In Close to the Bone: Life-threatening Illness as a Soul Journey

By on Feb 2, 2016 in Pathways | 0 comments

Whenever or however that line from health to illness is crossed, we enter this realm of the soul. Illness is both soul shaking and soul evoking for the patient and all others to whom the patient matters. We lose an innocence, we know vulnerability, we are no longer who we were before the event, and we will never be the same. We are in uncharted territory and there is no turning back.
Jean Shinoda Bolen


I have not posted since November 21, over ten weeks ago. My rhythm of posting every two weeks was interrupted by a health “crisis” that included emergency quadruple heart bypass surgery. I was in the middle of a pre-surgery work up for a hip replacement which would be serious enough in its own right but not nearly as complicated. As I was undergoing the preparatory tests it was revealed that I had significant heart disease requiring immediate attention. After an attempt at placing a stent in an artery failed I asked the cardiologist when I could go home and call to schedule the surgery. The doctor responded “No, Graham, going home at this point is not safe. We will do surgery first thing tomorrow morning. You’ll be in the hospital for six days and then go home.” That was the point when my denial crumbled like the walls of Jericho when Joshua’s troops played their trumpets.

Now I’ve been through the surgery and my cardiac status is considered vastly improved. The recovery from the heart surgery has been remarkably smooth. My hips which have been in constant intense pain require attention soon. This has all been an amazing and at times arduous journey capable of provoking anger and inducing despair.

Lessons from this emerge slowly. At this point there are two I wish to mention.

1. I have been very surprised by the engulfing nature of all of this. Sometimes it is the only thing of which I am conscious. In those times in don’t particularly care what the spiritual lessons are. I just want it to be over. And in many ways that is a big part of the lesson: that this mystic blogger who finds the Divine presence in so many situations can be bent into a crabby, angry, frustrated human pain pretzel. It is a very humbling lesson.

2. During the ten months leading up to the surgery I was experiencing intense shoulder pain which radiated into my chest. A functional MRI diagnosed a torn rotator cuff in my shoulder in addition to a damaged hip. The shoulder/ chest pain was generated by relatively small amounts of exercise (climbing a flight of stairs, walking 100 feet). It was interpreted as being a result of poor posture walking in a very awkward fashion because of the hip. My medical team bought this narrative which I championed. Championing this almost killed me. Those periods of intense pain could easily have erupted into a very nasty heart attack. I could easily no longer be here.

I would much rather have a hip problem than heart disease. My denial and hubris thinking I could control the process by wishing it were so almost resulted in a disaster. As is often said “Denial is more than a river in Egypt.” And I would add it often fuels much more than alcoholism.

I write this not to blame myself or criticize my medical team but to SEE CLEARLY so that I understand my own contribution and part in it all. Seeing clearly is the best protection from self- sabotaging denial. It is an important step in living life as it is not as one wants it to be. I don’t like having these health issues but this is precisely what life presents me with in this time. My likes or dislikes are rather irrelevant. What is important is to see clearly.

Many days I am fed up, tired and want something different, anything different. In this way I am, to say the least, a very reluctant learner. But as time goes on the learning is inevitable.

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