I have had four surgeries in six months, so you would think I would be getting used to it, at least a little.
Two were more like "procedures" - the insertion of the feeding tube into my stomach, and then yesterday a biopsy of something suspicious in the back of my throat, near the base of my tongue.
For the first three I was absolutely terrified. I remember sitting in the "pre-surgery" room at Mass. Eye & Ear before my neck dissection with tears just pouring down my face. I couldn't stop them, no matter how hard I tried. I prayed, I breathed, I used all my tools, but nothing could stop my pounding heart.
Yesterday, for the biopsy, I went through the regular admittance drill with the usual fear gripping my heart.
For me, the worst part of the whole surgery experience is always when they push you on the stretcher down the chilly corridor to the operating room. They haven't given you an ounce of sedation, so your nerves are on full tilt as you watch the cold lights go whizzing by overhead.
It feels endless, when in fact it probably only takes a minute or two. Your loved ones are not with you - they are nervously awaiting the outcome in the waiting room - so it is just you, half naked, scared with a bunch of masked strangers in full operation garb whisking you down the hall.
I had been feeling more nervous than usual all morning. I don't know why, exactly. Everyone is very nice, very professional, and of all my surgeries this was the least complicated. But I couldn't stop my hands from shaking, the fear from gripping my heart.
"Okay, here we go!" I heard a nurse chirp, "just lie back and relax and we'll be in the OR in a jiff!"
I braced myself for the dreaded roll down the hall. Halfway there, there was some kind of hang-up - a stretcher jam or a confusion about which OR to bring me to - and we just sat there, unmoving, for several minutes. I felt a panic attack start to rise up from deep within me.
And then the most amazing thing happened. It just stopped. I thought of all the prayers coming my way from friends and family, I thought of all the well wishers and people who have helped me through this journey, and I was overcome with a sense of gratitude, of peace.
I started to say a little prayer, too - I don't remember the exact words - but it was essentially a "Thank you" prayer for all the goodness that has been in my life even in the midst of all the strife and pain.
And, of course, I thought about my Dad. I pray to him a lot.
A warmth passed over me - it was so strong I looked down to see if they had given me any medication through my IV. They hadn't. I felt a sense of lightness and peace like I have never, ever experienced before, and it was incredible.
I am more of a spiritual person than a religious person. I talk to God, but my notion of God is a very personal, private one that doesn't have anything to do with any traditional religion.
All I know for sure is that He was there yesterday in that hallway with me. I feel odd saying it - like it will be perceived as flaky or self-serving, but I guess I don't care. Because I know He was there.
As they finally rolled me into the OR, I looked around with a sense of wonder. I asked a bunch of questions about what each machine did, asked the nurses their names. I had absolutely no fear. I felt grateful to be surrounded by such sophisticated technology, instead of being afraid of it. When they put the mask over my mouth and told me to breath deep, I had a smile on my face.
Last night I lay in bed, wide awake and in a LOT of pain, and trying to recreate the experience I had in that chilly hallway. I was full of fear, wondering about what the biopsy results would say, and having trouble breathing through my swollen throat. It was a long night.
I lay there wondering why I can't have the feeling I had in the OR all the time. Selfish me, like a junkie, you give me a little taste of something incredible and I want more more more.
I'm not sure what it all means, really. I'm grateful I experienced it at all, and I'm hopeful it will come back. I'm pretty sure the key is to stop trying, to let go and trust in God, or the Universe, or the Energies, or whatever faith sustains you.
That experience shifted something in me, though. Something good, something peaceful, sprung to life, deep inside - like a little pilot light. I hope that I can keep it burning over the coming days - no matter what news I get from the biopsy, no matter what happens next.
And, as always, thank YOU for all your prayers and well wishes, my friends. You were all there with me, too, in my heart. I read and re-read your words of comfort and support when I'm feeling low and scared, and it helps me so much. Thank you.