Monday, September 20, 2010

A bit of surgery, a night in the ER, and reflections on Nessus

This summer I worked for the census bureau and the weather was very hot. Sometime in June, I was driving to and from some rather frustrating assignments, and I remember feeling very uncomfortable, even a bit nauseous. The discomfort was compounded by my working around the yard, planting seedlings and clearing some sod, carrying heavy bags of topsoil and mulch. Later I noticed some blood droplets appearing after I urinated, to use the polite, medical term. I had had a little blood discolor the urine before, but it would only happen once and then disappear. This time, the bleeding occurred two or three times and then again a few days later. I was suitably freaked, called the doctor's clinic, and punched up WebMD.

I was referred to a specialist at a local hospital and went in for a few tests. The tests came back clean, and I hadn't had a re-occurrence, so we figured that the strain had caused a little blood vessel to burst in the prostate, which was not a big deal, and with a little more care and attention to how I did things, shouldn't be a problem again, but the doctor still wanted to look.

I missed the first appointment for the procedure, and I eventually rescheduled when things were less hectic. Medical concerns have not been a part of my life, and with all my history of "overusing" alternative practitioners, I had developed an attitude of keeping medical people and their way of doing things at arm's length, but I didn't want to have a bad attitude hanging around when I needed medical attention, so I framed this an opportunity to create some change.

The procedure was not a big deal, just like they say on WebMD, but the doctor found a tiny growth on the wall of the bladder and declared it should be removed. I rescheduled the surgery once, since the original date coincided with the training session for another census project. I earned over five hundred dollars that week and had some fun verifying addresses. It was easy work that used my geography experience to create routes. It paid for all those Ikea boxes I'm putting my old school papers into, and a lot of other things.

At ten o'clock on Monday, September 13th, my sister picked me up and we checked into Delaware County Memorial Hospital. After waiting about two hours, an attendant came to move me and the bed into pre-op, where I waited again after the IVs were hooked up, and then I woke up in recovery and was taken back to the room where my sister was waiting. This time I felt time passing during the procedure. When I had a wisdom tooth removed a few weeks earlier, I swear I was getting the anesthesia one moment and waking up the next. The doctor had spoken to my sister, and she had pictures of my bladder, including the little frond that had been removed. It looks very healthy otherwise.

In order to get all of the growth, which turned out to be a low-grade cancer, the doctor removed some of the cells that made up the bladder wall. Because I hadn't had any nasty things irritating my bladder - I don't smoke, I don't drink much, and I'm not on medications, nor do I work in a coal mine or chemical plant - the walls were relatively thin. As a result, the doctor made a hole in the wall and I had to have a catheter inserted while it healed.

I woke up from surgery saying, "I just have to pee. Can I go to the bathroom?" It was the pressure from the catheter I was probably feeling, and no, I could not. Drat. It was a day or two before I learned how to relax when I felt the urge to urinate rather than go to the bathroom and pee.

Its kind of wild - how I was thinking hard and organizing things from the moment I regained consciousness - trying to feel in control of what was going on, and make others understand that I was rational. It was the same with the wisdom tooth. I felt so clear-headed and purposeful, but realized later that it was almost entirely an illusion, that I was somewhere else...which is interesting as well.

I guess the racing mind was my reaction to the stimulus of surgery and the feelings that arise when others are doing things to one's body that you're not consciously aware of nor in control of. It's always hard for me to trust others when I feel they are withholding information from me or not letting me participate in the process. Then again, intellectual activity is a way to cover-up feelings that create more lasting impressions and better effect change by allowing things to complete.

Some of the frenetic mental busyness slowed down as I recuperated during the week, and I'm trying to keep that focus around as I get back to my regular activities. It is challenging, with television and computers and my books and journals around, but I have this sudden awareness that I cannot judge things if I wish to change them. I can change how I respond to them inside. That idea, or maybe it's an awareness, is one of the things that seems different, and maybe it came as a result of what happened after I was released that afternoon.

We left the hospital around four in the afternoon. My sister picked up my medications, drove me home, and we got things set up in my bedroom. It was about four in the afternoon. I hadn't figured out how to walk or move around very easily with the catheter attached, and I felt as enthused about retaining instructions as a high school student might feel about returning to classes after summer vacation. I also hadn't had anything to eat since the previous day, except for the peanut butter crackers I got at the hospital. I had some fruit juice, bread, and a banana. I took a pill for the pain - oxycodon - and for burning. Neither was too noticeable, but I figured this had been a more serious surgery than my wisdom tooth, so I ought to try using them.

Sometime in the evening, the cramps started. Then I vomited after drinking water and the cramping got worse. I called my sister and tried to explain how bad it was. She said she thought I had just made the mistake of drinking orange juice on an empty stomach, but asked if I wanted to call the clinic. I called the doctor on call, vomited right next to the phone, and was told to go to the emergency room. It was between nine and ten in the evening.

