Rico explains his choice between quality of end-of-life peace at home over high-end medical care in the ICU.
I underwent total knee replacement.
Many friends my age told me to prepare for an arduous recovery. It has been the greatest challenge in my 74 years. But after the first night home from the hospital, I asked the caregiver to leave. Zen practice has become even more central to my life. Silence was more important to me than having someone helping me to the bathroom and cooking. Fortunately, friends and neighbors stepped up to bring cooked meals and help me into the tub, sit me on a special chair, and bathe me. I was touched by the kindness. The knee rehab was highly debilitating, the PT came regularly to cheer me on, and my progress went swimmingly well.
I lay under four wool blankets, a heating pad on my abdomen, shivering like I had never known. By noon my temperature had climbed to 101. I called my neighbor, a retired EMT, and he rushed me to the ER where they measured my temp at 105. I was pumped with three units of antibiotics and electrolytes to prevent me from slipping into a coma from the severe septic pneumonia diagnosed with a chest X-ray and 42 blood tests. Many patients my age with my history of pulmonary disease, heart disease, and recent traumatic surgery, don’t survive.
I asked, repeatedly, the nurses to close the door and turn off all the lights. The practice of presence to the breath was the anchor. After a few minutes of stillness, I was startled by a regularly scheduled – every 12 minutes – blaring/dinging of the computer next to my head monitoring the blood pressure. A five-alarm fire bell going off in my eardrums was not the key to boost my immune system to rally.
Eight hours later my temp dropped to 101. I asked the doc what was next.
“We keep you here to make sure you don’t die or slip into a vegetative coma.”
“Can you disable the blood pressure cuff and the clanging alarm every 12 minutes?”
“Sorry, not possible.”
“I want to go home. Please give me discharge papers.”
“Sir, are you crazy? You could most likely die.”
“I’ll take my chances. Thanks for saving my life.”
And so a friend came to take me home and feed me a small bowl of hot soup and put me to bed. If this was to be my last night on earth, I chose to have the quietude and meditative stillness of my own bedroom. Six hours later I awoke in a lake of sweat. The fever had broken. I somehow managed to change the sheets and get into clean nightclothes. Seven days of aggressive antibiotic therapy took me out of danger.
So began the slow climb back from an alarmingly high out of control blood pressure to a heavily medicated normal BP and days of stillness. I had chosen quality of end-of-life peace over the assault on my nerves. My instinct as well as nearly 50 years of practicing alternative medicine guided me correctly. There was no fear, or worry. Basic trust arose and I followed the beacon.
I know the road to recovery has reached a more manageable phase, as I return to laughing meditation every morning before leaving the bed. And the laughter continues all day. I live on a county park and the small children running and screaming in joy actually jolts me back into laughter.
So, here’s a cheer to all of us who fight the good fight, keep swinging with all we’ve got. Even if we have two strikes against us. If this is our last day on earth, let’s give it our best.