The End Of The One Year To Live Experiment

Take a Fall, Be Marked For Life

One fall and look what happens.  “FALL RISK” will now be prominent in my medical record. There will be no asterisk indicating that I practiced TaiChi, had toned musculature, or great balance and bone density. No. The record will show a post-menopausal woman who fell, broke a bone, and required medical attention.  Old bitty.

via shutterstock

I declare this was no ordinary trip or slip. This was a Grand flying-leap-fall down a Grand Spiral Staircase in a Grand Hotel after a pretty good day of golf and light dinner with my sweetheart.  I declare, but I do not know.

My last memory was of gazing out to the tropical holiday themed lights lining paths through the gardens and pools, anticipating a quiet walk in prelude to spending Christmas days with family. Traveling light. No pockets, no identification. A pack of holiday Cuban cigs clutched in my left hand.

The next moment I’m staring at vividly organic blood covered hands. ‘Criminal Minds’ hands, I think. What’s going on?

So, What Does One Who’s Been Practicing Dying For 4 years and 4 months Do?

Two weeks ago I might have said ‘staaaay calm, focus on the breath, watch the pain, it’s not your pain, it’s the pain.’  That was then, now it’s ‘enough already’.

The physical insults incurred include: head injury, broken left wrist, under chin laceration requiring 8 stitches, inner lower lip laceration requiring 6 stitches, compression stress on jaws and teeth, multiple secondary bruises, etc. My lips were mega-sized and developed scabs. That was weird but not in the same weird league as the concussion.

The blood covered hands were so richly red and I needed to orient to this new state of affairs. No pain, no sound, only sight as I notice blood trailing down the stairs. I observe big geometric shapes extending high and variously illuminated. “I could have died. Wait, maybe I am dead. This is definitely a bardo. Is my family ready for this? mostly, i’m sure. Are things in order? mostly, pretty good.”

As I continue to gaze, the brain is working at making sense of these surroundings which are slowly evolving into a quasi-hotel, Pink Panther place and the thoughts: “This could be a portal of death… Nah… Death can do better than this…”.  This was the first time I noticed how much work it was to hold on to some consciousness, connection and presence with … whatever I could.

There was also that moment where it felt equally possible to die or to live. It was time to rely on the body’s skills, honed through practice, to get me through this because the brain had its own issues going on.

Lots of Wonder and Hoping for Grace as well

Memories of those 5-6 hours are spotty and self oriented: watching blood drip onto my favorite blouse, and sighing. Hearing a man’s voice, “someone cover that, now!” and the strong, skillful hand that bandaged my chin in one stroke.  Being on the gurney but not getting there. Being slid into the ambulance but not out. Watching the CT lights, psychedelically spinning and thinking, ‘I could stay here awhile’. In the ER, people around, questions asked.

Most of me was working on automatic: Answering questions, giving information, cooperating. It wasn’t until the next day that my husband was able to fill in many of the blanks. I needed to know how I behaved.  Was I consistent with my self-image?  Which one?

According to my only source I was very consistent, especially with my response to the 4 questions typically asked to determine one’s level of orientation with “my name, date of birth, and Obama Is Still President!”

That sounds like me.  But why I was asked to answer this the 10 – 12 times reported by my source, one can only conclude there was some chuckling going on, and that’s a good thing.

Sitting on the ER table, bloody blouse and all, I notice a big, darkly clothed man standing attentively with authority. His name tag reads: Vladimir.

Which self-image now?  It would not be out of character to riff on his name and its’ associations to things current, and otherwise.  This was a man who has taken care of me, he’s a professional who cares and I would not disrespect him. Thankfully, I said nothing.

The Experiment Is Finished

Should I tabulate, analyze, summarize and draw conclusions?  To what end?  It has no validity, as long as validity means that the experiment can be replicated.  Nyet.  Everyone’s relationship with Death is unique, maybe it’s not, who  knows?

I could tell you that Death is a gentle, yet firm and playful companion, a generous and patient teacher.  Nope.  That would just be my opinion. Besides, the medical bills, and insurance statements are piling up, there are projects to work on, things to do and people to see.  Weltschmerz* be gone.  Know when to wear the seaweed corsage instead of the crown.

“What matters is that we come to recognize that playfulness, as a philosophical stance, can be very serious, indeed; and, moreover, that it possesses an unfailing capacity  to arouse ridicule and hostility in those among us who crave certainty, reverence, and restraint.” (In Defiance of Gravity by Tom Robbins)

We never know when the game will change.

As I, Too, Wonder

As one woman, dying in isolation and too much pain, said, “Let’s see how Stephen would do under these circumstances!” She was right on the mark. Let’s see indeed! Let’s see now, before it’s too late, how I may be magic-thinking my way toward death, what I have secretly swept under the rug , how I delude myself that I “know death.” Now is the time to observe how we may count on dying on a “good day,” how we delay the work that remains to be done.

from Stephen Levine’s A Year To Live

*a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness

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re-published from exactly one year ago today. It seems longer and much has happened.









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