June 5, 2022: Hiatus? What Hiatus?

In my most recent post of June 5th, I wrote about my intentions to take a time of respite and renewal, including a break from my workshops and this blog.  If you’ve remembered times of making  good intentions in your lives, you know that more often than not,  we fail to realize them.  I am no exception.

 As I began my “vacation” from my regular activities, I envisioned writing the family stories I’ve wanted to capture so long.  I imagined long relaxing walks with my dog in Toronto’s parks and nearby trails.  I wanted that relaxed time to nourish my spirit, body and creative energy.  It’s three months later, and few, if any, of those intentions were realized.  Yet now,  September has begun, students are heading back to classes, and  for those of us whose lives have long  been tied to the rhythm of an academic year, I feel a persistent drive “to get back to work again.”  That has begun here, with this first blog after my summer hiatus.  And just as in my youth,  when first day of grade school typically  involved a written assignment, often entitled, “How I Spent My Summer,”  my current post is my adult version of that grade school assignment.

I still remember the excitement of that first day in a new grade, my new pencil poised  over a fresh sheet of blue-lined paper, and in my very best handwriting, recounting the highlights of my summer vacation.   Summertime meant long afternoons at the community swimming pool, camping trips and waterskiing at Northern California lakes, fishing with my father in nearby rivers, the imaginative expeditions with other neighborhood children, moving carefully through barbed wire fences to explore and create adventures among pine trees, hills, manzanita “fortresses,” the “rockpiles,” and taking along coffee tins for  blackberry picking, our lips turning purple with the juices. 

In the long summer evenings, we gathered again to play softball or touch football in the street, turn cartwheels on our lawns, have sleepovers under the stars in our backyards, or create mini-fairs or plays to entertain our parents.  Sometimes, we piled into our family  station wagon as my father drove the 650 miles to Southern California to visit our relatives.  I had no shortage of experiences to write about in that first back-to-school assignment.  My summers were filled with  imaginative play,  adventures and fun.

Yet this summer has been a far cry from the fun of my childhood or my well intended plans for a time of renewal.  As I reflect on the summer I experienced vs. the one I intended, the memories are not of a period of respite or renewal, but rather a roller coaster ride of emotion: worry, hope, disappointment, renewed hope and near the end, gratitude, all defining my days and nights from June to the middle of August.

It began in late spring with follow-up medical appointments after some worrisome heart episodes in late spring.  When I met with my cardiologist and learned that my mitral valve was “leaking,” regurgitating about 50%  of the oxygenated blood from the upper chamber, which explained why I was increasingly fatigued and winded whenever I walked up hill or at too brisk a pace.   An additional medication was added to my daily regiment to better regulate my heart beat, a transesophageal cardiogram scheduled and I was referred to a team of cardiologists to evaluate my suitability for a mitral valve clip.   The month of June dragged on as I waited  for the decision:  would I qualify for the procedure or not? Waiting, as so many of you already know,  is a large part of the medical experience that accompanies illness and disease, expressed so clearly in Robert Carroll’s poem, “What Waiting Is.”  Here’s an excerpt:

You know what waiting is.
If you know anything, you know what waiting is.
It’s not about you.
    This is about
illness and hospitals and life and death…

       (In:  What Waiting Is, 1998)

June was consumed by waiting.  As the weeks dragged on without any decision from the doctors, my emotional life was defined by increased anxiety and worry that I might not be accepted for the procedure.  Hopefulness turned to doubt, and four weeks later, when the head of the medical team informed me I had been rejected as a viable candidate for the procedure given the damage done to my heart, my spirits plunged.   But my cardiologist called shortly afterward to see how I was feeling and offered another possibility for hope.  I’m lucky that she is a doctor who “fights” for the best interests of her patients and is not one to take “no” for an answer until every option has been explored.  She had immediately referred my results to a cardiologist practicing at a different hospital than she does, someone described as “doing some magic” with mitral clips for difficult cases. “Magic” was sounding pretty darn good to me.  In less than two weeks after initially being turned down at my regular cardiac clinic, I was admitted for a mitral valve procedure with the “magician” cardiologist.   A day later, I returned home for a brief recovery period, two mitral valve clips successfully installed and functioning well.

