Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Witch of Endo, pt. 4: Surrender

No. I say to my doctor. In fact: Fuck, no. You can’t have my cervix. Let’s just schedule another laparoscopic clean-up. Go in, find the Endo, zap the Endo, and I’ll be home by noon. And it has to be early in November because I have travel plans.   

My OB/Gyn  has known me since I was 18, when I had my first surgery for an ovarian cyst. He does not take the swearing personally. Over the years, he has cut me open, soldered me up, held my hand. He’s the one who told me I was unlikely to have children. I have chronic pelvic pain and this is the guy who has to poke at me and ask me to describe the pain. I can be very descriptive. (The ultrasound tech his office once told me that he’d heard worse language from women on the ultrasound table than he had in his many years in the Navy.) Besides all this, my doctor respects my choices on how I live with and manage this disease. But when Urban comes up to the scheduling office so we can cram a surgery onto our calendars, Doc says to him: She made me a liar. I said the next time this happened, we were taking the cervix out. I said that the time BEFORE the last time. And the time before that! She’s not listening to me. You try talking to her.

You always did call me your problem child I say sweetly to the Doc, who I really am very fond of. He throws up his hands and walks off.

Ok, Toni, I turn to the surgery-scheduling lady, what’ve you got open?

We schedule the surgery for the second week of November. I’ll start getting back to work a week after the procedure. I’ll take it easy for a few weeks but it’s ok. I’ll have plenty of time to recover before heading to India for the holidays, so it won’t screw that up. I can live with this. I’m used to maneuvering around it.

On the way back from the appointment, I sit grimly in the car, gritting my teeth against the pain, absolutely certain I am doing the right thing. I will not have my cervix removed. My doctor thinks I’m insane. He believes that the Endometriosis has eaten into the tissue of the cervix and that these superficial solutions – going in with a laser and cauterizing the Endo on the surface of organs-- have outlived their usefulness. Whey they took out my uterus, it was riddled and veined with Endo (technically, once it eats into organs, it’s called Adenomyosis). I don’t care. I didn’t give a damn about my uterus: it was nothing but trouble and I wasn’t planning on using it anyway. Giving up my last ovary was angsty but not a hard decision to make, just a hard one to accept. But I will not have my cervix removed. Anyway, it’s a major surgery. I would have to be in the hospital for a couple of days, and it’s a longer recovery. I don’t have the time. I have a life, goddamn it. 

My last surgery was in January. I brood over this and watch the familiar scenery slide by on 394. I want to turn on the radio but I’m afraid I would snap the knob right off.

Instead, I review the facts with Urban, and ask him: What do you think?

It’s mostly rhetorical; I know I can count on Urban’s reassurance. But he is quiet for a long time. Then he says that he thinks the reason Gede told me to do the series of ritual baths (which I’m in the middle of) was to help me reach a more open emotional state so I could hear what I needed to hear, and accept it. (Huh? you’re wondering, Who said what? Ritual baths, wtf? Sorry, darlin…that’s a post for another day). He keeps his eyes on the road, but reaches for my hand.

I want to yank my hand away. This is not what I needed to hear! But I feel a truth in my body, in the beat of my blood, the vibrations in my pain seem to resonate a yes. He’s right. I shut my eyes and don’t say much. Urban drops me off at my sister’s, where it takes me all afternoon to talk myself into what I already know. My cervix has to go. I can’t keep putting it off. At this point, I’m just being stubborn.

The idea of this surgery terrifies me. I don’t know why. I’ve had so many other bits cut out, one at a time: appendix, gallbladder, left ovary, uterus, right ovary. I’ve had more surgeries for Endo than I can count.

But this. This.

45 mins -- 001


It’s a pretty major surgery, since they are cutting out an organ. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus; sometimes it’s removed with a hysterectomy. Also, it’s connected to the top of the vagina (the cervix-bone connected to the vagina-bone!), where there are lots and lots of nerves; my doc says it may be more painful than the hysterectomy. So, yeah. Not fun.

And what if… oh, crap, what if? Some women have “decreased sexual function” (i.e. are unable to have an orgasm) after having their cervix removed. Of course, constant pelvic pain also decreases sexual function (duh) so my chances of having an orgasm right now are roughly 0 anyway. When I brought up this sucktastic, potentially life-altering side-effect with Urban, he said…well, sorry, what he said is private but let’s just say I’m not so worried anymore.

