Just in case
I drunkenly worked to take off the toenail polish, questioning the decisions of the hospital – why my toenails?!, but following them anyways. Superstitiously. If I do all the things, I will be ok.
I gulped down a glass of water. 11:30. Only half an hour more of taking anything into my body. In the back of my mind, I questioned the beers, assuring myself they would be out of my system come morning and congratulating myself instead for not getting high along with everyone else I was out to dinner with.
This moment had come on too soon. From the time we scheduled the surgery two weeks prior, I worked hard to put the reality of it out of my mind, other than the fears that would seep in around the edges in unexpected moments.
I had spent the previous two weeks working, running, being active. Rafting, dinners, beers, running each day. Filling my days with work, checking things off the list. I cleaned out my closet, and organized papers. I saw friends, but mostly cleaned and organized and made lists and checked things off those lists.
It was like I was nesting, but really, just getting my affairs in order.
Like many people, I have not spent much time contemplating death, my own mortality or what, if anything, comes next. I am agnostic, at best. But not one prone to contemplating the universe and afterlife. I do not believe in heaven and hell, but unsure about the rest of it. Not only do I not think about it, I have not felt a need to think about it. Once I came close to dying, but all it did was was confirm my belief in life.
When I was 29 or so, I had a climbing accident on Mt. Rainier. I fell into a crevasses, unroped, on the way back down after a successful summit bid. We had just unroped, and the trail, in the dirt, was in sight. We had just one small section of glacier to traverse, and lost perspective of the danger of glaciers. People around us were glissading down, and we made a poor call based on what we saw other people doing and how tired we were. I am not sure how far I fell that day, but I became suspended between the walls, hanging from my backpack. My legs dangling in the air, one arm caught above me, I tried to yell for help, but no one could hear me up top as I yelled down into the crevasse below me.
It took some time for my climbing partners, and other kind helpful climbers to rescue me. They weren’t sure if they were doing a recovery or a rescue, but they worked with speed and accuracy, and eventually were able to haul me out.
I do not know how long I dangled there, afraid to move, perplexed at first by the blood that dripped down onto the snow far below me, but I know that I was afraid. And I fought back in my mind, a rational voice taking over. No, I will not die right now. I have too much to do. There is more for me.
It was a powerful experience, this rational voice taking over, not letting me succumb to fear or despair in the moment. I was indeed rescued. There was, in fact, more for me, a move across country, grad school, and more. So much more to do.
This feeling of getting my affairs in order was strange. But I contemplated it, only in rare, quiet moments in the middle of the night. What if I don’t make it through this surgery? What if the cancer has infiltrated all parts of my body? What if I die on the operating table? What if I have done all I am suppose to do?
I battled those thoughts with life-affirming runs, and life-affirming beers and dinners, and a life-affirming backpacking trip the two days leading up to surgery.
And at the same time, I left my house ready for someone else to come into it, seeing it with eyes of a stranger. I texted friends. I left a note for my man, for him to come home to the evening of my surgery. I did not want anything left unsaid to people I cared about, to work that was important to me, and to the life I had created.
I don’t think I did all these things intentionally. But they happened, none-the-less. I had a checklist going in my brain – do this, do this, do this. And this checklist battled up against my desire to do so much more. More to do. More to see. More to experience. This battled raged on in my mind, waking me up in the middle of the night.
We know the end of this story. Just like I got rescued from the crevasse, I lived through the surgery. Just like the fear of falling subsided, I sleep easier now.
The fears faded away, but left a reminder in their wake: no, I will not die right now. I have too much to do. There is more for me.