Although I never imagined my summer would be consumed by my physical health, I have emerged from it with a sense of renewal:  more physical energy and stamina, the pleasure of walking without stopping to catch my breath every block or two, and an enduring sense of gratitude for the determination, support and skill of my doctors and the compassionate nurses who card for me pre-and post-procedure.    I am also deeply grateful for the support of my family and friends scattered around Canada, the US and Japan.   The wisdom of my 13 year old my grandson summed it all up: “Keep your spirits up,” he wrote, “remember that more people are there for you than you think.” 

He was right.  I am one lucky woman.  Summer intentions aside, the experience of these past weeks has been an extraordinary gift.   That’s life, I guess, and I am very grateful for the one I have.

“Starfish” by Ellen Lerman

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to

the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a

stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have

your eggs, your coffee…Then it sits a fisherman

down beside you at the counter who says, “Last night

the channel was full of starfish.” And you wonder

is this a message, finally, or just another day?

***

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the

pond, where whole generations of biological

processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds

speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,

they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old

enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?

***

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one

who never had any conditions, the one who waited

you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that

you are lucky…

***

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your

late night dessert. (Pie for the dog as well.) And

then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,

while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,

with smiles on their starry faces as they head

out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

(From: Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds, 2005)

Writing Suggestions

  • Write about a time when your good intentions went awry. What were the intentions? What got in the way of your acting on them? What happened? What, if anything, did you learn from the experience.
  • Go back in memory to your youth. Think of the summer, once school was out, and the opportunities for fun, play and new adventures was yours. Write about one summer (or more) that stands out most in your memory. Why?
  • Life doesn’t always go as we’d planned, and yet, we can discover new ways of being, new opportunities, even gratitude despite life not behaving as we intended for ourselves. Has that happened to you? Write about such a time, the new insights or gifts you discovered when your life took a different turn.
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5 thoughts on “June 5, 2022: Hiatus? What Hiatus?

    1. Katy! Thank you for your kind wishes…I feel so much better and have much more stamina and energy…yay, medical technology! But the summer took its toll, and I am pushing the proverbial stone uphill as I return to writing…”sigh”…I hope you are well. xoxox Sharon

  1. Dear Sharon- I miss you and so glad to read about your summer of healing. I too had a summer I never experienced before starting June 1st with my lumpectomy and intraoperative radiation. It was my turn to go on the cancer ride that my patients have told me about for so many years while working in the Cancer Center. It was the hardest season, while others shared their photos of their travels I showed my photo of me with my binder and Jackson Pratt bottle. I also showed photos of friends and family that helped me on my path and some of the many gifts and surprises that made me feel more alive and loved than ever before. So the upside of cancer or any life threatening condition that I can see is all the love and beauty beneath the anger and sadness I went through. That my journey was “cancer lite” compared to so many of my patients with end stage disease and I am grateful every day for the life I have. Even when it’s sleeplessness or pain that still affects me. It will not kill me. Cancer has made me a stronger advocate and therapist and I have greater insight now more than ever. I love your writing. Always have and remember those long writing sessions at Audrey’s house. Thank you for everything you always do to share yourself with others.

    1. Oh Jenny, I am so glad you’re okay…my cancer experience back in 2000 was very similar–it led me into the writing group work but with my cancer groups, I never quite felt I really had cancer… I am so glad you have come through this strong in mind, body and heart. So lovely to hear from you! oxoxo Sharon

    2. Oh Jenny, I am so glad you’re okay…my cancer experience back in 2000 was very similar–it led me into the writing group work but with my cancer groups, I never quite felt I really had cancer… I am so glad you have come through this strong in mind, body and heart. So lovely to hear from you! oxoxo Sharon

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