That leaves the worst, the real: what if this doesn’t help at all?

For all these years, this has been the last step, the one thing we could do if nothing else worked. Well, nothing else did work. We’ve tried it all: conventional, alternative, metaphysical. I’m better than I was before but it’s still pretty bad. What if I have this surgery but I don’t get better? One of the things Gede said is that I have to believe I can recover. Deep inside, I don’t know if I really do believe that. I’ve lived with this pain so long. It seems…inevitable. When I try to imagine or envision a life that is pain-free, I come up blank. I have vague images of being able to drive again, and ride my horse more often…but it seems suspect. Have I been holding off on this surgery because I’m afraid it won’t work?

Here I am, coolly assessing one of my organs and deciding whether to kick it out of the club of Saum. Trying to figure out what I’m really feeling. I talk to my sister all day. I talk to Urban all night. I go out to the barn and lean against Styx for so long that she dozes off. Then I call my doctor and tell him to schedule the whatever-the-medical-term-for-cervix-removal-is. I expect him to gloat a little. He doesn’t.

I hate breaking myself into pieces. I want to think of myself as whole, entire, not made up of disposable parts that can be excised and thrown away.

I don’t get any better at this. I WANT MY CERVIX. I’m not exactly sure why. But I do. It’s me. I’ve imbued it with meaning.It’s the part of me where the inside meets the outside. It’s one of my thresholds.  In sex, when so many other boundaries blur, this is where you becomes me. This is what holds me in. I feel like if I keep giving parts of myself up, it will all come spilling out: guts and organs, everything raw and essential. What will be left of me? This fear feels simultaneously terrifying and ridiculous.

I also feel failure. Aren’t I supposed to heal myself? Or something?

Maybe not. Maybe I’m meant to be unhealed and raw. Open wounds are passageways. Burden is a door. I feel like I’ve been braced in this threshold for so long. What am I holding on to?

I remember something the Doc said: Saumya, this is not something you did.

One of my other doctors (I have, like, a whole panel of them) once said: This disease has put so many limits on you, but you do so much. I’d like to see what you’d be capable of if you were healthy.

You know what? So would I. So would I.
Fuck yes. Let’s find out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Even Knowing How It Will End, We Choose This Love

The story of my dogs is a long one. It goes back, and back, and back. They are integral to my life, not as chapters but as currents that rush through everything. I have a much longer piece about my dogs –-sort of— that I’ve been working on over the years. Maybe this will become a part of it.

Last night, a little dog that was not my dog, died. Tiger (he was named by a six year old, ok?) belonged to my sister and her family, especially my nieces.

Tiger was old. I am on my third generation of big dogs; he lived with us for about a year when Urban & I had our first dog. If you’re one of the people who knew Kalia, well, you know. If you’re not, I pity you. She was a wise and charismatic animal, regal and kind. Clever. A Doberman Pincher.

Tiger was a MinPin – A Miniature Pincher. He looked just like Kalia but he weighed about six pounds. Like most little dogs, he didn’t know or care that he was a little dog. When he spoke (in my head), it was with the voice of Robert DeNiro. He picked fights with Kalia, but only when she was laying down. He would then retreat under an ottoman and peer out while she barked and raged at him. He wasn’t stupid.

The two of them would curl up and sleep together. Sometimes when Kalia kicked in her sleep, she would send him flying. He would shake himself, look around, and go sleep on her other side.

After Tiger went home to what we called his birth family, we missed him. Of course we still saw him on visits to my sister’s, and our frequent phone calls were interrupted by his alarmed yap-squeaks, and her exasperated “Tiger!” As the years went on, he barked less, but with more focus. We had to put Kalia down, but kept two of her pups: Asha and Dagaz. Tiger mellowed out, but would pee in my nieces’ rooms if he was displeased with them. When the doorbell rang, his bark was high and sharp, carrying. Dagaz died, and, unable to bear Asha’s grief-stricken howling, we got Barnabas, a Shepherd mix. Tiger developed some health issues, and spent more time in his cushy basket. We had to put Asha down, and Shidiri the Great Dane came to live with us. Over at my sister’s, Tiger had a few seizures. He stopped noticing when people came to the door. He napped in the sun, dreaming whatever sweet dogs dream.

