These cartoons were drawn by my mom before and after her second knee replacement surgery of 2016.
We were in the operation prep room ~ the surgeon, two nurses, my mom and myself ~ when my mom asked the surgeon to play Leonard Cohen while he worked on her knee. Although she would be deafened by anesthesia, she knew that poetic melodies of her favorite musician would protect her during the raw and brutal procedure that is knee replacement surgery.
Everybody laughed in delight when the surgeon responded to her request by singing loudly, “Halleluuuuuujah.”
“How’d you get him to do that?” one nurse asked. “I’ve never heard him sing before.”
By charming him, of course!
My mom understands that if somebody is going to knock you out and saw your leg apart, you’d better make sure that somebody notices you, feels appreciated by you and likes you A LOT.
During their first meeting, my mom asked the surgeon about his family, told jokes, thanked him for his thoughtful explanations of the procedure. The two of them developed a small friendship by the time her surgery date arrived. No small feat considering that, under the reign our of profit-driven healthcare system, doctors are allotted about 15 minutes to meet with patients.
I cared for my mother during two separate knee replacements in 2016. Being her caretaker was challenging, annoying, anxiety-producing. It was also tender, joyful, profound.
My favorite thing to witness was the way my mom befriended everyone who participated in her surgery ~ surgeon, surgeon’s assistant, nurses, hospital volunteers, even the anesthesiologist whom she met for only 5 minutes before being wheeled into the OR.
This may seem like a small, obvious thing, making friends in this way, but to me it was impressive. My mom is a very sensitive sort and I knew she was ~ understandably ~ very anxious. When my mom is afraid her tendency is to pull into herself, tighten up, shrink away. This behavior is not unique to her. I’m sure many of you can relate.
Life lures you again and again to the edge of comfort. It is your choice what you do there. Will you run away? Will you stay put and scream? Will you gaze to the water below? Dive in?
In the face of her surgeries, my mom did this: She climbed down slowly, rock by rock, breath by breath, gently encouraging herself. “You can do this. You can do this.” Amidst her fear and careful descent, she paused, looked, noticed the people around her, brought them onto her team. She did this even though all she wanted to do was hide.
In this way, she moved beyond what she had before perceived as her limit. It was beautiful to watch my 72 year-old mother grow herself.
2016 brought my mom to her limit two different times.
It brought me to my limit more times than I can count.
There’s no right or wrong way to navigate this edge, of course, but I have learned from my own experience that it feels better to soften there, to expand into fear rather than shrink, to notice my breath rather than hold it, to make space at all my joints rather than clench my body. To keep moving. If. Even. Just. Very. Slowly.
In this way we emerge from challenge bigger and new.
Until next time...
P.S. Yep, the surgeon did in fact play Leonard Cohen during the procedure.