The Second Surgery
There are questions in my mind about the existence of a Deity, of Miracles, or Divine Intervention. In spite of this wonder and doubt, there was a series of experiences that I had that convinced me, beyond my own rational thought, that such unexplained phenomena does, indeed, happen. I have no explanation, as of yet, of how it works, it's prime mover, how to recall it on demand or how to control it or predict it or rely upon the outcome of it. It could be Luck, Coincidence, Synchronicity, Fortune, Fate or any number of such nouns. I only know that, beginning with the incident (or “incidences”) I herein describe, there is definitely something well beyond my understanding working in the natural world for my personal benefit and for the benefit of all things.
The events in this episode happened a long time ago. This true story took place sometime in the mid-eighties. I was about three or four years into my recovery program and that would place the timing of this about 1986 or -87. It was in the spring, I'm sure, because the weather was crisp and cool and clear – but being in Santa Ana, CA, it could've been any time of year.
This was the second surgery I was to have in the time since my sobriety began. The first was about one year before and was arthroscopic knee surgery on my right knee. The primary physician was Dr Gopala, an Asian Indian who was just a few months my junior in age. He made a point of assuring that I was aware of that fact.
The significance of the previous surgery was that I had discovered my very favorite recreational drug meperidine,known more commonly by it's trade name, “Demerol”. I was able to enjoy it while fully managing my consumption for medical purposes only. I used it appropriately and then abstained absolutely from it's use when it's medical need had concluded.
It is appropriate at this time to elaborate on why the previous paragraph is being mentioned. It is because Sobriety has an dominate significance in my life. I live a life free from many years of addiction to alcohol and an intense fondness for recreational drugs. I have had, as of this writing, no drink or drug since October of 1983. I am of the proverbial “hopeless” variety, having spent the most of my drinking history trying to, and failing to stop drinking. Included in my numerous failed attempts to stop I used a plethora of street and over-the-counter drugs, plus a few things that could be considered “industrial” rather than consumable. When I finally was able to stop I came to value the sober life style as a very precious and treasured gift, nurturing it and caring for it by the book and the fellowship of other recovering alcoholics.
My personal definition of an Alcoholic is controversial in most recovery circles. That is because I include the term “addict” in the definition, referring to the many addictions that contribute to one who abuses many things in order to subconsciously avoid living life with clarity and acceptance of reality. Of course, among the “many addictions” are recreational drugs including, from my own history, marijuana and amphetamines. I have to stay away from all forms of mind altering chemicals because they place me back on the dark edge of life, heading too fast on a one-way dead-end course where once I was imprisoned. So, as I don't drink, I don't drug.
Then came the Demerol during my first surgery. I was in pain, it was appropriate for me to take pain medicine. The doctor prescribed it and I took it as needed and it was regulated by the nurses.
It was wonderful!
I realized, during the recovery period of that first surgery, that it made me high and I just loved it. It was guilt free, too, knowing that I had not broken my sobriety due to the medical circumstances. The next day, when I was released to go home, I simply stopped taking the drug and relied on simple analgesics for pain relief. No addictive side affects, no cravings, no longing for just one more hit of that wonderful drug. I was done with it and would continue my life on the straight and narrow sober path without interruption. I was grateful.
Then came the Second Surgery a year or so later when I experienced the following event.
I woke up one night to noise in the dining room. The previous evening I had left the rear sliding glass door ajar so our cat could enter and leave without disturbing me. That plan failed. The cat had let his compatriot friend-cat into the dining room and they were having an argument that woke me from a peaceful slumber.
I dashed up and quickly entered the dining room, turned the light on and saw this wayward intruder, back arched and cornered. I approach it quickly and slap-grabbed it very roughly, John Wayne style, tightly with my fist almost crushing it's throat and chest. I walked briskly with deadly control toward the front door with the cat in hand. Pulling open the front door, I flung the cat with the greatest force I could muster – through the closed screen door (the latch broke on impact). The cat skidded to the porch deck then disappeared into the night.
It was then that I noticed that it had bit my right hand between the big knuckles of my index and middle fingers. I realized then, so very late, that the cat was just trying to get out alive, not roaming my house like a vampire on a blood quest. I hadn't had to pick it up, I could have just let it out in a much kinder manner. Instead, I had to be John Wayne and now my hand was punctured. I addressed it with first aid at the medicine cabinet, washed it, putting an antibacterial and a bandage on it.
