I reached for the blood pressure kit after being woken early by a racing heart. 3:47 AM flashed as my wrist blood pressure monitor beeped through its cycle. In less than a minute, 98 beats per minutes flashed, followed by 168 systolic and 87 diastolic. Should my BP have increased, I might be at increased risk.
I downed some medications, leaned against the bathroom sink. A momentary look at the toilet produced a soft laugh. “What if I die while using the toilet?” I muttered. A greater laugh ensued thinking of the poor slob who found me sitting on a toilet at the very moment I checked out. Hell of an obituary though, ‘Great guy, bad aim.’
By 9:15 AM my blood pressure had stablized to 117 systolic and 67 diastolic with 57 beats per minute.
Staring at the world from my dining room table, I asked a two-word question, “What’s next?” Having worked in the medical arena for the past decade, there were only a few people who wanted to hear how the patient was honestly doing. Most want to hear hope, courage, and positivity, not how unlikely the chances one would survive or how to live well during the process. For patients like me, there are no breakthroughs. There is no last-minute precision medicine or gene therapy. Such dialogue is written for only made-for-television movies.
I made one attempt to tell a close friend last night of my diagnosis.
“Hey Cara,” I started. “I stopped to have some medical tests run late last week.“
“And of course, you’re doing great.“
“Well,” I sighed.
Interrupting, “You know my ankle is still bothering me from when I tripped six weeks ago. I have an appointment on Monday. Should I keep it?“
“Because,” she whined, “I am starting to feel better. I know I complained about it, but I believe it’s getting better.“
“Oh well,” she continued. “I still think there’s some swelling. And it hurts if I push on it. But I have to pay a copay and the copay for x-rays. Medical stuff, always robbing anything, supposedly to help the people they serve.“
I gave up.
What’s next has been highly contested for several hours. I could complete my 2019 Income Tax Return. Then again, would the effort prove valuable if I die April 14th? There is a humorous part of my soul that wants to die without doing taxes. Or maybe, I would complete them, but not mail it. When the tax man cometh, he will find a handwritten ‘Post-It-Note’ at the top of my folder, “I left $50,000 in the …” An additional ‘Post-It-Note’ underneath would continue, “If you go to my computer, you will find I deleted my browser history …” Those words in and of itself might keep them busy for months.
Many Buddhist teachings and quotes find their way into things, but they sometimes come across as nonsensical phrases meant to sound obscure. There is meaning behind the quotes. Many lessons remain useful today. When I write of all the things I thought, what’s next was answered in one somewhat silly Buddhist quote.
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
Many of us are caught in the results of what we’re working toward or the way things will be when we finally achieve something. Truth is, that getting to where you want to go, being successful or even receiving a prognosis of a terminal disease doesn’t mean the work you’re called to do goes away. Up until the transition, I will probably do many of the same things I did before my diagnosis. If I cannot continue the mission called to do, if I can’t take on the simple tasks as best as I can, how can I conquer bigger things God requests?
Do your work. Do it well, and regardless of whether the message is a success or downright depressing, do it again. It’s all about being in the moment.