Recently I underwent a bit of trauma. They laid me out and gutted me like a fish. Having those guts trying to find their way back into their proper places has been just one of the interesting after effects of ‘major surgery’. The doctor said “it was a ‘difficult surgery; you were in a place where you were not going to get better.” Having vivid memories of the five-day, two-state, three hospital odyssey that led me to the table last week I was not surprised by his comments during our first post-op appointment yesterday.
My doctor, a very good doctor, also has related to others, several times, just how very ‘tough‘ I am. He said I continued functioning, including going to work the day before surgery, when other people would have been “curled up on the floor crying for their mamas“. He says this with great respect To keep things in perspective he also reminds me to lose weight.
I am male enough I like the idea of being thought ‘tough‘ just a little. The need to be thought ‘physically courageous’ or ‘tough‘ is hard-wired into male chromosomes. At one time that might have been a benefit to our hunter-gatherer forefathers. Now ‘tough‘ could just as easily be a synonym for ‘stupid‘ or ‘outrageously stubborn’. I would settle for ‘able to do what needs done, especially when there are no other viable choices’; I think I am that kind of ‘tough‘.
Many years ago I thought I was ‘tough‘. So much so I did not listen. I received some very good training on compartmentalization: on how to put physical and emotional trauma in ‘boxes’ or ‘compartments’ to shut them away so the body and mind could focus on the mission at hand, something usually involving safety and potential survival. You do not want a pilot obsessing about a disagreement with his wife while trying to accomplish a difficult shipboard landing for example. I was very, very good at packing boxes.
I did not acknowledge the rest of the training. Sooner or later the boxes must be opened, the contents examined and considered. If not, the boxes would ( and in fact, did) demand to be opened and this forced opening could be just as traumatic in its own right.
Fortunately I think I have learned. During the last week or so I have received lots of physical ‘post-op’ advice. I now know more about gall bladders, emergency surgeries, and medical politics than I would have ever wanted to know. Yet nobody has said to me anything about being frightened or terrified or feeling violated physically and emotionally through the process. Maybe others do not think the way I do, but those are my experiences. I have to acknowledge them, deal with them, I have to ‘open boxes’.
One night while I was still in the hospital I opened the ‘scared’ box. I admitted how scared I was. I admitted how truly traumatized I felt and the shock I still needed to deal with now that I had time. I dealt with that box in the darkness of a very late night that transformed into a very early morning. That box has been worked with and I can work with it further when and if I need to. Tears can be shed and pain, physical and emotional, acknowledged. This is the benefit of growing older and trying to know yourself. If you are successful, you know how to help yourself heal. It is grace, pure and simple.
I have an emotion-laden trip planned for Christmas this year, and I will open boxes and pack boxes as needed for the trip. But I will deal with all of the boxes. Knowing that, and knowing how, brings me some of the peace this whole season is about.