Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Most Unlikely Blessing

I started writing this several days ago and it has taken me on quite a journey. As I was writing the first part, I had to stop a few times because emotions from years past came forth and overwhelmed me. Obviously, I have only touched upon certain items in Part I just to give you a very partial overview. The details would fill volumes and it is not my point to delve into the initial event anyway. This blog, though, has been screaming to be written for quite some time and it has proven to be therapeutic in a beneficial way. My life has been one great adventure filled with the highest of highs and the absolute lowest of lows but it has been a life that I would not trade for anything in the universe. I know that everything happens for a reason and truly believe that I could not have gained the wisdom about life I have gained any other way. It was meant to be. I would not wish my challenges on my worst enemy, if there is such a thing, but I would not give up what I have gained from them for anything either. I have shared this perspective with no one until now. I hope that it helps my friends and family to know and understand me better and also give others some insight into the positive side of life's many challenges. My Path with Heart is ongoing and I shall savor it one moment at a time.

Part I

As I said in my previous entry, "Blessings, Blessings, Everywhere", our Source is constantly supplying us with blessings. Most of the time we are too involved in Ego-driven activities to even notice. This is why it is so important for us to get away from our Egos as much as possible by relaxing and letting our chattering minds settle into silence. It is only in this state that our awareness comes alive and the many blessings come pouring in. This is nothing new. This is obvious by the old cliche, "stop and smell the roses". There are, however, much greater blessings that one may never come to realize. Such is this incredible and most unlikely blessing that took me many years to understand.

Back in the 1970's, I was a tremendous athlete and in far better physical shape than most people can even imagine. This was when I was a martial arts instructor in the Chinese art of Kenpo (originally spelled Kempo). I worked a 9 hour a day physically demanding job and then trained in and taught Kenpo for 4 hours every night. We also had an Instructors Tech class for 2 hours every Saturday afternoon. I lived and breathed this art and considered everything I did to be a part of the training. I could do amazing things and felt like Superman so you can imagine (or try to) how I felt when I woke up from a coma completely paralyzed and missing a leg. I was flat on my back lying on a "Stryker frame", had Crutchfield Tongs screwed into my skull, and a cable attached to them with 15 lbs. of weight holding my broken neck in traction. I had been in a coma for about 2 weeks and was under very close observation in ICU. At the moment I came to, I could see lots of IV bottles with tubes and the white acoustic ceiling with all of the holes in each panel. I knew I was hurt bad because I could not move any part of me but my eyes. My training kicked in and I immediately sank into a mental state of perfect calmness and silence as I muttered the word, " nurse". She must have been right next to me because she was instantly looking down at me. I looked at her and very calmly said, " Ok, I know I'm in a hospital and I'm hurt bad. I want you to tell me everything that is wrong with me". She said, " You have a head injury, a broken neck causing complete paralysis, you lost your right leg just below the knee, you have a compound fracture of your right femur, a fractured left femur, a broken right clavicle, a.........................!!!

I lost my centeredness and must have freaked out! Anyway, the next thing I knew, I was coming out of sedation and this kind-faced man was looking at me with great compassion. He was my Orthopedic Surgeon, the one who had pieced me back together during a 6 hour emergency surgery, and was now going to help me get my shit together. He told me that the nurse should not have told me like she did and he started explaining everything to me. My training had kicked back in so I appreciated hearing or just knowing the details. Just being alive was a miracle, he said, because my injuries should have killed me. I knew that was a compliment somehow but as he went on, I knew I only had 2 choices - if I survived the upcoming neck surgery. I could choose to just lie there, have my pain controlled, and soon die or I could focus my energy, my entire being, and do everything humanly possible to pick myself up again - at least what was left of me. I, like my angel of a Mom, am just too stubborn to die!

I immediately and purposely adopted a positive outlook and just swallowed the pain and suffering while I crossed each bridge, each moment, one at a time. I was not supposed to live through the neck and spinal surgery, a Compression-fusion Laminectomy, but I did. My Neurosurgeon said that if I lived through that surgery, I would never walk again and would need to have 24 hour care in a nursing home. Well, he did not know who he was dealing with. I left this critical care hospital after a few months, was flown by air-ambulance to TIRR ( Texas Instutute for Rehabilitation and Research) in the Houston, Texas medical complex. It changed names over 20 years ago to The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research - a most deserving name indeed! It was here that a team of the world's finest doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, and others worked endlessly over the next 2 years providing further tests, treatments, surgeries, various types of therapy, and hopefully guiding me back to my independence. So what does this unimaginable and devastating life event have to do with a blessing?? Well......................

