It’s been a hell of a day. Actually, it’s been a hell of a week – and, it’s only Tuesday!
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve had a cyst that has been causing me some discomfort. I first suffered with it in Hong Kong, some years back, but it responded to treatment and stopped being an issue. The doctor offered to remove it then, but I was simply too afraid to do so unless it was absolutely necessary.
However, the cyst flared up again before Christmas and became far more painful than ever. The doctor treated the infection with antibiotics, which only eased the discomfort somewhat. But, the golf ball sized lump on my back remained.
So on Monday morning, after flying back from Adelaide, I went to my GP to discuss the options. An hour later I was in the offices of a top surgeon setting up a time for an operation to remove the cyst and surrounding infection. The surgeon was very professional and reassuring.
I’ve been to plenty of hospitals in recent years (though most had cafes and gift shops near their entrance, rather than bank branches and rows of ATMs). However, all those visits were to see family or friends. The last time I was hospital myself, the former Soviet Union had not yet invaded Afghanistan and Australia’s national anthem was still God Save The Queen!
This morning, after what was a less than restful night’s sleep, I made my way to the operating clinic. I knew the location well, because the high rise building that housed the medical centre is adjacent to one of my favourite luxury shopping malls. I guess I’ve lived in Asia for long enough to not be shocked by that kind of a juxtaposition.
I was given the choice of a local or general anaesthetic and chose to stay awake for the operation. This gave me the rare chance to talk to the surgeon while he cut me open – which, to honest, is every bit as inspiring and gruesome as it sounds. I have a wonderfully deep appreciation for what the doctor did for me, but I also experienced a range of sensations and overheard a few conversations that I am not keen to share with anyone right now.
That said, the most odd experience of all was feeling myself slip into emotional shock towards the end of the procedure. The surgeon talked me through it and all the staff were wonderful. But, in the recovery room I had a pretty bad case of the shakes and the flickering lights in the corner of the room put me in a mood reminiscent of a David Lynch film.
As is the way with these things nowadays, I was dressed an on my way in time for lunch, still reeling from the experience. In fact, I managed to make it to my daughter’s basketball game late in the afternoon. Her team lost, but just being there to see play was a wonderfully life affirming thing.
I also felt very blessed to see so many messages of support and encouragement come through from family and friends.
I’d love to be able to say the experience has given me some great epiphany into the meaning of life. Certainly I was shivering on the operating table wondering what the significance of this day would be. I’m not sure what to say though, my ailment was so minor compared to the things many people go through.
It was late evening before I picked up a guitar and played something. Although my timing was rough (a generous soul might describe it as nervous) the notes rang out true and full. Pretty soon I was playing fearlessly and enjoying not feeling the tightness that had been inhibiting me in recent weeks.
Back when the cyst first flared up, a few years ago, I had been reading a lot about the role fear plays in the lives of many musicians. I joked at the time that the cyst was a reservoir of fear built up in my left shoulder from playing in judgmental musical contexts.
Today, I’m not laughing at that joke. I’m not saying the cyst was caused by fear (that’s not my worldview). But, dealing with this cyst meant confronting some pretty strong fears.
And, in the end, the artistic and creative life is largely about naming and facing our fears, whether they be harshly judgemental critics of our music, or the number of things that can and do go wrong with our bodies.