Yesterday I was over for a visit. Grey and fragile, Tiger carefully tottered over and pressed against my ankles. He was shivering. He wouldn’t move. I reached down and rested my hand on his back, and I knew. He was asking for help. He was tired. He was ready. “Ok, buddy,” I said softly, “ok.” He stopped shivering.

I didn’t say anything at the time, but resolved to call my sister the next day and, and as gently as possible, raise the subject of putting Tiger to sleep. We talked about other things instead, and I went on my way. Tiger was out on the deck when I left. It was nice and sunny. He didn’t notice me leave.

A few hours later, my sister found Tiger in the woods behind her home. He appeared unharmed but was disoriented and obviously fading. They took him to the vet and kindly made the decision to have him put to sleep. We met them there, and I sat next to my niece while she held the dog she had known her whole life. They gave him an injection. He died, quietly and in comfort.

It is hard knowing, when they come home with us, tiny and fat and full of possibility, that one day we will have to watch them die. The pain of loss seems to compound. I came home and cried for Tiger, for my sister and her family, for myself, for all the dogs I’ve said goodbye to.

I’d like to think that dogs go to Elysium, the afterlife that the Greeks imagined for heroes. The Elysian Fields contain whatever you need for happiness: vast fields, lots of rabbits, humans who really know how to throw a stick. Soft blankets, a gentle hand. Whatever sweet dogs dream.

October 14, 2011
Dark River Farm

front pasture mist
photo by Stomy Persaud


I lost one of my own dogs a few years ago. Dagaz was Kalia’s son. Tiger would have been his uncle, if dogs thought of things in such a way. Here’s the letter I wrote to my friends and family at the time:

Dagaz was literally born into our hands. Asha followed a few hours later. Kalia (his mom) had a special relationship with him; she used to pick him up and carry him around by his butt. After awhile she would tenderly deposit him in the bathroom trash can. I think this explains why he always loved stuff in trash cans.

When he was growing up, he cost us a small fortune in vet bills; he ALWAYS had stitches for one thing or another. He and Asha and the rest of the Doberman 6-pack had fun up at our friends’ cabin where we all gather for sunshine and bonfires. We got to know each dog by the shape of their head when they came up to be petted in the dark; most of the time when I dropped my hand down it was Day’s oddly square noggin beside me. The dogs would bound through the woods, go for rides in the boat, and play hard with each other. Every morning I would wake up and think, Oh, no, it’s storming, and then be confused by clear skies…six Dobermans running is the sound of thunder. It’s hard to believe that  Asha is the only one left of all those sweet, sleek beauties. I love my Dobermans, but I sure wish they lived  longer.

Every animal is its own being, just like us, and my relationships with them are complex, aggravating and fulfilling. You can’t lie to animals. They teach me more about myself than I want to know sometimes. I have always had a close affinity to my dogs, but Dagaz saw me through the worst emotional and physical pain of my life. He learned to “stand steady” so I could lean on him when I had trouble getting up. When I was well, he followed me as I wandered around getting to know our land, or  sat with me on my late nights with books. No matter where I was, no matter the time of day of night, I could drop my hand down and find him there beside me. His presence was silent and constant. The room feels empty now, at 3 am with only me in it.

I’m glad I played with Asha & Day today, took the time to watch them run down the hill and up the hill and jump on each other and grin at me. They are so much a part of this land. They were thrilled to have me spend a couple of minutes with them on my way out to the barn. I thought it might rain so I opened the door to the porch (our version of a doghouse) for them. Dagaz jumped up on the couch and looked happy. I headed out to the barn. When Urban came home he let the dogs into the house. I opened the front door a few minutes later, and found my dog collapsed at the foot of the stairs. He was gone.

I don’t know if animals understand or care about the concept of names, but my animals are named with care. “Dagaz” is Norse. It means daytime, the fullness of light, midday, midsummer, the high point of the cycle. They say every dog has its day; Day’s day was June 21, Summer Solstice. It’s not his birthday but it’s what his name means, what I think of as his essence. In the Elder Futhark rune system, the divinatory meaning of Dagaz is the spiritual path. The symbol looks like an angular infinity symbol, or, to me, like Shiva’s drum. I name my animals for what I see in them: I saw vigor and sensitivity in Dagaz.  I also name them for what they show me of myself, and what my relationship with them brings me. More than anything, Dagaz helped me both to face my pain and turn my back on it when needed. He taught me patience and emotional honesty. He taught me about the land, where the good shady spots are on the hill, and that possums really do faint when frightened. He brought me constancy and light. It’s hard to imagine this place without him.

