I love being under water. Diving down and re-emerging. Holding my breath, breaking the surface, breathing deeply, and then repeating the cycle. I relish the feeling of being enveloped by the smooth cool water, my warm-blooded body being cooled down by a complete immersion. I am a fish, and always have been. I love swimming mammals and always have–especially dolphins and whales, but also seals and porpoises. For me, it seems like the ideal life–diving down under water and taking deep breaths in between. Feeling the warm sun on your skin and head and then diving down again. The world under water is also visually stunning—green, yellow, rocks, fish and little flecks of dust that shimmer in the light.
Being on dilaudid and other pain medications (tylenol, naproxen, valium) feels a little like this, except less magical. I was under water for many days. For weeks. I was wrapped in a cozy foggy feeling for a long time. I took dilaudid from November 22nd until the end of December. There were days when I took up to 10 mg just to get through the day. I was under water with just a narrow straw through which I could breathe. Fortunately I did not need to breathe fully as I was not moving much, and when I made the gargantuan effort to make it to the kitchen, or to crawl upstairs to the toilet, I ran out of breath very quickly. I was what they call short of breath. During these moments of effort, I could not get enough oxygen through the narrow straw, nor could I make the effort to breathe more deeply. It actually hurt my lungs when I tried to fill them. So I needed to surrender. Surrender to my inability to stand or walk for more than a few minutes, I needed to surrender to my little life in my room. The room gradually accumulated dust as it filled with the flecks of skin that I shed into my sheets and the air. My room, my sick room, filled with clothes and clutter. And I was powerless. I could only lie in bed and look at all of the things that I could not do–straighten the books on the shelf, clean off the stereo, empty the trash baskets filled with tissue, fold the blanket on the couch, do the laundry, do the dishes or sweep and vacuum the floor. My little world was full of the things I could not do. Every decision I made to use some energy was an important one because the small amount of energy I had, and times before the pain took over again was finite and did not replenish. No. I could not do any housework. I was sentenced to lie down on my bed, watch the dust accumulate, and the baskets fill. My bottom half was extremely weak. I moved myself with the strength of my arms, and everytime I needed to move for whatever reason I needed to psyche myself up for several minutes for the effort and the strategy. I would imagine myself doing the move several times before I actually did it. And after doing it—changing sides for example—I would need to recover for several minutes. It was the effort, the increase in blood flow, the need for oxygen, as well as the extra shot of adrenaline from the pain which would exhaust me too. So I would lie in my bed, foggy vision, mushy brain, and very little strength and I would look at the wall hanging from my childhood home. Luckily it is beautiful. I looked at it for hours. I would also talk on the phone. The phone was my line to life beyond the bed. My friends and family’s voices animated my existence.
At the same time, given my mysterious mobility issues and the worries that would ensue (will I be in a wheelchair? will I need to sell my house? how will I change offices and do my work and make enough money and still have fun? will my partner leave me? will my kids be ok?), the dilaudid helped me to chill out and relax. It kept a blanket on my anxiety that made it all tolerable. My thoughts did not spin out of control. I stayed in my underwater home, with a straw to breathe through, a phone to connect me with voices out in the world, my beautiful wall hanging, and the bits of company from my partner, my children, my father, my friends, my brother. It was not terrible. It was dark, the way being under water after the sun has set is dark. It feels mostly safe, quiet and enveloping, but it is also confining and a little bit scary at times.
So now, three months after surgery, I am coming up for air and at times it feels so good and full of hope and elation, but I am also getting shoved back down under the waves by my own limitations, my own weakness, and perhaps also, my body’s continued effort towards cleansing out the surgery and the anasthetic, and the weeks of strong medication. I feel tired–so tired. And now I feel angry at everyone who is in my way or who I perceive to be in my way—who prevents me from living freely–who asks me to take care of them, who makes work for me, who consumes some of my precious energy, life, time. Time is my new problem. It is not endless. It runs out. Everything I do means that I am not doing something else. And my desire is so huge and diverse, and my body so fragile and my energy so limited, I really do feel like I might short-circuit sometimes. And electricity and water do not mix so well. It is a treacherous and deadly combination. The tightrope I am walking is to keep my desire alive and dynamic and moving while not being too big for my body and reality.