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Mindfulness Matters

“Are you Arnold Kozak?” “Yes.” “Date of birth?” “Really?” Do you really think someone came into this hospital room and replaced me since the last time someone asked me these questions?” (which was about five minutes ago). Pre-op has more security checks than TSA. I answer these two questions no fewer than eleven times on my way to surgery:

(1) At the hospital check-in with the volunteer, (2) billing, (3) pre-op ward desk, (4) pre-op nurse instructing me to get into my johnny, (5) nurse taking my vital signs, putting in an IV, (6) nurse coming into shave my knee, (7) nurse wheeling me to yet another room waiting for anesthesia consult, (8) nurse receiving me in this new ward, (9) anesthesia nurse, (10) anesthesiologist, (11) my orthopod!, and probably a few more I’ve forgotten.

I was tempted to say that I was Elvis. They also checked multiple times that I was, indeed, the left knee that was the target of attention. That’s good. Each task was performed by different personnel–an assembly line with me as the product moving down this line. Unlike the cold mechanics of an actual assembly line, everyone was pleasant. A friendly reprise of the obvious. Such repetition is needed because surgeons have operated on the wrong leg, even removed the wrong leg. I’ll take comfort in these precautions.

The procedure I am about to receive is relatively benign–a little scraping of the medial meniscus cartilage in my LEFT knee (let’s make sure we’ve got that straight, left not right). Wheeling me to the operating theater, the nurse asked me If had any previous surgeries. I told her I hadn’t and she was excited. A surgery virgin. Apparently, they don’t get many of them. I was reminded of my excitement when people come to the Exquisite Mind Studio for their first meditation. A meditation virgin! It’s a big responsibility and one that I embrace.

I elect spinal anesthesia over general. This way I can watch the surgery on the video camera. They also give me a little Versed (a Valium like compound) that puts me into a twilight kind of state. I watch the movements on the video screen but I’m having a difficult time remembering what I saw in a coherent fashion. I also can’t tell you how long the procedure took. A few minutes? A half-hour?

Mindfulness helped me to navigate this terrain with relative ease. My surgery was delayed over two hours. I was originally scheduled for 2:00 when the Exquisite Mind sangha meets for practice. When I was delayed, I meditated along with them, basking in the sunshine pouring in from the large window next to my hospital bed. Like Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, “I can wait.” And, so I waited.

I enjoyed the parade of personnel, meeting a dozen new people, smiling to lessen the stress of their day. Mindfulness helps us to embrace what is happening now and to stay in the relative frame of now. My mind did not go into the future very much, to “what ifs?” I mostly paid attention to things happening right here–like the hunger sensations since I had not eaten since the night before. I read my book, look around the hospital surrounds, talked with the staff.

As I mentioned, while this procedure had all the trappings of a major surgery, it was a minor procedure. However, mindfulness can be scaled to fit any situation. Had this been a more involved surgery, I would have paid attention in this same way. Mindfulness gives us a confidence to deal with the present moment–whatever this moment happens to bring. Whether it is surgery, a challenging conversation, or just dinner, mindfulness brings this moment to us unadorned, open, and ready to be experience in 3-D, technicolor, and surround sound.

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