Running to the Surgeon
The importance of sitting still after a run
Having walked to the UC Davis campus to teach my classes during this past year, I felt confident that I knew how much time to leave when I set out to walk about the same distance downtown for a dental surgical procedure. I misjudged.
Afternoon classes at UC Davis start at 10 minutes after the hour, and really the classes I teach don’t start until I arrive, but I make it a practice always to arrive five or more minutes early. As I headed out the door Friday morning to visit my oral surgeon (I will call him Dr. John because that’s his name), I had that 10-minute buffer in mind.
Checking my phone, I remembered that Dr. John’s staff requested that I show up 15 minutes early for my procedure. We patients like to comply with such requests so that any procedures we are undergoing are not rushed. Figuratively running late, I actually started to run.
Now when you walk more than seven miles a day as I do, running two and a half miles is not daunting, but the effort does have a physiological effect. The casual clothes I was wearing did not wick moisture effectively, so I kept standing after checking in, closely reading the doctor’s many diplomas on the wall, trying to expose as much of me as possible to the waiting room’s frigid air.
When they brought me back to the surgery room, the pulse oximeter attached to my finger unnerved me. No patient wants a fast heart rate either to remind them how out of shape they are or to give anyone else the impression that they are frightened of the coming scalpel. It was time to breathe deeply.
Rather than general sedation, I opted for local anesthesia so Dr. John and his team could pull the damaged tooth from the back of my jaw. I figured that with all the meditation training that I’ve done after the last four years, I might as well apply some of the courage that I’ve been studying and, one would hope, fostering.
In his book Conquering Fear: The Heart of Shambhala, Chögyam Trungpa wrote the following: “If victory is the notion of no enemy, then the whole world is a friend. That seems to be the warrior’s philosophy. The true warrior is not like somebody carrying a sword and looking behind his own shadow, in case somebody is lurking there. That is the setting-sun warrior’s point of view, which is an expression of cowardice. The true warrior always has a weapon, in any case … The definition of warriorship is fearlessness and gentleness. Those are your weapons. The genuine warrior becomes truly gentle because there is no enemy at all.”
Having read a half-dozen of Chögyam Trungpa’s books, I thought that I was ready to demonstrate fearlessness and gentleness while staying awake under the knife.
Settling into the most solid and comfortable dental chair that I’ve ever experienced, I first met with the hygienist / doctor’s assistant whom my wife has affectionately nicknamed Charo. She placed two super long Q-tips slathered with the first layer of anesthesia on the location of the coming incision. She then left me alone for at least five minutes, which was helpful because I had an appointment in the sunken place.
Using the strategies that I have learned from books and from the live and Zoom-based meditation classes that I have taken with multiple teachers over the last four years, I retreated into a hypnotic stupor, a sort of willed deep relaxation that I’ve learned to deploy at times like this. Thus pulse oximeter indicated that my pulse was slowing, and then I was visited by what I suspect were especially long needles.
On cue, in my mind I noticed myself retreating first to the Davis Shambhala Center where I first learned to meditate, then to Chestnut Park where I meditate with a group every Sunday morning, and then to my grandmother’s bench swing outside the family cabin in Beavertown, Pennsylvania.
I didn’t really hear what soft-spoken Dr. John was saying over the relaxing sea wave sounds and meditation music they play for anxious patients, but I did register a few of Charo’s directions. When working with an awake patient, the medical professionals have to narrate what’s going on, such as when the patient is told that he is about to feel some “pressure.” “Pressure” is a favorite euphemism in operating rooms.
Turning my head towards the doctor as instructed, I felt a single tear slide down my face. “So much for fearlessness,” I said to myself, prompting a smile. Only my face was not responding to its instructions to smile, or at least I couldn’t tell if I was smiling. Before long, I was almost dreaming.
20 minutes after the suturing, I was smiling to myself again, texting my wife Kate that I was heading east on 2nd Street, walking home from my own surgery, which I thought was especially badass.
More interested in my comfort than in my jumbled narratives of badassery, Kate arranged to intercept me on my walk and drive me home in an air conditioned car where I could return to that sunken place in the form of a nap on our living room couch. A day later, as I told my daughter Geneva when picking her up at her apartment, my natural Wolverine healing factor was already at work, preparing me for a weekend with family and friends.
As is true with everyone, I suppose, today my mask will be hiding my internal scars.
Thanks to everyone who subscribes to the Pub Quiz that I write every week. This week those lucky people will find a pub quiz with questions on the following topics: restaurant chains, The Simpsons, jazz musicians, three-syllable sports teams, actors in superhero movies, stadia, Kansas highlights, peas, populations of numbers, deserts, family donations, compact cars, ballet dancers, governors, treasured memories, words that come from phrases, famous Italian brothers, Theresas and Esthers, Asgardians, entire countries named after a single person, villains, drivers of outrageous automobiles, animated films, sharp yawns, glands, actors who make big purchases, the knell of bells, Arabic words, late harvest names, prime ministers, current events, and Shakespeare.
Thanks to all the supporters on Patreon who make all this happen, especially the Outside Agitators, the Original Vincibles, and Quizimodo. I’m always grateful to players who pledge for their entire team. Let’s look forward to a time when we can all gather again to play with our friends!
Be well, and remember to floss.
P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:
Great Americans. In the 2002 book Gay and Lesbian Americans and Political Participation, who was called "the most famous and most significant openly LGBT official ever elected in the United States"?
Unusual Words. What larva of a wood-boring beetle is also an avid reader?
Steven King Books. The king of horror subtitled his memoir “A Memoir of the Craft.” What was its title?
P.P.S. “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Steve Jobs