While sharing about how precious each moment in our lives is—which is one reason being mindful is so important—I brought up my recent appendectomy adventures and the pain that was part of it.
Well, there’s actually a bit more to that story…
Pain and gain
When visiting the hospital for anything pain related, they usually ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst pain in your life.
For the pain associated with my appendectomy adventures, I put it firmly in the 7 to 8 range.
Meaning, the pain was fairly significant, though happily, not the worst I’ve come up against.
My previous emergency surgery adventures clocked in at greater than 15 at their peak—yeah, I know the scale only goes to 10—so, this was well below that.
Considering the level of pain, however, it might seem odd that I didn’t take any pain relievers prior to getting knocked out for the surgery.
(Quick disclaimer: I’m not recommending you take or don’t take pain medications. I’m not a doctor and don’t know your circumstances. This is just a reflection on my own personal decision and experience.)
No painkillers? No, problem.
Aside from a general personal preference to not take medications that aren’t absolutely necessary, and wanting to use this situation as a type of training opportunity—somewhat in line with the practices of the stoics—there are two big reasons I didn’t take any medication.
- I was on my own.
- I had to wait for my surgery.
All by myself
Generally, when it comes to making big life decisions it’s helpful to have a clear head and to be thinking soundly.
(Meaning, it’s good to avoid being intoxicated by any substance or the surrounding circumstances.)
In lieu of that, having a trusted person take care of the life decisions for you can be a good way to go.
During my appendectomy adventures, that wasn’t really an option since other than some brief text messaging, I was basically on my own.
Given those circumstances, I wanted to keep a clear head for any important decisions, medical or otherwise, I might need to make.
As such, avoiding painkillers was important.
If you aren’t familiar with more powerful pain medications, they tend to have a couple side effects:
- They make the mind foggy and the thinking process irregular.
- They can dull sensations to the point that the severity of a situation can be underestimated.
By not taking those medications, I kept a clearer head to remember important questions to ask, make more sound decisions, communicate my concerns more clearly, and better understand the overall situation.
Don’t shoot the messenger
Beyond the concerns related to being on my own, the other big factor in not taking pain medication relates to the second side effect listed above and one of the big purposes of pain.
Pain is a messenger.
It tells us when something is going wrong in the body. It communicates something is awry, and if the pain changes it can indicate a changing and possibly worsening situation.
Monitoring the changes in my pain levels gave me a clear indication that a trip to the E.R. was necessary.
In the same way, I wanted to maintain that level of awareness until everything was resolved.
Given the emergency nature of my hospital arrival and surgery needs, there wasn’t a set time—other than as soon as possible—for removing my appendix; the exact timing of the operation was contingent upon other emergency surgeries and surgeon availability.
That meant I knew I had to wait at least a bit.
So, I wanted to keep an eye on my developing situation.
Knowing the rate at which my pain was intensifying, and being able to sense if something more was taking place meant I’d know quickly if my bad situation was getting worse.
With painkillers off the table, I managed my pain in a different way, through mindfulness.
By being mindful, I didn’t block the pain, instead I recognized it for what it is, simply pain.
In other words, pain is pain.
Rather than mentally telling myself “I’m in pain. I’m suffering.” in a sense, I disassociated myself with it. I approached the pain by simply noting that “there is pain there”.
By looking at the pain as just another type of feeling or sensation coming from the body, and by not personalizing and reinforcing it through thinking, it’s possible to step back from it.
By stepping back, I was able to minimize my suffering, even while the pain intensified at an accelerating rate.
Acceptance vs denial
Stepping back is different than resisting or denying the pain.
During the appendectomy adventures, I remained fully aware of the pain, actively recognizing its presence and acknowledging it, just not being controlled or consumed by it.
Pain and suffering aren’t necessarily the same.
While they often are found together, pain comes from the signals being sent, suffering comes from the mind’s interactions with those signals.
Resisting often leads to greater suffering.
When we resist, not only are we feeling pain, we fight a futile battle trying to escape from that pain. That in part leads us to not only feel the pain, but to feel trapped by it, to feel consumed by it, and to feel powerless against it.
Through acknowledging, accepting and understanding the pain, we gain the upper hand. We may not be able to stop it, but we remain in control of ourselves and how the pain impacts us.
(Of course, I still have a long ways to go in my practices. There were times I got caught up in the pain and let myself go down a path of greater suffering.
However, being mindful, practicing things like meditation, and developing greater mental discipline did minimize those occurrences and the extent of my suffering when I did get caught up.)
Noticing something more
By being mindful, I monitored and interacted with my pain consciously. In the process, I also came across something else that lessened the impact of the pain.
That something else was a feeling of gratitude and a sense of how lucky I was.
On first glance, feeling gracious and lucky while in the E.R. for an incredibly painful appendicitis might not make much sense.
