Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars… (from “Antidotes to Fear of Death” by Rebecca Elson)
Last night I thought I lay awake with a fever and a raw throat. Sick and frightened. And feeling guilty for having brought a student into my home to study. This is it, I thought: this could be it.
It was a dream. I woke with no signs of a fever this morning.
And I woke hungry.
I am always hungry lately. I’ve stopped in my tracks and am spreading – like a chipmunk stuffing her cheeks with nuts. Hoarding for whatever is coming. Conserving energy. It’s like some primal instinct has surfaced inappropriately. This is not what I need.
I need a jump start. I need a hard run.
But my hamstring aches. It’s been nearly 3 years now since I did nearly die. Since I lay immobile for 3 days with a catheter running from my knee to my pelvis, filling me with rat poison. 3 days seasick from the moving bed, and the overwhelming waves of pain in my left hip. Most of it was psychologically-induced, I suppose – holding my knee in place, holding my pelvis still, and willing the blood to flow.
My lungs felt like they were leaking. One doctor said the pain was the result of tiny blood clots passing through, another doctor said the pain was imaginary. One doctor telling me the clots in my pelvis were gone already: Hallelujah, Go home. The next day another doctor said he couldn’t promise me I’d survive the treatment I needed to remove them. You’re young, but you’re not young, he’d say to each bullet point of considerations.
A nurse reassured me during the surgery: no one had ever died on this table, during this procedure. Trust requires transparency, and is as fragile as glass.
My recovery was slow: my hamstring as tight and dangerous as a piano wire. Too conscious of my blood’s viscosity, I walked a medicated tightrope. Another mistake in the journal. Another breach of trust between the doctors and me. Between me and my body.
Last summer someone asked me if the whole experience had left me feeling reborn – left me feeling like I had been given a second chance.
No. It left me afraid. What you don’t know can hurt you. A glitch in your anatomy, that has been there since birth, can suddenly stop you in your tracks.
Know thyself. Inside and out. Know thine potentials. Limitations. “Live your life”, the surgeon said. I do – I run – but now with a tight grip on failure, on the who-knows-what-it’s-made-of stent in my vein. I move through the world literally grasping the weakness, and this is throwing my anatomy off balance.
My student asks me if I am in a risk group for the virus. “I am not.” I am not. “Live your life.”
But what do I know? A tug in the lung can be a blood clot. Can be a virus.
We have to confront our vulnerabilities along the Camino. Virtual or not.
It’s surprising which old injuries become apparent. But one foot in front of the other, on to the next place of rest: because there is no other way.
You can sleep on the cold, hard ground if you must. But, beautiful as the poem is, you can never really eat the stars.