The Source of Suffering

I had a miserable week in the hospital, and most of it was self-inflicted. The week leading up to going in, I routinely told people that I was going into the hospital for 4 nights. If she was around, Moe in her quiet wisdom would add, “…although it may be longer”.  Moe understood something I did not: that the treatment I was receiving was full of unknowns, most especially the unknowable facts of how my body would react to the chemo they were giving me. I was attached to 4 nights, as if stating it to everyone would somehow make it so.

Attachment is a Buddhist concept; at least that is how I know about it. The origin of suffering is attachment to three kinds of desire: desire for pleasure, desire to become and desire to get rid of. I have mentioned this flaw in my thinking before in my first blog on this site. The idea that “I’ll be happy when…” is all about attachment.

By Thursday night, it was becoming apparent that my kidneys were going to need a few more days of being flushed before I could be sent home. By Friday morning, Saturday was the earliest any of the doctors saw me leaving. By Saturday night, I was starting to try to wrap my head around how I was going to maintain my sanity if I had to send a second week in the hospital. For good measure, my attachment problems included being attached to being out and able to support Moe on Saturday as she emcee’d TEDx Bend.

What practicing Buddhists know that I clearly do not, is that everything is connected; people to people, people to circumstance, circumstance to coincidence, and coincidence to intention. Since everything is connected, the notion of attachment is a fantasy because we are already attached. The goal is non-attachment, but that expression doesn’t really do the concept justice. Non attachment means accepting the connection we already have with everything else, and knowing, for example, that when I was to get out of the hospital depended on a variety of interconnected things that were to variable and interconnected to actually predict.

The result for me was that by Thursday night I started to get depressed because what I had attached to as an outcome was not going to happen.   By Sunday, when I actually did get home, I was defeated, depressed and feeling very sorry for myself. I spent the day feeling like a failure. I failed by not meeting my goal of getting out on Friday. I failed by having a goal and an attachment in the first place, and I failed by being so disconnected from the world for so long. Looking back, of course I felt disconnected, I had unconsciously done everything necessary to feel that way!

I am humbled (again) at my own hubris, and desire to exert some control on the uncontrollable. My uber-white guy goal orientation serves me most of the time, but I have some work to do on knowing when to turn something over to the interconnectedness of everything and when something is actually appropriate as a goal. I believe deep in my bones that we are all connected to everything and that attachment is a source of suffering. But I also have taught myself that will and goals help make the world manageable. I have not learned the balance between the two.

BTW, my kidneys are fine. My treatment schedule has been pushed out a week to give them more time to recover. I have updated the schedule, and I am doing my best to not become attached to it.

A Week at St. Charles

I haven’t stayed in a hospital since I was 8 when I had croup and they put me in a tent. At first that I thought it was cool – a new adventure – but eventually I felt isolated and bored. I think the same thing is at play now. It’s a novel adventure, but the novelty is wearing off and soon I’ll just feel under-stimulated and isolated from the world, mostly the outdoors. I remember little else from 50 years ago other than everything was white except for some of the people.

I am at Bend’s only hospital, St. Charles, as part of the continuation of the “anvil from 13 stories high strategy” that refers to using the same treatment for my suspected microscopic cancer cells as they would for stage 4 lymphoma.  Even though I had no tumors anywhere and no cancer cells in my spinal column or bone marrow, people who present with my form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma are at higher risk for developing lymphoma in their central nervous system, which of course includes their brains. I’ll be here three different weeks over the next few months getting high dose methotrexate, a chemo drug that penetrates the blood/brain barrier that will prevent against any lymphoma cells making their way to my brain. Methotrexate is used in treating rheumatoid arthritis.  This high dose treatment marinates my brain with 3000 times the normal dose, so they like to keep those of us receiving the treatment close.

From my memory, hospitals have changed a lot. There are great works of art work and pictures of stunning Central Oregon landscapes everywhere, the carpets and wall colors are earth toned, warm and neutral. They stay away from white except for bed sheets. I have room service. That’s how they answer the phone when I call to order food. There is daily housekeeping. I know that because that’s what the house keeper says when she walks by my room, “Housekeeping?” I can wear street clothes instead of a gown, though rumor has it that some nJimHospitalWorkurses might try to make we wear a gown in case they need to ”access me” quickly, whatever that means. I have a table that turns into a stand-up desk I use when I work. Let me say, having seen lots of clients and friends with these, I now get it and LOVE standing to do office work.

There are a lot of old people on the “medical floor”. They appear to run the range from very uncomfortable and sick and grieving to totally out of it. Some have cancer. Some are withdrawing from addiction. A few look like I imagine I look; someone who is doing what must be done but wants to get out as soon as they can. When my doctor admitted me, my blood test showed I had a super-low white blood cell count, and they were worried about the dangers of me getting an infeJimsStCDoorction, so my door got some special signs that warned my fellow patients I was getting some bad-ass drugs and that people have to take “Neutropenic Precautions” to come in.
The signs made me feel self-conscious. I am trying to consider them as symbols of my ultimate badass-ness instead, as if the signs increase my status and level of cool among my fellow patients, especially when they see me working in street clothes, standing at a desk.

Mostly what I will do for the next 4 days is pee and work and wait for my methotrexate level to go down enough to be sent home. Moe is the emcee for TEDx Bend (she is also the lead organizer) and I want to be there to see her do her thing on Saturday afternoon. That’s the goal de jour; Saturday at 1 pm at Bend High for TEDx.

So that’s what IS. I’ll think about how I am feeling and when I figure it out, I write about that, too. If I were further along my understanding of myself, I’d probably be able to describe that now, but I am a work-in-progress and feelings are things I am late to find words for.