My sister drove me to the DelCo ER and we were there until almost three o'clock in the morning. We waited a little over an hour to get a room, then another hour or so for the nurses to get the medication and IVs hooked up. I basically focused on breathing through the pain and getting a handle on the thoughts and emotions I was experiencing. I didn't make much headway on either, and I didn't feel like making any decisions, either. The football game on television was the best distraction of anything, along with the light back massage my sister gave me. I could tell her exactly how to do it to deliver the best effect. Again, whether I had any idea of what I was talking about is a bit questionable.

As the IVs, anti-nausea medicine, and morphine got into my system, my head began to return to a calmer, normal-feeling space. In fact, my sister said I was more alert and rational than she was as we left the hospital, though she was walking a lot better than I. Those cramps were exhausting. Apparently, I am very sensitive to pain-killers. I only took Ibuprofin for my wisdom tooth. Good call, as it turns out, but I didn't know to expect what happened with the oxycodon.

Now we're at the main point of my blog entry - the insight into my character that I experienced while in the Emergency Room. For those first few hours, I was pretty much nothing more than a self-absorbed victim. And I had a lot of reasons to feel that way - things were so tight inside that I couldn't breathe freely; at times I was hiccuping. My sternum, which I've had trouble with since my twenties, was pulling in on itself as hard as ever, creating the mindset of a person who had to find a piece of driftwood and cling to it while wondering when he would be rescued from this storm-tossed sea of pain. Somehow, I located a still place in my mind and body - or it found me - and I didn't move from it, not a millimeter. Over the rest of the week, my leg muscles grew pretty sore from holding them in one place for long periods of time. The fear of pain and damage is a very powerful motivator, one that can even transcend a sleep state.

I could not get around the pain. I could not get above it. And yet, that's what I felt like was I supposed to do. My moans and groans and frantic, though accurate, descriptions of the pain all sounded like drama to my ears. From somewhere or someone, I was getting the message that I should be clear and calm in spite of the pain; that I should respond, not react. But I was not clear and calm. I wanted attention for my suffering more than anything else, and that all came, in time.

What stayed with me, though, was the sense that what I really wanted was a little different; that there was another part of myself that I was keeping hidden away, even from the conscious, verbalizing aspect of my personality. I imagine it is a part of me that is calmly centered and rooted in life, feels connected, and accepts itself, life, and death, unconditionally. Those kinds of things.

It doesn't 'n-e-e-d' with highlighted, underlined, and capitalized letters. It receives nourishment directly and sends it wholly to the place that needs it. It deserves and can ask for what it wants without fear. It doesn't depend on or require me to perform, to gather relevant information efficiently, or figure out how to make all kinds of clever adjustments in order to approximate meeting what its true needs are.

During the stay in the ER, it felt really important that I bring this hidden, stored part of myself up to the surface and allow it to connect to someone else from that place. It was a test. An opportunity. But I couldn't. Not yet. I could sense very clearly as I have a few other times that there was this 'something else' very close to the surface, but so used to being closed off, hidden away, that it was subverted every time I opened my mouth to say something.

The 'subverter' is something that I seem to hold on to at my core. I seem to know that I have to let go of it to feel relaxed, at peace - though I seldom, if ever, do. And all the busyness and accomplishments, the food, the television, the computer activity, while not without purpose or usefulness, is still, at some level, serving to distract me from this basic awareness, until something happens to make me aware of its existence again, its waiting. It is the holding on that causes me to take forever to fall asleep, to avoid interacting with people directly, and to believe that no one could actually be interested in me as a partner.

Astrologically, I am thinking that this relates to the difference between my fifth house Jupiter in Gemini, and its aspects, and the fourth house North Node in Gemini. More of the astrology after I finish my report.

During my time in the ER, I focused on this dilemma, as it manifested in the excruciatingly boring sameness of intense pain - and while distractedly viewing Monday Night Football, talking about life and dozens of movies with my sister, or communicating things to the doctor and nurses. I said 'focused on,' because I didn't actually 'think' about too much about it -- thinking conscious thoughts was too distracting and potentially painful. I experienced it. Endured it.

When I had a little more literal breathing room, I tried putting it together in my head and out loud to see how it would sound if I tried to convey it in words. My sister always gets still and quiet when I talk about these things. She's more of an outward-oriented person, though not without deep feelings and awareness, too. And although I didn't feel like dramatizing my experience, I did want to make note of it, so that I could share my experience and any insights it might have brought. Maybe it will help others, maybe it will correspond to something they've felt, and probably it makes it more likely that I'll move forward with things rather than pretend I can go back and repeat them.