Part II

My head doctor at TIRR (a world-renowned Doctor of Physical Medicine and Professor at Baylor College of Medicine right across the street) told me my broken neck was the worst he had seen. He was head of The Spinal Cord Injury Center for the Southwest so he had seen many broken necks. My injury destroyed my C-5 vertebra and severely damaged both C-4 and C-6. The injury to my spinal cord was permanent and left me as a rare type of quadriplegic. It is called Brown - Sequard Syndrome*, named after Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817-1896) who was the first to describe the condition. All extremities are effected with my left side having the greatest loss of motor function and my right side having the most loss of sensation. Now, add in the loss of my right leg just below the knee and my situation became an unbelievable challenge. The loss of the leg paled in comparison to the permanent effects I experienced from the spinal cord injury. I went from a normally very relaxed feeling to one where every muscle in my body was on at the same time with opposing muscles constantly fighting each other. It was like there was someone else trying to use my body all of the time and interfering with everything I tried to do. The worst part was never being able to just relax and not feel my body for a while. I was in quite a predicament and somehow I was going to have to live the rest of my life like this! Even with the best medications to stop the muscle spasms and relax the muscles, every one of them was still "on" - a most distrurbing and alien feeling. It all had to do with the wires used by my brain to communicate with the rest of me shorting out and/or having reattached all wrong because of scarring at the cut in my spinal cord. It was like putting the left turn signal on in your car and the horn honking. I had to somehow figure out a way to get the right signal in my brain to the right muscle or whatever that I needed to use. Over time, I managed to become aware of everything going on in me at the time and kind of "willed" my intention to the right place. This was extremely difficult! It was an entirely new way of communicating within my body. Now, I had to do all of this at the same time I was negotiating around in this outside world. I eventually got fairly good at this and got strong enough to get up on a prosthesis and relearn how to walk. So here I am having to be aware of everything going on inside me, having to watch where my feet are stepping because my eye-foot coordination sucked, and also be very aware of my surroundings at the same time! I was literally an accident ready to happen any second. Needless to say, the ground and I became very close aquaintances. My training in how to fall sure came in handy! Over the years I have continually worked to better myself and have managed to live without assistance. I had to learn to live in the moment because my very life depended upon my being constantly aware of myself and my relationship to my environment. To this day, every moment that I am up and about is a challenge. But, it is also an extraordinary opportunity!

This is where the blessing presents itself. I did not realize until fairly recently that this enormous mountain I have been climbing all of these years was actually an amazing blessing in disquise. All of these years, all of these moments for all of these years, I have been slowing integrating my mind and body with an awareness far greater than I had realized. All of these years I have been in training one moment at a time without knowing it. I have spatially mapped my existence and expanded my awareness of my place in this infinite puzzle of life. In moments of clarity, meditation for example, I have learned to "feel" where I am and to "know" the Reality of the Present. It is in these moments that pieces to puzzles of life join together to form a Truth, an epiphany. This has been going on for a long time but I had previously just made note of these completed "puzzles" and continued on with my life. It was when these epiphanies started happening more often that these smaller puzzles I had "solved" over the years now became pieces themselves of yet larger puzzles and these pieces also joined together to form larger Truths. I have no doubt now that this crazy yet brilliant system continues on for infinity. Pieces forming puzzles that then become larger pieces that form larger puzzles that then become even larger pieces ad infinitum! This is the Way of Wisdom. This long, long, painful, and difficult journey had finally reached that point beyond the fog, above the clouds, and into the light where goodness overtakes the bad - the silver lining, the pot of gold...

I have said for many years to my family and friends that I would not wish my injuries on my worst enemy yet I would not trade this experience for anything in the world. I have believed this way for as long as I can remember but I never really understood why I felt this way. I just knew this all meant something - that there was some reason for it. Now, after so many years of believing, I understand. A most unlikely blessing, indeed!!

* Brown-Séquard syndrome is an incomplete spinal cord lesion characterized by clinical presentation reflecting hemisection of the spinal cord (cutting the spinal cord in half on one or the other side). It is diagnosed by finding motor (muscle) paralysis on the same side as the lesion and deficits in pain and temperature sensation on the opposite side on physical exam. This is called ipsilateral (on the same side as the spinal cord lesion) hemiplegia and contralateral (on the opposite side) pain and temperature sensation deficits. The loss of sensation on the opposite side of the lesion is because these nerve fibers of the spinothalamic tract cross the spinal cord. In its pure form, it is rarely seen. Incomplete forms are also observed.

"It is only the artificial ego that suffers. The man who has transcended his false 'me' no longer identifies with his suffering."
~ Unknown

"Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true."
- Buddha

Men are four:
He who knows not and knows not he knows not, he is a fool - shun him;
He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is simple - teach him;
He who knows and knows not he knows, he is asleep - wake him;
He who knows and knows he knows, he is wise - follow him.
- Lady Burton

He who gains victory over other men is strong, but he who gains victory over himself is powerful.
- Lao-Tse

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