Every day I try to find ways to fully engage the moment I am currently experiencing. I fail quite often, but life events provide an opportunity to focus more intently. Going to the Med Center on Friday was one of those opportunities for me.
Yes, I was going there to have a test done to determine whether I am going to have to have a 12-14 hour surgery, a 7-10 day hospital stay, and (at least) a three month recovery. But I decided that I was going to engage and interact with every single hospital employee with full eye contact, attention, openness, kindness, and humor (if appropriate). It is such a great practice, and the outcomes serve both parties; me, because it keeps me grounded in the moment and in contact with fellow humans I am sharing the moment with, and the other person, because I am completely engaged and giving them my full attention (as oppose to being caught up in my own thoughts).
It actually went very well, for the most part. The most difficult interactions to sustain that type of mental focus are the ones we have with people we already know, probably because of how easy it is to default to previously conditioned patterns (perhaps making it the most difficult practice of all).
Anyway, as I mentioned in my Facebook post, I am not one who is prone to claustrophobia, but for some reason, my first 15-20 seconds in the MRI tube was a little sketchy. I'm not sure what triggered it, beyond the fact that I was being stuffed in to a small, confined space, of course.
I had decided to not make the situation any worse by leaving my eyes open, so I closed them as soon as I started to go inside. There was something about the tight fit, the position of my arms, the big plate that was strapped on top of me, the fact that my headphones slightly yanked off at the last second, and that my hospital gown slid up tightly against my neck, that created a perfect storm of momentary uncomfortableness. Regardless of all of that, however, we all know that it is really our thoughts that doom us. We start thinking and imaging scenarios that make the situation worse. (It's not surprising that this happens inside the MRI tube, because it's the same thing that happens to us in every day life.)
At any rate, I was able to push those crazy thoughts aside, and within 20-30 seconds I settled in and everything was fine.
In addition to being in a confined space, I was also given the instruction to not breathe deeply. First of all, I am a slow, deep breather, so that is already not easy (or fun) for me. Secondly, deep breathing is a great technique for people to use to stay calm. Telling someone who just got stuck in to a narrow tube, with a big plate strapped to their chest, to breath very shallow is not a comforting strategy, especially for someone who is having a hard time being in there in the first place. But, I understand that that is what they need to get good images.
While the total time of the MRI was about 90 minutes, they pulled me out a couple of times for some brief adjustments. Pelvis, abdomen, add contrast, continue abdomen, back to pelvis.
Finally, the tech announced through my headset that we were done. A few seconds later I heard the door to the room open and I decided that would be a good time to open my eyes and take in the full experience of the MRI tube. I laughed to myself immediately.
To my surprise, I had been pushed so far in to the tube that my head was almost sticking out the other end, meaning the super tight confines that I had been imagining (and that I had to pass through to go in) wasn't nearly as bad as my imagination had made it out to be. In fact, seeing the open space of the room so close to the top of my head totally re-framed the situation for me.
So, as mentioned above, there is this thing that I do...
I try to use daily experiences as opportunities for self-improvement. Sometimes these experiences are pretty obvious; getting angry with an aggressive driver, saying something that I later wish I hadn't, not paying full attention to someone I should be, etc...
But sometimes I search the metaphors for the lessons. It's like my own personal I Ching, but with way more than 64 possible hexagrams.
When you think about the uncomfortable experience that some people have when having an MRI, it's easy to understand why many would choose to close their eyes. Having their eyes open is a constant reminder of the confined space, and that visual data can easily add to the sense of panic. Closing one's eyes, however, not only eliminates the visual feedback of the immediate situation, but it allows one to mentally create a more preferable scenario; one that might help in their managing of the situation.
While imagining that you are not in the tube, or in some other uncomfortable situation, might not be "real," it is extremely functional. (Someday I am going to write an entire entry on this idea of real/true vs functional.) It is clearly a very useful strategy.
However, in my particular situation, it turned out that I was pushed so far through the narrow section that my head was almost near the opening. I just didn't know it until I opened my eyes right before they pulled me out. Eliminating the visual input (by closing my eyes) removed the opportunity to see a more favorable situation (my head was almost out of the other end of the tube).
Not long after this experience my mind started working through the metaphors, because, as I mentioned, that's just kind of what I do.
Creating a more desirable, and functional, re-frame by "closing one's eyes" to a situation can be an appropriate and useful strategy at times. It's less about "denial" and more about a temporary coping mechanism.
At the same time, giving yourself the chance to see the full context of the situation might be enough re-frame to get you through it. In this case, the re-frame was based on the reality of the situation (my head was near the opening of the tube), as opposed to the perceived/imagined situation (that my whole body was confined inside the narrow tube).
How might this apply to strategies I use in my own life? That is my own personal roll of the I Ching. What is more important is how might those principles apply to you?
The point of all of this rambling is that you can use this technique of evaluating life situations to learn and inform future behaviors. It's not just about being in an MRI tube.
In other words, every single day life presents us with these types of opportunities to wake up and evolve a little bit more, whether it comes in the form of something explicit or whether you have to discover and extrapolate the metaphor.
To me, it is a living, breathing, fully-engaged "meditation practice." One that is certainly worth trying.
A number of weeks ago I was talking about my disease with someone and I said, "It's so bizarre to think about possibly needing this massive surgery when I am asymptomatic for the disease." And the moment I said it, a little voice in the back of my head said "Don't say that out loud, you might make it happen."
I found myself using that same language a number of more times in the next few weeks, and each time I thought to myself "I hope you don't regret saying that."
The words that should not be spoken. :)
Superstitious? Absolutely. And yet, I'm sure we've all had the experience of saying something and then having it almost immediately come true. (I know, I know...confirmation bias. Blah blah. Labeling it as something isn't always the whole story, although it is a convenient way to dismiss it.)
I mention this because while I have been asymptomatic this whole time, last Monday I started to notice stuff seemingly out of nowhere. Mostly just pressure in my abdomen, specifically around my diaphragm. Since then I have been like, "Dude, seriously? I am feeling all of this stuff all of the sudden?"
Of course, I can't attribute the feelings to anything for certain. They could be a result of the disease. They could be unrelated. Maybe it's the food I eat when I am back in Nebraska.
Still, I will choose my words more carefully from here on out. :)
As a quick aside, on Sunday a cousin of mine who I probably haven't spoken to in 15, 20, 25 years showed up at my parents house. We talked for an hour or so. Until he brought it up, I had totally forgotten that he had been shot in the abdomen and had to have a pretty intensive abdominal surgery, including removal, resection, etc. What are the odds that that conversation would happen right at this point in time? Strange.
This afternoon I meet with Dr. Foster. I imagine we will go over the MRI results and then he will give me his plan. At that point, the probability waves of possible paths will collapse down to just a couple of options.
It will be a Schrodinger's cat type of afternoon.