Narco dreams

Nighttime is an especially odd time in hospitals. I had forgotten. The first night I was too full of meds and zoned out to care.

Everyone is gone. I have no movement and am trapped in bed, a perfusion of wires and tubes extending from both sides of my body. My “totem” pole to which I am attached through multiple connections is beeping and blinking, managing timed releases of meds. My Fentanyl dose regulator among them. Fentanyl has been my savior in the last 24 hours after I was taken off of the morphine based drugs which do not agree with me. The pain button, which delivers a dose of Fentanyl when I push it, lays across my lap. A safety blanket always within reach. I am trapped in a room, trapped in a bed, locked into a limited range of movement.

And now it is time to sleep…my bed vibrates every few minutes as the mattress rolls to keep my circulation moving. The room is filled with the blue and yellow hue of the monitors. Slowly I drift off to sleep from exhaustion and pain meds. I am determined to get a good nights sleep, no easy task in a hospital. I know first hand that sleep is one of the best medicines for me.

The dreams come quickly. I am in a variety of settings, all very different from where my actual body is. I stir and wake occasionally to find myself back in this sterile technology enabled room. Locked in position in my vibrating bed. Several times during the night I need to relieve myself but I cannot get up because of all of my attachments. I fumble about to find the urinal and move the tubes and wires aside. Always hesitant, a deep seeded resistance probably born from a 5 year olds fear of wetting the bed, that hazy dream state…what is really happening? A deep seeded dread of fumbling the task in some fashion and then creating an incredible mess that would be not only discomforting but also ruin any chance of a good nights sleep.

And somewhere along the way in this tumultuous night I am visited by the narco dreams. Dreams I have had at least once before, perhaps more. They come to me always when I am struggling in a hospital room trying to sleep with narcotics flowing through my veins. My first memory of them was when I was 18. I knew right away last night when it began. I had been there before. Like the replay of a movie you don’t want to see in an empty and seedy theater. It is dark, edgy, unsettling. I am not sure I could describe it if I tried yet it is familiar. I imagine it similar to traveling through Dante’s rings of hell, I felt sadness, fear, pain, human suffering. It was cold and harsh, it was not welcoming. it was deeply unsettling. I woke with the pained feeling in my body and the residue of fear tinging my mouth.

Another day has passed, better on many fronts and yet also filled with some challenges and more physical pain. Overall though a day of good progress. I will leave that for another post. I am getting ready for another night of sleep. I can move around tonight. The chest tube is out and the totem pole sits idly and silently in the corner. The Fentanyl is gone. My meds down to just a few. Once again I hope for a good nights sleep. And tonight I pray for no more narco dreams. I hope that last night was the last night of my life I will revisit that dream.

I wonder what that space is? Is it my sub-conscious processing the trauma? It felt like a journey in another world, an inhospitable place I would never wish on anyone. It clearly seems associated with trauma and powerful narcotics…a place I hope I never have to see again in my life. I wonder how many others have struggled with their own narco dreams as they work hard to recover from major traumatic surgery? I hope I am alone in that journey yet I am certain that is not the case. I watch so many here coping with so many challenges and fighting so hard. A testament to the human spirit in the face of life threatening illness. I feel so much compassion and empathy for the suffering of all those I see around me. I celebrate their courage and strength to push on in the face of adversity even when the odds are not always in their favor. And yet I have met so many recently who are doing just that, pushing on and not giving up. Facing the challenges every day. It is awe inspiring, and my heart is filled with compassion for all of us as we venture forth through this human experience.

I looking forward to drifting off tonight and having a peaceful sleep.



A Simple Cold…

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Limbo – an intermediate or transitional state of uncertainty

The last few days have been a bit more challenging. Out of nowhere on Tuesday I developed a summer cold. Nothing serious, sore throat, a little sinus, and that heavy feeling in my legs and mild headache. Pretty common, end of summer, small kids back to school, etc. No big deal. Yet this time around it has felt like a very big deal indeed.

I have never been a very good patient. I don’t like being sick, restricted, or otherwise encumbered. And I especially don’t like it if it is not of my choosing. I have a hard time sitting still. I want to move. I want to engage, I have a bias towards action. And this little cold was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back.  I couldn’t ride or hike, I didn’t feel like meditating. I felt like do nothing. And that bummed me out much more than I was expecting. I feel like I need to make the most of this time. In two weeks I enter a new phase of life. And although I am confident I will make a relatively quick and strong recovery, I am also certain that I am losing a part of my lung, lymph, and my innocence. A transition, a new phase, and a new beginning lie ahead.

It was a poignant reminder to me that I have cancer. A reminder I clearly needed to help cut through the lingering fog of denial. That I have a disease growing in my chest unfettered, a silent killer. That no matter how strong I feel, how much I ride, hike, meditate and stay positive I am not in complete control. Of course I think we all know that at some level. Control is an illusion, our health especially is not a given, and that every present moment is truly a gift. But in our whirlwind and busy lives, I like most of us I beleive, manage the illusion of control so well.

This is not the first time I have had to confront the illusion of control. I have survived many trials in my life from childhood on. I am a survivor and I know that I will always fight to the end, and that many times “success” only emerges through “failure”. I have had friends fight and some succumb to cancer. I helped my family nurture my dad through the dying process 13 years ago (lung cancer) and my mother just 3 years ago. I know the statistics, 1 in 3 will get cancer, but that was always something that happened to someone else. That was not going to be my story. I am active, fit, focused, young…and I have lives ahead of me.

So I have focused on my diagnosis in the last three weeks much the same way I have confronted many challenges in my life, head on. I have focused my energies into activity and a positive attitude. Doing my best to engage in “everyday normal”, to support my children and Brooke, and to enjoy this gift of open time.  I have written about attitude and effort, about being a warrior and preparing for the battle ahead, and have received a lot of loving support  for taking this approach.

Like every dynamic there are many facets to any situation.  A light and a dark, a positive and a negative. No judgement on either, one does not exist without the other. And over the last few days God, the universe, Buddha, etc. have provided me this gift of a cold to remind me that I cannot just push through this challenge on will power and strength alone. That I need to open to my vulnerability, to my fragility, and to the uncertainty that exists in all dynamics. My only control is to surrender my desire for control. To accept the full picture, to focus on being strong even when I feel weak. To draw my strength from my spirit and essence, my core as a spiritual being. Knowing that all else will fade away, not anytime soon, but with an eventuality that is certain and guaranteed.

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, rather we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

So with two weeks left before surgery I will continue to focus on staying fit, especially my cycling, and the freedom of flowing over the land in the open air. And I am reminded that I also need to open to my vulnerability. Accept that I have cancer. Accept that I am going to be vulnerable, hurting, and incapacitated. That I need to be open to being still and vulnerable. That my body will be less than the pillar of strength that I want. To accept a “weakness”, fortunately temporary, and in it find the courage and openness to engage in the infinite strength of my spirit.  For the real gift of this cancer is to accept this vulnerability, a path we will all travel, if we are so fortunate. And in this journey to continue to cultivate empathy and compassion for the all of those who struggle everyday to have the strength to get through life with grace while dealing and accepting physical limitations and challenges that make my situation pale in comparison.

I have had more than a few colds in my life. And until yesterday I had never stopped to reflect on the gift offered and the lessons to be learned from a simple sore throat.

A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?

 – Proverbs 18:14