Then I closed the rear sliding glass door and went back to bed to finish my sleep.
Two weeks later, at about 8:30am, I walked into Dr Gopala's office with a bigger bandage on my hand. There had been no sign of healing and it was hurting more and appeared infected. After an exam and an x-ray he said he wanted me at the hospital for surgery at 1:30pm and not to eat or drink anything until then. The cat bite had developed into Osteomyelitis. The infection was into the marrow of my bone and the situation was very serious.
I was suddenly scared. Very scared! Would I loose my hand? Would I die? What if this was the last day of my life? What will I do now? I was only 38 and too young to die. This was awful and I was afraid.
Mostly, I was frightened by the urgency of Dr Gopala's instruction; “...surgery at 1:30 today”. He listened to a few questions, took no arguments, was firm and direct. “...eat or drink nothing...” was an order, not a suggestion. He was commanding that surgery would happen to my hand at 1:30, no ifs, ands or buts. I was shocked with this news and I sensed that it would be very life threatening to me to be any where else except at the hospital at 1:30 that afternoon.
I don't recall phoning my employer but I'm sure I did. Or maybe I dropped in to report the circumstances but I didn't stay long. In those days I spent most of my lunches in a nearby AA meeting in Irvine. Since I worked in Irvine, near the Airport, and the meeting place was close, a mile or so, I went there for the meeting.
I had an opportunity to share and I let it rip, too. This macho guy, me, confessed his anxiety about the impending operation. The operation was so soon that I'd have to leave the meeting and miss it's conclusion. In those days, and in that place, the meeting was 90 minutes. My foreboding appointment was set for the very minute that the meeting ended, so, I shared that I'd have to leave early.
What I let “rip” was my feelings. I was truthful and humble and I talked from my heart about those feelings. I don't know if anyone was “moved” but I knew the other attendees there, being a regular attendee of the meeting myself, and some of them expressed their caring, some of their experiences, and their hope and confidence for me that I'd do well and be just fine.
That wasn't as helpful as I'd have liked it to have been. I did appreciate their caring comments but, I mean, it was like my head was on the block with an ax at my neck. “Oh, you'll be fine” wasn't going to help.
There was an extra gesture, though, made by a gentleman who stood to follow me and called to me as I was leaving for, what seemed to be, the gallows. His name was Tom G. He handed me a small yellow few-paged booklet and told me, that if I had any waiting time at all, to read it. He said that it had been very helpful to him and he often used tips from it in his everyday life. He hoped it would help me. The pamphlet was entitled,The Golden Key by Emmet Fox.
Again, I felt thankful and expressed that to him with a “Thank you” and a hug. He was a good and compassionate man. Then, I turned away and walked towards my perceived final destiny.
I didn't look at the pamphlet at all until I was at the hospital, waiting, and trying to turn my embattled mind away from the fear that was rampaging my thoughts. The little yellow book was about letting go and turning things – in this case, my Life – over to God. That was such and unpleasant proposition until that very moment, while I was looking over the proverbial edge. But more than the subject of spiritual surrender, it was written in a style that was kindly and comforting. The author was not presenting a commandment but rather offering a gift. It's as though Mr Fox, himself, was trying to comfort me with peacefulness. In fact, when I was into the text, consciously reading and understanding the words and the meaning, I was filled with peacefulness.
I would vary in and out of this comfortable state of mind. In - when I focused on the text, and out - when I'd look a few moments ahead at the cutting table, and then a week ahead at my own funeral. Then, back to surrender and the hope of bliss. Then out. Then in. And so on until I was called by a nurse, “Mr. Shaoe”?
My last name is Schow. The “Sch” part is pronounced like “school” and the name rhymes with “cow”. But “Shaoe” or “Show” or “Skoo” are all common sounds to which I've learned to respond. The nurse's mispronunciation served me well, for it brought me to the here and now and I got busy answering the usual questions, watching the last drops of drawn blood pour into small vials, heating a thermometer under my dry tongue and having a pump squeeze my arm into revealing my, now, very high blood pressure.
