Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stitches and Stones

Life has many ups and downs, journeys through valleys, climbs through mountains, moments to pause and reflect.

Life also has moments of tears and searing pain, moments when stabs and jabs stop everything, when the throbbing nerves demand attention.

Pausing to reflect on these things, I noticed, like the stone in my gland, sometimes, an offending thing has to be removed in order for full living to continue.

This inoquous gland, simply doing its job of producing saliva to keep the mouth moist and to help digest food, is ignored, hardly known it exists, until it raised an alarm that something was wrong.

In 2012, the first alarm was when a stone couldn't make it's way out, so it backed up the duct, causing mind-numbing pain, swelling beyond its normal walnut-size, an emergency surgical procedure and a week in the hospital.  It left me with a scar and several months lost dealing with the painful aftereffects of the medicine.  

When I thought it would quietly resume its purpose, it was really lying dormant, waiting, perhaps like me, hoping the offending thing would leave quietly.  

Unbenowst to me, there was still a huge stone that refused to leave it's perch.  It let the gland work around it, but it was stubborn.  

We waited for it to shift, perhaps to be removed through the mouth and not another cut along my neck, worry about the nerve paramount in my surgeon's mind.

Time passed and the stone grew, rearing its ugly head again when it decided it wanted us to know that it existed, a 3mm thing, tiny in retrospect to the rest of the working parts of my body.

Another bout of medicines and waiting for my body to endure surgery, and off we go, to the best surgeon, the amazing staff, and the tender care.  Blue stitches, morphine, and home on instructions for the following week.

We thought it was over, the gland was removed and along with it the huge offending stone.  My surgeon was elated over  how well it was healing, that removing the traditional stitches left me with barely a scar.  

Then the unthinkable happened two days ago.  

The incision was opening again, causing mind numbing pain and me to reach for the bandage, call my surgeon, and be back in his office yesterday.

This isn't supposed to happen, he said.  He did a little tweak of the area, applied ointment and a bandage,  Let's do another round of antibiotics, take the pain pills if you need it, and let's see if there was a stone in the duct that is trying to come out, he said.  You are one of my special patients, he said.  Keep the Monday appointment, he said.  Let's see.

Last night, a stone came out.  About 1cm in length.  It left a hole in my neck along the incision line.  

So this morning, I started thinking about that stone. The one that kept itself  hidden in my duct, survived through the surgical removal of the gland and the larger stone, through layers of stitches, and removal of the stitches. It came out from it's hiding place, caused great irritation, opened up the incision, and painfully, forcefully pushed it's way out through a way it wasn't supposed to travel, leaving a scar waiting to be healed. The pain is weakening, the offending thing is gone, the hole will heal, the scar will remain, and life will go on.  

Stitches and stones demand our attention, action, and acceptance.  They do this whether we are ready or not, whether the timing is perfect or not, whether it is spring break or a special birthday, they sometimes want the spotlight shining on them.  It is in the paying attention to it that we notice it isn't supposed to be there, something it was trying to let us know all along, sounding the alarm through pain, nerves throbbing, and blocking the normal flow of life.  

In examining life, purpose, and plans, sometimes we need to pause, removing the obstacle, give ourselves time to reevaluate, and start fresh, maybe with a scar, but definitely without pain.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Coming of Age With Zora

Two weeks ago, I had major surgery on my neck.

It was something about that removing of the offending thing - my submandibular gland - that released a thought in me that I have marinated on for two weeks.

Jubilee is a freedom  year, a chance to breathe, to re-evaluate and to reinvent.

My big birthday is less than two months away and pondering that milestone, I pondered what it means to come of age, to be fully realized, to live.

Zora Neale Hurston is one of my writing sheroes who did not get her proper respect when she died.  She is buried in an indescript, segregated cemetery with a headstone that Alice Walker had placed there many years later on what is assumed to be the spot.  Zora died penniless and practically alone, childless, except for the volumes she left us and an autobiography that some have wondered if it was embellished.  In all of her authenticity and complexity, Zora still stands as a giant among women.

She dared to be herself and embrace all sides of herself, to define herself, even if convention whispered something else.

Needing not a man, three husbands could not "tame" her ambition, and wanting nothing but her art, Zora opened wide a door of opportunity that she never realized, an opportunity that defied definition.

I decided, as I was in my room for five days, that life is short, there are more years behind me than in front of me, and that for the remaining years, I intend to be fully alive.

Once dubbed "bougie" by the local black folks and "radical" by the local white folks because I demanded excellence from my staff, because I carry myself a certain way, because I have degrees, because I stay at home, because I spoke up, because I write, because, because, because I don't know why, I decided to embrace it because it means to me, like Zora, I am authentic, brave, and assured of my art.  Self-confident and self-determined, I continue to strive through life enjoying every experience.

Zora gave us a blueprint, in a way, to that later-in-life exhale, that second coming-of-age that women often have to experience after husband, after children, after expectation.