[by Pamela Bloom]
Recently I was scheduled to have the medical test known as a colonoscopy. It is an extremely invasive procedure into the most intimate parts of one’s body and therefore frightening for most people. For that reason patients are usually asked to bring someone with them so they can be accompanied home. Unfortunately, due to the timing of my procedure, I didn’t have anybody to come with me, so I was already feeling quite vulnerable from the start. On top of that, my veins are quite small and my doctor had a terrible time inserting the IV for the anesthesia. For some reason, my memory of the day is sill fresh, as if it is happening now. Strapped to the gurney and dressed only in a patient’s gown, I do everything not to squirm, but he misses… first time … second…. third. The needle is huge and the pain is excruciating. As he taps up and down my arm looking for a vein, I can feel his nervousness through his finger. Seeing me break out in a sweat, he asks if I ‘ve brought somebody with me. Tears well up in my eyes. “ That’s Okay,” he says unconvincingly., “ You’ll be fine. “ Finally, on the fifth try, the needle connects with a vein. I’m about to exhale in relief when I hear him yell to his attendant, “ Okay, hit the music. “ At this point, the loudest, most raucous, most offensive rock music blasts through the room. I’m stunned. I can’t believe I have to ask him t turn it off.
“I can’t, “ he says, strapping on his mask. “ This is the way I work. “
I’m just outraged. Strapped down like a prison, I feel the heavy – metal beat rattle my bones and I feel like I‘ve entered hell. Sweat pours down my face and I begin to shake unconditionally. Never before have I felt so trapped in a nightmare, and worse, there is absolutely no escape. In less than a minute, I will probably be unconscious. I actually feel like I am about to be executed, poison draining into my system through the IV. I’m completely on the stage of panic and the only thing I have on my side is my own mind. And then, squeezed by this physical, mental, and emotional claustrophobia, something shifts, and maybe because I am in such an intense state of suffering, I suddenly open to an awareness where I feel not just my suffering but also the suffering of umpteen billions in the world who have gone through this same kind of experience. I think of my friend Sylvan who endured thousands of IVs during the long years of his diabetes. My father and mother, my brothers, before surgeries. Millions I have never met who face trauma, fear, helplessness, every day. The room feels full of spirits. Then somewhere in me, almost as if I had been rumbling in the dark for eons looking for it, a prayer arises in my mind, one taught to me so long ago by my master: May all those who have this same kind of suffering never have to experience it again. May this suffering I am enduring release them form their agony.
And then I am out of cold. My next memory is the nurse telling me it’s over. The procedure had gone fine, and after the IV episode there is almost no pain. I get up, dress, and take the subway home by myself. The whole episode is almost like a dream. But the experience taught me something I will never ever forget — How easily distress can arrive, how helpless sentient beings are, and how entrenched prayer must be in our mind-streams so we use it when we need it.