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Amy Brenneman: The Hospital Helped Me Think

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During many painful moments, I was able to meditate on what's really important: the present.

amy brenneman woman in the hospital

Amy Brenneman: I had surgery a month ago, to correct a longstanding and chronic problem. At Christmas, when I scheduled the surgery, it seemed basically elective. By January 26, it was not. It was as if my body knew that relief was in sight; that it didn't need to be a good camper anymore and hang on. Around January 15, it fell apart altogether and I found myself limping into the ER.

Everything went well. Of course it did -- how could it not? I was with the top surgeon in the country for this sort of thing, at a major medical institution that did this kind of surgery all the time. I had sanitary surroundings, top-notch nursing and kind people constantly asking me if I was in pain -- and if I was, doing something to rectify it.

That said, the journey was not without drama. Because my body was failing, there were emergency situations, and I was in the emergency room three times in two weeks. My top surgeon said, "Tell them I sent you!" -- as if murmuring his name to the ER nurse would somehow roll out the red carpet. I tried, of course, but the ER nurse kindly but firmly reminded me that the emergency room works under the laws of triage, and if I could breathe and speak I was not at the top of their list. Which is as it should be. So we have to wait, we denizens of the ER, while discussions happen behind closed doors which will decide who gets treated first, and when.

Of the many lessons I've learned during the past few months (and they are myriad), here's one I was thinking about today. 

When you're in physical distress, higher thoughts go out the window. Here I am -- me, who loves thinking about God and art and politics and social justice; me, who is always looking for signs and portents and the Meaning Of Life -- here are the kinds of thoughts I've had during the last month:

I'm in pain. When am I not going to be in pain? I need to sleep. I need to eat. I'm cold. How can I get to the restroom with an IV and a catheter? And how the hell do the ties on a hospital gown work?

My world became very, very small. It reminded me of when my kids were newborns. Moment to moment -- can't think beyond that. Eating, sleeping, pooping, crying. Elemental and animal. I was reduced to this.

Or was I elevated by it? After all, aren't all meditation techniques, cross-culturally, trying to help us to be in the present? To attend to what's actually happening, rather than to our illusions? I grew to love this state -- even though I was in pain; even though it was actually REALLY hard negotiating that catheter -- because there was simplicity and clarity of mission. Be here now. Do what needs to be done. The next moment will come, and then I'll attend to it.

Perhaps by letting go of the search for the Meaning of Life, I stumbled into a piece of it, right there in hospital room 804. Now, if I could just figure out how to detangle that IV ....

amy brenneman

Amy Brenneman

next: Don't Fight in Front of Your Baby!
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