the ICU was "have I used up all my merits" (zechuyot) but later I was to learn that even that was an inapropriate inquiry for all life is a gift and the gift was renewed; making its preciousness felt ever so more. Maybe I was being taught that in my chosen profession and specialty of neurology and pain management I needed to become more compassionate for my patients by enduring this unbelievably painful experience from the inside.
You know it occurred on an auspicious day; the New Moon of the month of Elul which happens to be my 29th wedding anniversary and exactly 22 years after the death of my beloved Nana. I usually go to visit her in that calm cemetery in Edgeware on the "green belt" outside London. This year however circumstances prevented me from crying on her tomb and professing my undying love and gratitude for her unconditional love.
Did this trauma have to do with these connections, my marriage and my holy grandmother, a nurse with healing hands (or so I was told by her patients long after her demise)...
Beyond all this interpersonal stuff there I was, alone, distanced from home, parents too infirm to visit, siblings worried, patients inquiring and colleagues concerned, after all these dimensions one is left alone with God. Above all other questions how did this experience affect my relationship with God. What was He 'saying' in this trauma? In the pain of the night the excruciating inability to move or get comfortable, in the darkness of the night I met the lone Self.
It's really about God, of course, it always is.
He gives life and takes life,
May He be blessed despite everything He is to be blessed.
Which means I must find meaning in all of this.
Well not so much about God but more about my relationship with Him "What about us Lord? You and me" 'Where do we go now' from here? You saved me. No question about it-I am alive. But where do we go from here? How do I grieve the past? Now that I am born again the New Moon of Elul, now my new birthday What do I do beyond the usual? What is it that is so fresh about the beginning of my new life How do I sanctify this too?
For seven days now Just experiencing the immediacy of pain My life rotates around the morphine pump, the daily washings, the ritual of nursing life. My son tells me to 'stop narrating' Stop trying to make sense of things!
In truth there is no time to reflect
What with the medical rituals from morning to night
The hustle and bustle of a working ward
How we fit into the patterns of the visiting professionals;
Nurses. Therapists, doctors. Visitors, aides and cleaning staff (they of course are the wisest and give wisdom freely!)
We spin around their schedules,
Caught in the matrix of the living institution.
On his advice I stop trying: Stop analyzing, narrating, holding back the impulse to retrieve, review to make sense of things. I resist visitors precisely because it takes me away from this lived experience and forces me into a narrative mode making the present the past, but I am not yet ready since new experiences keep flushing in.
Maybe the rupture's message was just that after all.
Stop analyzing. (I am so used to Freud and Jung whose whole enterprise was to relate trauma and experience to some sort of hierarchical order). Just feel the quality of pain, its radiation, its relation to breathing, to movement, the back muscles, the bending of pain, the searing knife-like pain when sitting up, the aching shoulder when walking, the utter fatigue, the weakness in the legs after a week of bed rest, the "catch" in the breath when it gives out yielding no more, the fear of pain on moving or breathing, how trapped I am in the pain. Feel the emotional anguish of all of this, how it has impacted those I love and those I work with, my friends and family.
Yes, feel all these things, stop narrating this, don't seek meaning, stop asking "what is being asked of me" but allow the fragile ego to mourn, to cry, "tear" yourself through it, make no sense of it, make only sensation.
Above all feel God within the body of pain, an imagined space where the anatomy and physiology of pain guides the reflex movements and feelings of life.
Feel the desire to live, that utterly holy body within and the cleansing purification of the body and the right to face Him.
To stand in His Presence.