Mindfulness, however, gave me the chance to see a bigger picture and to notice what was going on around me.
I was lucky in many ways, and thankful for a lot.
Not only was I at the E.R. of an extremely good hospital, I managed to get there easily, get checked-in without a long wait, and I was surrounded by very friendly, helpful, and caring people.
Additionally, I made it to the hospital, and through the surgery, before my appendix exploded/ruptured.
Furthermore, I was thankful I trained myself through things like mediation and mindfulness exercises before I encountered this situation.
That gave me a foundation of mental discipline enabling me to deal with sensations like the severe pain better.
Earlier firsthand experiences and lessons, like my previous emergency surgery, and prior guidance from caring people allowed me to recognize the need to go to the hospital.
Thanks to those lessons, I went to the hospital when I did—even though I was reluctant—and a bad situation didn’t get worse. (For a number of personal reasons, unless there is a clear need, I tend to avoid going to doctors.)
More so, I was thankful that my condition was quite minor comparatively.
The circumstances surrounding my previous emergency surgery were more serious in a number of ways than in this case.
Additionally, in just the small section of the E.R. I occupied during this visit, there were people in much worse situations.
Some people suffered from more debilitating conditions, some clearly faced the end to their lives rapidly approaching, and for some their emergency trip to the E.R. appeared to be a relief from their daily living.
In other cases, the patient appeared unconscious enough to be disconnected from their physical pain, while their visiting loved ones, however, suffered deeply as a result.
Recognizing the more difficult circumstances others faced gave me additional perspective on my own situation.
It made it very clear I had a lot to be grateful for and that my condition wasn’t that bad. At the same time, it fostered a greater sense of compassion for others.
That sense of compassion, from seeing and feeling the suffering of people around me, lessened my own suffering and made my own pain more tolerable.
My primary focus changed from dwelling on my own pain to wanting the suffering of others to be relieved.
(Compassion is an incredibly powerful and essential part of walking the path of a happier, more fulfilling life, and is sure to be the subject of a few posts down the road.)
The point of it
The main point of this story is that in nearly every circumstance there are things worthy of gratitude.
Even for those people suffering a tougher state of affairs, good things existed.
All of them were receiving excellent care and were surrounded by kind-hearted hospital staff doing all they could to help. Some of them had family and friends nearby. Others were being given support beyond the call of duty. At that moment, they all had the breath of life still in them, and even if it was incredibly faint, there was hope.
When we are mindful, we can more easily see these good aspects and not be overtaken by negativity and suffering.
With this, even in situations filled with pain, we can gain a greater appreciation for each moment we are in.
The appendectomy adventures, a reflection
Reflecting on the appendectomy adventures, a big lesson comes through; regardless of the circumstances, being mindful helps.
On the surface it might be easy to think that being mindful in times of pain will only lead to more suffering.
The opposite is really true though.
Mindfulness allows us to respond better to pain, and to lessen the likelihood that we lose ourselves to suffering.
In cases like my appendectomy adventures, being mindful keeps an unpleasant situation from getting worse, and helps relieve the suffering that can come with pain and circumstances beyond our own control.
Your own reflections
Being mindful gives us benefits in these type of situations, as well as in many of life’s other circumstances.
Whether those times are good or bad, or if they are related to a broader aspiration or goal, mindfulness is a tool which possesses great powers.
Among many things, it provides great benefits in efforts to attain better health, better relationships, greater happiness, spiritual growth, and even greater luck and opportunity.
While future posts will touch on these topics and more, considering the ways mindfulness can help in your own life situations is worth spending time on now.
It is through our own reflections and our own actions, both internal and external, that we uncover the greatest realizations, changes, and sources of motivation.
When we spend the time to do a proper examination, it’s clear that being mindful is a key part of ‘being’, and in living a happier, more fulfilling life.
There is no better time than now for uncovering that realization.
Mindfulness, as well as gratitude and compassion, provide relief from suffering and pain. Being mindful allows us to recognize our situation for what it is, to see the ways we can limit our own suffering, to find the things for which we can be grateful, and to grow our compassion as we recognize the suffering that others are also undergoing. Mindfulness is a powerful tool, and there are many situations and goals for which it can be applied. Take the time now to reflect on how being mindful can help you in your life.
Fellow Journeyer @ BigSkyRise
P.S. While I mentioned it in this post—and will certainly mention it again—I want to highlight an important factor to keep in mind…
Spend the time to cultivate mindfulness before situations like those of the appendectomy adventures occur.
While it is certainly possible to train yourself to be more mindful in those moments, it is a lot easier to prepare before hand, and the benefits of doing so are significant.
P.P.S. Some changes are coming…
P.P.P.S. Please considering sharing this with the people in your world
P.P.P.P.S. Nothing really to say here, just wanted to extend that lengthy P.S. streak.