At my next idle moment (“Okay, Mr Shaoe, you can wait over there”) I could see that my fear, still dominating of my consciousness, was actually somewhat manageable. I could alter it by simply changing the focus of my thoughts from the imagined terror to any other thoughts I might choose. The best thoughts that worked came when I paid attention to where I was at that moment. These fleeting instances of peace, interrupted by the arousal of morbid ideas darting by, as I discovered from the Fox brochure, demonstrated to me that fear is a choice that I make. This awareness was intense and I thought it to be a significant change in my consciousness - another gift of sorts.
There was another gift in all of this. Another awareness became apparent. The glinting peaceful passages I found came about because someone else reached out to me at the very time I needed it. When I was desperate for help, help appeared before me. It almost went unnoticed. It's as though a mystical warp of grace occurred at a time and place that it was needed. Although I was afraid and anxious there were effective resources available to me. People around me and from the past were there to help in their, seemingly, scripted way. Even the surgery, itself, was designed to keep me alive. This conclusion was noted in an afterthought, after this whole thing was over. At the time of the event, I was not enlightened to this natural teaching. I was a spiritual novice in a real time experience of a Course of Miracles. Though my new insight was helpful and did give me quite a bit of reassurance, it was a new, unpracticed skill that I was to yet master.
These days, as opposed to “those days” in which this story happened, I experience and witness and otherwise sense events that would be called by some to be miracles. I have come to a place in my life where I, too, subscribe to the philosophy that the unexplained happens. More than that, based on my own experience, I have come to accept that these events are common and natural and that they occur regularly quite often, subtly, everywhere, and to everyone. At the time that this story takes place, though, I had not yet come to this understanding.
In this part of this story I'll describe the event as truly as I can. Every detail is as best as I can recall, given consideration for the twenty-some years that have past between then and now. I must preface these events with this assertion because it may not be perceived as true by some. It is mysterious at least and sounds magical at the far end. I'd like to say that it is as though God itself had said to me, “Hey, Ron, watch this”.
I was instructed to undress and put a silly blue nightgown on backwards. I put my personal belongings in a plastic bag and placed it on the gurney. This included my wallet, a pocket notepad, a pen, some change and my keys. Then I, too, laid down on the gurney. That's one of those high portable beds on wheels that the nurses use to roll patients around the hospital. The nurse rolled me around the hospital and into a big room where there were several other gurneys with people in various stages of waiting. When I finally came to a halt, I was at the end of a row of beds, maybe six or so, which faces an opposing row of similar beds with people waiting on them.
My bed was next to a curtain that delineated the end of the staging area. To my left was my row of gurneys as far as the a wall. The center of that wall had swinging aluminum doors which led into wherever they take the patient for their surgery. I looked over my feet to an opposite row of beds and one of those beds stood out very strongly.
My thoughts were not encouraging. The fear I told about earlier had magnified on it's return, now that I had been left to do nothing but wait for my turn in the operating room. I tried to meditate myself into a calm state but failed quickly. Then I picked up the book I had been given by Tom G. I started at the front and by the time I was on the fourth page I realized that I had not paid any mind to what I had read. All those paragraphs slipped by me while I was thinking of never seeing my children if this operation went the wrong way.
I pulled out that pocket notepad from the plastic bag to write a makeshift, on-the-fly, a little too late Last Will and Testament. I put down some words that represented some of my stuff but they all left and were replaced with visions of shovels of dirt coming over me.
As I sat there “thinking”, in the queue of what may be my gallows, I felt hopeless. Then I recalled the advice that I'd been given so many times. In the past the advice had been given to others and I was, mostly, a third party in those conversations. The point being that I'd previously been stimulated to the act by another person. This time, the thought came to me without any external influence except for my fear of death. That suggestion was to pray.
I guess I could justify a pinch-hit God who would rescue me from my self-induced torment. I needed relief from this terror state. I couldn't relieve myself and I was tired of trying to do so by myself. So, I asked God, as I misunderstood God at that moment. I asked God to take away my overwhelming fear, to help me to remain on that cot until it was time for the operation, and to live through it. I knew I wanted to live and that what was about to happen was God's choice. I asked that this be done as I could not do it myself. I surrendered, I gave up, I “turned it over”.