But it’s not just me that has lost him. Urban is also grieving and sad. Asha is confused and whining a lot. She keeps running around looking for her brother. We are a little worried about her, but she is eating and drinking just fine. We will probably stick close to home for awhile, as she is unaccustomed to being alone. She will ride in the truck with us tomorrow (oh, well, today) morning when we go to the vet to take Day’s remains to be cremated.

I don’t know what we will do with his ashes, probably scatter them on the hill where he liked to run. I have been thinking of putting down some wildflower seeds, maybe we will scatter those, too.  It would be nice to walk in knee-high flowers next midsummer, and remember him. I will drop my hand down and find him there beside me, his presence silent and constant.

June 11, 2008
Dark River Farm

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall Morning, Dark River Farm

I was up all night. This is not unusual.

I am curled up, reading The Sandman (again), and eating a lime popsicle. After awhile I become aware of a sound that’s been going on for awhile. A rumbling, engine noise, like a plane…what? Hovering over my house? Then I realize it’s the sound of combines and tractors, my farmer neighbors bringing in the harvest.

Around 3 am, the sounds fade.

As it starts to get light out, Barnabas (aka B-dog) nudges me and does a little dance. I throw on my cloak, which smells like woodsmoke and horse, and head out to the deck to take a look at the morning. 

The world is muted, earth-toned with dawn. Mist covers the pasture. The trees are changing into their autumn gear; now and then there is the soft crackle of a leaf drifting down to join its brethren on the ground. A breeze ruffles by and it sounds like Rice Krispies everywhere. One of the horses sticks her head over the fence and huffs in my general direction. Breakfast is on everyone’s mind.

B trots down the stairs, does his dog stuff and trots back up to me.

I lean on the rail and look out over my land. The pasture grass is getting shaggy and pale. A rabbit lopes across the field in static bursts: leap leap freeze, leap leap freeze. The pines are lean shadows. I can see into the barn through the huge sliding door. In a month it will be shut. In two months it will be frozen shut and we will have to use the small people-door that is ignored all summer. Sabbath’s head appears out of the tiny cat-portal set into the tack room door, then vanishes. The flap slaps shut, and Barnabas looks toward the noise. I don’t blame Sabbath. The tack room is heated. The outside is not.

Barnabas & I stand side by side. He presses against my leg, his tail rhythmically whaps-whaps-whaps me. I lean down and stroke his fuzzy head. He is looking out over the firepit towards the woods, and goes rigid at the distant noise of the wild turkey – I don’t know what to call it— flock? Posse? There are so many of them this year that it’s more like a Turkey Apocalypse. I remind B about the house policy of staying in the yard. He whines, and relaxes.

That’s when I see the fox and vixen. They are frozen, staring at me from the driveway in front of the barn. He is a bold, gleaming red with a bright white tip to his tail. She is a quiet brown that blends into the fallen leaves surrounding them. They do not move. We look at each other for a long moment, then B gives his squeaky bark and I turn. He’s still focused the other way, towards the possibility of turkey invasion. When I look back at the driveway, the foxes are gone.

The turkeys are closer now, I can hear them muttering and gargling back in the woods. It always makes me laugh. B-dog can’t take it anymore and dashes off, barking shrilly. I call him back when he reaches the fence-line. He returns, puffed up with indignation or satisfaction. I dig in my pocket for a treat, then we go inside. 

I turn and look out the porch door as I close it. The light is rising, bringing fire into autumn. There is nothing muted about the woods now: the trees blaze golden, red and bright. Everything has gone silent. Barnabas & I left smudgy inter-species footprints in the dew on the deck: compact paws and curved human commas blur together. I realize that although I’m wearing my long woolen cloak, I am barefoot and freezing.

I look out towards the driveway and pasture, hoping for another glimpse of the foxes. There’s nothing there but the trees.