The catheter was removed on Friday, and my gut is getting back to normal. I can pee without spraying all over the place, though it still burns. Acute, short term pain is much easier for me to handle than deep, unrelenting pain. I figured it wouldn't be long before I'd give up my resistance to sitting down at the computer and organize a blog post.

There is an object in the sky and a corresponding symbol in astrology called Nessus. From what I've read, Nessus was one of the least savory characters to inhabit the landscape of Greek imagination, but then again, he had a lot of company. One day, Heracles caught him screwing his wife, and in his anger, shot him with a poisoned arrow. Nessus decided he would return the nastiness with some of his own, so before he died a painful death, he smeared his cloak with the toxic blood and semen that were on his person and handed it to Heracles' wife, saying that it would bestow great strength and healing power if he would wear it.

Time passed and the cloak was nearly forgotten, but one day Heracles was gravely wounded. His wife, remembering the cloak, gave it to him. He put it on. His skin began to burn as if on fire, and to this day, Nessus in the chart is associated with skin irritations, such as hives and eczema. Heracles was thus horribly betrayed, and died. As compensation for his suffering and his heroic bravery throughout life, Hera made him a god, Hercules.

After reading online about the operation of Nessus energy in a person's chart, I've come to think of it as something that works like chemotherapy, though not just on a physical level. It's really painful, but its purpose is to release deep stuff, patterns of victimization and victim-like thinking and behaviors that have been around for generations. The victimization is often related to misuse of power, just like in the myth. Another thing that I've read about Nessus is that no matter how much suffering occurs or how irrational or illogical a person's victim-like behavior is, it will not release until the time is right, until the transit of another planet or some kind of similar occurrence triggers the change.

I think the themes of Nessus and how it might have been triggered in my natal chart that evening fit the experience I described above. Nessus in my chart is located at four degrees fifty-six minutes of Gemini. It is in the fourth house, the house of home, family, and inner life. It forms a close inconjunct to my natal twelfth house Mercury, a link that is strengthened because Mercury rules Gemini. It is less than three degrees from my natal North Node - even closer to the true node. It forms a fairly close square to my natal Moon-Haumea conjunction in Virgo (on the cusp of the eighth house) and a wider square to natal Juno in first house Pisces. Of course, being in conjunction with my North Node, it is also in opposition to my natal South Node in Sagittarius.

On Monday, Mercury had just stationed direct at 5 degrees of Virgo, and was still only about one degree from a lower square to my natal Nessus. The lower square occurs when a planet has reached the ninety degree mark in its journey away from the other object - one quarter of the entire 360 degree cycle. According to Tierney, who uses the natural chart to describe the nature of each aspect, it thus makes us get to work on issues related to the sign of Cancer, the sign ninety degrees from the beginning of the zodiac at zero degrees Aries. These are things like security, nurturing, and coping behaviors learned very early in life when getting our basic needs met were wholly emotional experiences - experiences which may have felt like life and death, and to which we may continue to react in very emotional ways.

Because Nessus is located in the fourth house and squares the Moon in my natal chart, the effect of the lower square would likely be compounded. Its the same energy repeated in several different forms. Add the fact that Nessus is located in Gemini in my natal chart, and Mercury is associated with both Gemini and Virgo, the sign it was in when it stationed direct, and you end up with a lot of very brightly colored flags on this particular event.

Also, at 12:37 that morning, while we were watching our football game and my veins were filling with electrolytes, Pluto in Capricorn was returning to direct motion after having stationed close to my natal twelfth house Mercury. It was therefore also near a quincunx to my natal North Node and an opposition to natal Vesta. Vesta is one of the more well-known asteroids. Its action in the chart relates to focus, devotion, autonomy, and sacred duty.

Vesta is in my sixth house natally, which represents the area of life related to health, jobs, and service. I was very focused on my health that night, on very deep levels, it seems, and over the subsequent week I seemed to strengthen my focus. It became less subject to the scattering effects of cool ideas to pursue, and I want to believe that will stick at some level from now on.

I also noticed that I returned to my journaling, astrology, and organizing activities, with less of an obsession with meaningless details - such as recording the precise degree of zodiac of every transiting particle of dust. I often get hung up on the excitement of thinking I'm going to discover the answer that everybody has missed in these details. I've had a kind of addiction to extreme uniqueness and an overly focused devotion to the overlooked.

Pluto transits are often painful and deep, and Pluto as a planet relates to obsessions. It conjucts Uranus in my natal chart, which relates to uniqueness, and opposes Chiron, which could convey a feeling of separateness and being overlooked. I guess I would say I've achieved or have been given a more balanced focus, and that could be seen as the work of Pluto moving forward again toward its final opposition with natal Vesta in my lifetime. My experience with the medical arena also matured and hopefully I'm less of a victim of old injuries and attitudes.