In one of the beds across the aisle, and well within my field of view was a young lady in her mid-twenty's, as I guessed. She was being tended to by her mother, as their not-private dialog soon revealed. The younger lady was having some kind of examination and she, too, was afraid of the potential outcome of her situation.
That was interesting but what really caught my attention about her was that she was very pretty, looked physically fit and had nothing on that perfect body except for a blue backwards nightgown. She was too attractive and, as I later determined, distracting for me. I wanted to get just one peek under that smock she wore. My attention was refocused, for sure.
After a few moments of gawking and trying to not get caught gawking, Mom kissed and hugged her daughter and she was rolled away for her procedure. Her mom left with her. I was really disappointed that my favorite kind of diversion had come to and end. I was left to write my barely started and spontaneous Will. I laid still as my imagination could hear the increasing rhythm of fearful ideas goose-stepping into my consciousness. I might have thanked God for that sexy distraction but I probably didn't. I was back into the morbid sea of impending death by scalpel.
The distraction by Grace was not over. A new sound began to grow from a mumbling drone, coming from behind the surgery room doors. It was laughter mixed with crying. It swiftly got louder and was approaching. Suddenly, those surgery doors swung open like saloon doors in a western movie. They were moved by the gurney of the lady who, just a few moments earlier, had gone through them in the opposite direction. She was filled with Joy of a rare kind, full of tears and laughing hard as she shouted and choked to her mother, so everyone in the room could hear, “I can't have the operation. I'm pregnant”!
That was, certainly to her, very good news. The happiness that poured out in volumes from this woman, and then from her retorting mother, was spread to everyone in the room. The sick and infirmed on their gurneys were all smiling and there were many chuckles of approving laughter. Everyone there, including me - especially me - was enraptured by the major glee that filled us all. It was one of the best feel-good moments of my life. She and her mother laughed and cried and hugged each other and hugged her doctor and carried the glee with them until she was rolled out of the room in the direction of the hospital's front doors. Nurses, patients, administrators, everyone else - and I – were piping with heartfelt joy!
Then the nurse came to my cart. It was now my turn for surgery. I had forgotten all about my fear, replaced by the echo of that laughter.
Anyone who's had a surgery can recall the routine, up to a certain point. The foot of my gurney opened the surgery room doors, and I was wheeled in. The cooler temperature in there heightened my awareness that I was wearing nothing more than a sheet. Finally stopped, a nurse inserted a couple of short connectors into my forearm veins and said these things were to make IVs and other injections easier without having to poke a hole for each one. And she had a couple of those shots at the ready. One was a saline drip that would hydrate me while I was “under”. She then inserted a syringe into the gadget that went into my arm. Then she said something about, “This will relax you”. It took a few seconds before I could feel my shoulders and legs letting go of the little tension I had but was unaware of, slowly melting my muscles.
I heard, at that instant, an audio illusion. In a surreal memory from a movie I saw as a child I transposed myself with the hero at a moat running to escape the evil sheriff's guard's falling arrows. At full speed, I charged toward the bridge as the portcullis slowly lowered to block my escape. As I got closer to the exit the thick iron gate kept coming down and I could hear the ringing rattle of the large gauge chainwork unraveling as my saving egress was shrinking. Still running I knew I wouldn't make it to safety. Then, a terminal “Thud” of the gate hit. With absolute certainty, I was blocked from my freedom.
My thought at that instant was that the gate had severed me from a New Light I had discovered a few years ago, when the clutch of addiction disappeared from my psyche. A feeling of heavy dread, that awful sensation I identified long ago, on the infamous day when I first I acknowledged that I was hopelessly addicted, had returned profoundly and engulfed me.
Now, I was stoned. Downers. I did not like it. I was not enjoying it. I did not want to be without the clarity of sobriety! I wanted to be with God, or whatever that was in the Light!
A blurry, fuzzy apparition of a doctor placed a mask over my nose and mouth and told me to count backwards. It became darker and darker and darker.
