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 looked up through the small openings on my extremely bruised and swollen eyes and could see IV bottles with tubes coming toward me and the white acoustical ceiling panels with all of the holes in each one. 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 down 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 was calm and listened intently as he explained the details to me. He told where I was, how I became injured, and what they were planning to do. 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 realized that I only had two choices and now was the time to choose. 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 damn stubborn to die so there was never really any choice to be made!
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 still flat on my back after a few months and 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 there 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 skillfully guiding me back to my independence. So what does this unimaginable and devastating life event have to do with a blessing?? Well………………….
My head doctor at TIRR, Robert Meir III, M.D. (a world-renowned Doctor of Physical Medicine and Professor at Baylor College of Medicine) told me my broken neck was the worst he had ever seen. He was head of The Spinal Cord Injury Center for the Southwest so he had seen many broken necks to compare to mine. My injury destroyed my C-5 vertebra and severely damaged both C-4 and C-6. My spinal cord had been cut about halfway through on the left side causing permanent damage 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 from the neck down 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 my leg, though, paled in comparison to the devastating 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” without a moments rest – 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 having the horn honk. I had to somehow figure out a way to get the right signal in my brain to the right muscle or whatever I needed to use. Over time, I managed to become literally aware of everything going on in me at the time and could kind of “will” 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 the outside world. Learning to communicate with my body this way was a slow and frustrating process but I eventually got fairly good at it. After awhile I got strong enough to get up on a prosthesis and started to relearn how to walk. So here I was having to be aware of everything going on inside of me, having to watch where my feet were stepping because I could not feel where they were very well, 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 properly 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. However, 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, body, and environment 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. This is using the Second Attention*. 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 that exponentially expanded each gestalt. Each newly completed puzzle came, and still comes, as a new epiphany that furthers my understanding of our True Nature. 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 that……. 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 in this purpose, I finally 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.
* See my blog entry, The Second Attention, dated Monday, March 16, 2009
“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.”
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