Last Wednesday, while preparing to step into the bath, I took a quick glance in the mirror. Then I took a second glance.
A vein that I had never noticed before had sprung up dark blue on the left side of my face, around the jaw. It threaded its way alongside the jugular towards my chest, where it spread out like rivers on a map, moving down my left breast and across my left shoulder. I looked away and looked back quite a few times, unsure of what I was seeing. I became aware of a marked tingling sensation over the area.
I called my spouse, Joy, who told me she was leaving work to take me to the doctor. I cried the hopeless tears of someone who doesn’t want to go to the doctor, but understands they will probably have to go anyway.
When the doctor mentioned the possibility of a blood clot, I cried again, one of those embarrassing hiccup sobs that drown out words, and made the nurse practitioner put a reassuring arm around me, while the doctor, apparently genetically unable to stop smiling, continued to talk. I had that thought, for a few moments: “Ah, this is the appointment you don’t come home from. Almost everyone has one, and this is yours.”
I did come home. It was, thank goodness, not a clot. However, unfortunately, it is still not entirely clear what it is. In the meantime, it has been suggested that I move my left arm as little as possible, and not engage in contact pressure, which pretty much describes the sum total of what I do for a living. Until I see a vascular surgeon, and possibly afterwards, I am in a limbo, uncertain what I can safely do.
I am a cataclysmically cranky patient. For the next few days, I curled myself into a dense ball of toxicity and frustration. My poor spouse, Joy, scrambled to care for me and cheer me up, making me meals, taking me for a sunny drive down the Delta. I stared out at the sparkling river and grew angrier and angrier. Its beauty was an affront to my self-pity, and it offended me. I pictured the unknowable space inside my left armpit, under my collarbone, dense, darkening, growing fractal, poisonous blockages that would swallow me entirely.
It took me fully until Saturday morning to be willing to allow someone to tell me to knock it off. Here’s the paragraph I turned to in Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart:
“In Tibetan there’s an interesting word: ye tang che…(it) means “totally tired out.” We might say “totally fed up.” It describes an experience of complete hopelessness, of completely giving up hope. This is an important point. This is the beginning of the beginning. Without giving up hope – that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be – we will never relax with where we are or who we are.”
Ye tang che might as well have been tattooed across my chest in blue at that moment.
The first part of my suffering was this unknown condition cutting off circulation to a crucial part of me. But the second part, the more torturous part, was the wondering and hoping: when will I be able to return to work? When will I do a down dog again? Who will I be if I can no longer do those things?
In one of Joy’s many valiant attempts to cheer me up, she told me to think about football players. They become profoundly, consistently injured, and they deal with it, and they move on. Mostly, they find a way to play again. Sometimes, they don’t. All of them, it would seem, have made a decision that the game is worth the risk. At a certain level, they have to give up the hope that they can remain completely uninjured while playing professional football. Their bodies, which at some point will get used up anyways, become acceptable currency for the exhilarating ride of the sport.
At some point, my body will be used up, and I will have to step off the yoga mat, away from the massage table. Dear reader, I sincerely hope that day is a long ways off. My prayer today is to find a way to be grateful now for this opportunity to practice letting go. A moment in which I can let myself get totally tired out, totally fed up, and begin the beginning again.