Waking from a drugged induced sleep is weird. Life simply appears. The whole world had changed since I last remembered. There was a very present silence contrasted by distant muted noises of intermittent pneumatic whirls and rolling wheels and very small muffled dialogue from somewhere even further away. It was comfortably bright in this place. In a second I recognized that I was in one bed of a two bed hospital room with no one else here; no roommate, no nurses at the moment. I became aware that I was all alone and I was okay with that.
My right arm was painlessly secured in a large square foam sponge encasement with my elbow entering at one end and my hand, which must've been wrapped by an advanced mathematician, was visible through a hole near the other end but not extending from it. The box that the foam thing formed was positioned so that my elbow was bent and it's geometry caused my hand to be and stay elevated straight up. Although I could move my arm by picking up the whole unit, it was impossible for me to accidentally hurt my new wound.
My head was in a slightly euphoric state and my body was very comfortable and relaxed. This state was most likely due to the effects of the anesthesia used before and during the operation.
A nurse entered the room and asked a lot of questions and gave me some instructions. I don't recall what either was but that's what nurses do when one awakes from surgery. One point that I do remember was that I was welcome to more of the pain medicine if I needed it, or if I asked for it, or something like that. When it was warranted I could have a dose of Demerol every four hours. I don't think I asked for it at that time because I was fine, very fine, from what was currently in me. I was comfortable.
After a while, though, I became uncomfortable. I recalled from my previous knee repair that I enjoyed Demerol, I could use it for pain and, because I stopped it immediately without side effects, that it was safe for me to use. I called for the nurse who shortly fixed me with a dose.
It was wonderful. Yes, my pain was well reduced but I was also feeling a very pleasant high. I'd forgotten about the separation from God thing discussed earlier and rationalized that it was a free ride because it was medically prescribed and there was no risk of addiction. I would not pay, I thought, any consequence.
After about two hours, still without significant pain, I was loosing the pleasantry of the chemical buzz. It seemed that the effects of the drug were wearing and waning. I knew that it would be a while before I could ask for another shot but didn't really want to wait.
How long is four hours? Actually, I only had to wait two but it seemed just as long. I really didn't want to wait at all and I didn't want to wait with an intense urge that grew to urgency.
I knew this hard need for the drug. I was experiencing a craving, just like those that, in another day, would drive me to drink liquor when I had sworn to myself earlier that I wouldn't drink. It would drive me to consume anything that might wire or buzz me. This was a nasty truth for me to accept. This was addiction! I was suddenly and unexpectedly addicted!
I bounced between “ask” and “don't ask”. I didn't want the fix but I really wanted it. This was insanity. I had to think clearly but couldn't. Not that the drug was influencing my logic but it had conjured the phenomena of Craving so strong that it overtook my judgment. I decided to ask for a second dose, even though it was too early and even though the degree of my pain was too slight to justify taking another shot.
Because my request was a little premature I knew I had to convince the nurse that I truly needed it. I also had to assure myself that I would not break the standards of sobriety by taking an opiate medicine without the requirement of severe pain. I came up with a strategy: I would swing my arm hard enough and bash it into the wall behind me. This would induce enough pain that the nurse would be compelled to give me a shot.
Again, this was insanity, another acute symptom of addiction. I am thankful that I recognized that it was, indeed, total insanity. It didn't help with the cravings but I had enough of my senses to know that I must immediately seek some method that would curtail my craving.
I knew that I could not resolve the cravings on my own. I needed something that I, alone in this hospital, with my mind exploding, could not provide for myself. Maybe the nurse could give me some anti-craving medicine, but that seemed absurd given that even psychiatric hospitals of the day couldn't safely deal with cravings.
Having had some time with a recovery program, I recalled the advice given by many in those circles; call someone. So I did. I called my AA sponsor who was unavailable. Next, I called Chuck “the Pipe”. He had become a good friend and I knew I could have a personal chat with him. He did answer. I spent some time explaining my situation and he listened, of which he usually wasn't too good at. He offered several suggestions and among them was the recommendation of praying.
This stunned me. I didn't subscribe to this prayer crap and didn't have an interest in doing it, though I listened to him carefully and with respect. When we hung up I was finally alone, very much alone with a crazy man, myself, who wanted his drugs.
I didn't want to loose my sobriety, though. I treasured the clarity that had come to my mind and my heart and I understood that I was at risk of loosing it, possibly forever. So again I prayed to a power greater than myself, beseeching a thing that I didn't understand. I prayed, asking that I be relieved of the awful wanting, this desperate needing, this God Damned craving.
