Pain and Meditation
Two years ago, I was harmed by an ENT who said he was going to remove a sinus polyp. He destroyed my nose and face with unnecessary surgeries. The first year was a torment of pain, breathlessness and mind-bending nasal drought. The second year was an uneven climb out of Hell. Three months into the third year, my skull glows with pain as my cheekbones collapse.
Like many of you, I have Empty Nose Syndrome, an iatrogenic condition caused by the surgical removal of too much turbinate tissue. Turbinates are the inner organ of the nose. They are bone covered in mucosa. For a description of what they look like and what they do, please see A Normal Nose. Empty Nose Syndrome is a horribly painful condition for which there is no cure. The nose feels as if it has been poured full of cement and left to dry. The lungs beg for air. The mind writhes with the body’s discomfort as the body grows exhausted and weak.
The collapse of my face is not related to Empty Nose Syndrome. My particular surgeon not only removed too much turbinate tissue. He also performed a Caldwell-Luc, an obsolete sinus surgery in which he needlessly removed a large amount of bone from my skull.
What do we do when we are constantly in pain? Previously, we may have reached for a bottle of pills. It was harmless enough when the pain was temporary. But what do we do now?
This question has been on my mind. Several times, I have dug out a bottle of Hydrocodone, now over two years old. A few pills remain from the surgeries and the harrowing months after. I recall staring into the contents of that bottle in 2007, frightened. I recall because I’ve been doing it, again. Fear and pain are a potent blend—merciless, irrational. They’ve been at the helm lately, steering my ship into rocky waters. Add to that, rage—because this didn’t have to happen. I didn’t abuse my body. I didn’t drive too fast. I didn’t even get a disease or have an accident. I went to a doctor.
I woke one recent morning, braced for another rough day. God help me, I thought. Then I began to deep breathe, in slow, even measures, the way I learned years ago, from a yoga book. I stayed snuggled under my blankets as my humidifier purred. You can’t do the yogic breathing exactly correctly lying down, but you can do it well enough. I wanted to keep my body as relaxed as possible, in order to convince my mind.
The most successful meditation technique—for me– is a Buddhist one. I imagine myself sitting next to a river. Every thought that enters my mind, I toss into the river. “I hurt.” Toss. “My face…” Toss. “I can’t…” Toss. “I’m mad…” Toss. Every thought is a leaf landing on the surface of the water and flowing downstream.
The thoughts came faster and faster. Or so it seemed. We don’t normally realize how fast thoughts come. No wonder they have the power to batter and bruise. I had not tried to meditate for a long time, and I kept forgetting to toss as poisonous thoughts carried me away. Then I remembered. I kept breathing the slow even breaths. Moments of peace and beauty broke through: A sunlit opening in a wooded glen. A kaleidoscope vision of violets and reds. My body, light as breath, moving through tall grass. I had comforting thoughts: “There is truth.” “There is beauty.” “I can live in these moments.”
It occurred to me, in the midst of meditation, that my heart was too cold. And why should it not be? What I had taken in, through the surgeon’s hands, was the opposite of healing. I laid my hand over my heart, the only hand available, a conduit of Love. I felt the warmth penetrate and thaw.
The clench in my body relaxed. And I didn’t get out the pills that day.