but picking up momentum…
I suppose that going 29 years before my first major surgery is a pretty good track record, all things considered.
I have some serious issues with letting other people help me. Actually, that’s not entirely true; I accept help from others. I know, intellectually, that independence is a load of crap. As a species, we simply aren’t designed that way. Our chief evolutionary advantage, communication (more specifically language), is completely geared toward interpersonal cooperation. So, you know, that’s what I believe, intellectually. Treating myself like I believe it is a lot more difficult. Anyway, what I really have serious issues with is not feeling like a piece of worthless garbage when people help me.
If it seems to you like I’m being too hard on myself, I would respond by saying that you’re right, I am. I’d also respond by saying, “Josh Daum. Nice to meet you.” It’s sort of my shtick. As with many areas of my life, attitudes of kindness and understanding that I would never think twice (or even once, really) about extending to others are things that I keep off limits from myself. It’s a problem.
So imagine how I felt laying in that hospital bed for two days, recovering from hernia surgery. Now look, I have no delusions that hernia surgery is by any means life-shattering. In the scheme of major surgeries, it’s a pretty minor one. On any one of my mandatory bowel-reawakening walks (yes, that’s a real thing) around the Colorectal Wing (yes, that’s a real thing, too) of the Cleveland Clinic, it was spectacularly obvious just how much worse I could have had it. The guy I shared a room with had a major bowel resection which kept him hospital bound for two weeks. Two weeks. And I’m sure that even he wasn’t the worst case in the wing.
So it’s not a matter of “oh poor me and my horrible surgery.” But here’s the thing: if a friend of mine goes out of his or her way to come pick me up so I don’t have to take the bus, I feel bad about it. Despite their persistent and repeated offers, I walk to and from bus stops instead of calling because I hate the idea of ever putting anybody out, in any way. Ever.
So I’ll paint my three days for you. My dear friend Jared driving me around to urgent care and the emergency room because I called him in a panic. He then proceeded to sit in the hospital and relay information to my brother and girlfriend. My girlfriend, who is currently serving as a chaplain at the Cleveland Clinic, taking time away from her very, very important work to comfort her frightened boyfriend.
I’m going to pause to talk about Rachel here, because I think she is astounding. She spends her days at the Clinic bringing comfort and spiritual care to sick and frightened patients. That’s her normal day at work. Imagine doing that all day (sometimes for 24 hours straight — yes, that’s a real thing), and then sleeping in a chair next to your boyfriend’s bed all night so that you can be at the ready to do the very same thing for him. Try to imagine that. I can’t.
Friends and family who rushed to the hospital when they heard that I had been admitted and needed emergency surgery. My brother Jake who took three days off of work so that he could be there for me. My sister who came to the hospital two days in a row to check on me. Rachel’s family, who came from Pennsylvania to sing to me in the hospital (yes, that’s a real thing). Doctors, nurses, attendants, food service people. The astounding Healing Services department. Rachel’s chaplain friends.
So filter all that through the lens of a person who wouldn’t even want someone to take a five minute detour to keep him from walking an hour in the cold. It’s much more than a little overwhelming.
Rachel’s posting at the Clinic is part of her Clinical Pastoral Education program, which is a little complicated to summarize in a phrase. That said, here goes: chaplaincy training program with a heavy emphasis on forcing you to confront what makes you tick. She’s learning a lot about pastoral care in hospitals, but the program also involves a lot of group sessions wherein she has to talk about her past analytically. So she’s learning a lot about her own attitudes and motivations and where they come from, too. As near as I can tell, one of the reasons they roll all that in with chaplaincy is because hospitals are emotionally intense places that have the capacity to push most anybody right to the edge. It forces you to sprint through huge spectra of emotions so you can get face-to-face with your most basic emotional self. And then start poking it.
I bring this up for two reasons: the first is as an addendum to what I said before about Rachel being astounding. Imagine going through all that and still finding it in yourself to be present and available to your boyfriend, who, despite being terrified and weak and vulnerable, is by far one of the least serious cases you’ve seen today. Again. I can’t.
The other reason is that my admittance, surgery, and recovery have represented, for me, a similar experience in getting face-to-face with a more fundamental facet of my self. Ok, I’m going to pause again to talk about Rachel. I have no delusions that my experience is anywhere near as intensive or soul-shaking as the program that Rachel is going through. For one thing, CPE is specifically designed to be intensive and soul-shaking, while surgery and recovery are specifically designed not to be. But that’s the nature of ordeals: different things are more or less trying for different people. CPE is supposed to be trying for everyone. That’s the point. Recovery from surgery, on the other hand, is going to be specifically trying for someone who has issues with others helping him. So I’m going to blaze on a bit here, despite the fact that there’s a very noisy part of my self that’s telling the rest of me to “shut up, stop bitching, and certainly stop calling this an ‘ordeal.’ Asshole.”
Josh Daum. Nice to meet you.
The biggest realization I’ve had is something that will probably surprise nobody who knows me, except for me: I have self-worth issues. Not intellectual ones, you understand. I know that I’m a decent human being. Maybe even a good guy. I’m kind to people. I like to help. Issues of charity and social justice matter to me. People matter to me.
But treating myself like I believe all that? That’s a different animal, entirely. The head and the heart, as it turns out, are kind of far apart. (See? I’m a veritable encyclopedia of medical knowledge now!) Every time anyone has done anything to help me during the past month, which, during recovery from surgery, is most of the time, I’ve had a whole flurry of emotions. Heavy on the gratitude, of course, but also the protestation and bafflement.
The other big thing is related, and it’s kind of where I started this entry: I am way too hard on myself, and in all the wrong ways. The surgery thing has put me face-to-face with the extreme version of it, but it’s a pervasive problem in my life. I had a moment yesterday when I was thinking about a conversation in which I felt like I had said something stupid. The conversation occurred something like five years ago, and right after I said the stupid thing (which, as it turned out, nobody other than me thought was stupid), I immediately began berating myself internally. Yesterday when I thought about it, I immediately began doing it again.
Josh Daum. Nice to meet you.
One evening a few days after I came home from the hospital, Rachel was doing Reiki on me (yes, that’s a real thing). She touched my feet and said it was to remind me that I was exactly where I needed to be. I freaked out internally. My first thoughts were “No I’m not! I’m supposed to be at work! Or rubbing your shoulders because you’ve had a hard day! Or doing anything other than laying around and doing nothing!” It was difficult to calm myself down and stop feeling like her taking care of me was some kind of crime against the universe.
The whole thing has been a good lesson in learning that I need to take the same care and understanding that I give others and extend it to myself. I have a lot of practice at not doing that, so it’s going to be a long journey, but I think that I’m starting in the right place. I’m very fortunate to have people who love me and who will remind me that I matter, too.
As of Monday I’m back to work. As of today, my lifting restriction is removed! (So I can feel a little more useful…) Things are going well so far.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to my wonderful friends and family for always being there to remind me that I’m worth it, even when I have trouble believing it myself. Thank you to the amazing staff of the Cleveland Clinic for patching me up. And as always, thank you to all of you for reading.
More to follow.
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