Many people who speak of their addiction leaving them, describe it as being “lifted” from them. Some have said that it is suddenly gone, as if vacuumed away. Others report what they describe as a miracle, a profound and sudden change within themselves. None of those were my experience.
I did notice a few hours, later, that a long time had passed in which I had forgotten that I was craving anything. Not a thought. I just forgot, that's all. And I've been free of any addictive craving ever since.
It may seem wreckless to some, after my testimony herein this story, that I declare to this day that the wonder I have in the Divine Mechanics is dominate in my psyche. That an Abrahamic or Krishna-like dude is commanding and controlling reality, managing the sport of Right and Wrong, punishing and rewarding now or later are childlike deductions made without the evaluation or even the consideration of facts. God, using the word metaphorically so not to force a definition, is not magical but is very real.
I have had to re-evaluate my own stand on the issue, though, and make corrections. The Divine Mechanics are, in fact, very real, indeed. They are common and occur in the plain everyday. They are simple and natural. I don't know or understand them, that's all. Nor does anyone else. Not the Pope, the Dalai Lama, not the President or the Scientists. Not you. Not me.
The best we can do is interpret the world as we see and experience it and adjust our own perceptions to live with it as comfortably as we can live. We live with our Karma. Karma is not esoteric. It, too, is real, simple and natural. When I walk, I leave footprints. That's Karma. From that, I have learned to watch where I step.
The cat that injected my hand with a festering infection was not in my destiny. It was not “put there” to “teach me a lesson”. Rather, I left the screen door opened and carelessly invited it in. From that, I had an opportunity to learn a lesson about being spontaneous with a short temper and presumptuous with my ill perceived power.
Tom G gave me a twofold source of wonderful distraction via the Golden Key booklet. First that it's text described a method for coping with severe stress. It contained a knowledge of the present, the here and now, that I had not known. I needed that knowledge and it came when I needed it.
Second, that most people are kind and helpful and they act on that kindness. This awareness is a lesson I find myself learning redundantly. My trust in others fades until just such or similar a reinforcement comes along. It always does, too.
This “asking God” thing, what's it all about? Yes, my fear was well relieved, nearly instantly, as if on demand when that lady rolled back from the surgery room laughing out of control. But I never did get to see under that smock! (I jest).
That time, I took my best shot at a formal prayer, unable to address it to anyone I knew. Everything that followed was outside of anything I was doing. It happened in an unpredictable way at no one's prompting or planning. It just happened and it relieved my near-crippling fear. There is clearly something going on here that I can't explain. Was this a Cause and Effect event?
When I was first given my anesthesia, it sent me to a dream like state that came with a hard to swallow subconscious message. That message was this: With drugs, I cannot leave; without drugs I am free.
There is a yarn about a snake who asks a young boy to carry it across the river. The boy says to the snake, “You're a snake, you'll bite and poison me”. The snake returns with this promise, “I shall not bite you”. Assured, the boy kindly extends his arm and the snake curls up around his arm. The boy marches on across the river. Upon reaching the other bank the snake bites the boy. In his dying throws, the boy charges, “You promised you'd not bite me”. The snake didn't apologize. “I'm a snake and I did what snakes do; I bite”.
It was as though the Demerol, like the snake, had me convinced that I could play with it without any consequence. I had assurance, too, in that I'd done it before and came out with flying colors. I didn't realize that it was my snake. This time it bit me. That's what snakes do.
Again, I find my self asking the puzzling question, “What is this Ask God thing?” Of course, I have no answer to that which is beyond my understanding. Thrashing in the woes of addiction's craving, I was back to where I had started a few years ago – trying to stop my self from consuming that which I unreasonably wanted and deeply didn't want. The Snake's Venom was surely killing me. Then, with the help of a friend's suggestion, I prayed. In desperation, I prayed. Like my Mother taught me, I prayed.
find it ironic that, in my perception, nothing happened. I should
like nothing happened. I just forgot. That's, for sure, a mysterious
way. This is the way of the Divine Mechanics. I can't figure out how
they work and the time and effort I spend trying to is wasted.