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Karma Chameleon

Last night the doctors delivered some wonderful news to my bedside: the CMV levels in my blood are very low (below 200) which means that if I have the same results from my next blood test on Monday, by Tuesday I could be discharged.

Eight weeks is a long time to be in the hospital. In truth, though, it hasn’t been eight static weeks of horrible, or even a full eight weeks, to be exact. The first two weeks I was so disoriented and caught between sleep and pain that nothing really registered. I did, however, have moments of profound sweetness, moments when I understood the enormity of the gift I was given, moments of understanding the blessing I received to make it through a twelve hour surgery alive, and moments of comprehending where I was — at the border territory between life and death.

The second two weeks were equally as dramatic; there were so many uncertainties regarding the outcome of the transplant that I truly didn’t know if I was coming or going. The doctors looked concerned as they spoke quietly together in the corner and did their best to put on a brave face as they delivered speculative news about my recovery. As my liver stabilized and I moved further away from the date of the surgery, things went from unstable in my body, to unstable in my mind. The medications and their side effects set in, the reality of being a long-term patient became apparent, the longing to be with my husband and son were magnetized, and my inability to control my body and everything else was all too clear.

In truth, this last week has been an unexpected gift. I have remained an in-patient, yet every day I have spent several hours outside the confines of the building, even picking my son up from school and going home for a few hours on two of the days. In the evenings I return back to the hospital for my anti-viral IV and medical observations. It has been wonderful to spend some hours playing with my son and being in our home, that after this extended time away, no longer feels completely my own.

It’s strange how undergoing a major life event like a liver transplant and being away from a place or a person for a period of time can change the dynamic of the relationship. But, of course, why wouldn’t it? I mean, I’ve changed, or I feel that I have, anyway. The bottom line is that we are all changing, all the time; sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but change is inevitable.

Being at home was very comforting, as I got to engage with my son in a way that I haven’t been able to in nearly two months; but it was also a little bit daunting. Every room contained the essence of me but in a former state. The truth is, I’m not sure what the ‘me’ in my current state is, or how it was any different than the me that existed eight weeks ago, but somehow, I do feel changed. I have been on a journey that has not only enabled me to travel to my boundary between life and death, but given me a chance to see others on that same journey act and react to their boundaries. I feel more human, or at least more a part of the human condition. We are all in some way exploring our boundaries between life and death, most of us without even knowing it. Some of us cling to islands that we think are ‘safe’ or will bring us longevity such as a health regime, an exercise practice or choosing specific people to befriend. Others engage in behavior they may feel puts their lives at risk; smoking, going to places that are considered ‘dangerous’, or simply eating unhealthy foods. Whether we attach ourselves to ideas that we feel may prolong or shorten our lives, sooner or later, we are all going to die.


The truth is, what exists between here and there is far out of our control, yet there are choices we make that contribute to the final outcome.  Responsibility is a big word, and I have come to understand it’s meaning to be entwined with how we react to the circumstances that life affords us. It turns out that there’s a lot of truth to the the old saying ‘When life hands you a bowl of lemons; its up to you to make lemonade.’

For me, this has meant continuing to live my life to the fullest even while knowing I was awaiting a liver transplant. It has meant getting to know the nurses and appreciating how lucky I am to have good medical care and a clean bed to recover in even though there are a million places I would rather be than in hospital. It has meant surrendering to the fact that my compassionate family and friends have put their lives on the back burner to care for me during these past two months, and I may never find a way to return the favor or let them know how much their time and love has meant. It has meant accepting the hand that life has dealt as gracefully as possible without second guessing myself or becoming a victim. Above all, being responsible for myself, even knowing that I have no control over the cycle of life and death, has meant finding God; finding some force that I have faith in, guiding me to make the right choices. By offering everything up to this source, making choices becomes easier and understanding that my path, including the obstacles and the triumphs, has an origin and an outcome based on karma, the cause and effect of past and present actions.

In the Bhagavad Gita, life and death are described as being part of the cosmic process, even while the Self (the spirit or soul) is indestructible and immortal. The laws of karma remind us that we are responsible for what we are and whatever we wish ourselves to be, a fundamental theme of human life. There are a lot of phrases that describe karma. For example: “What comes around goes around”; or “We reap what we sow.” These phrases however, could be upsetting for many, as some people are born with a fatal disease, or born into a bad circumstance without having had the time to accumulate any karma at all.  The thing is, karma works across many lifetimes, so even if a person has been nothing but angelic in a short lifespan (I’m thinking of a baby being diagnosed with a heart tumor), something in their past life could have brought this on. At the end of the day, it is valuable time wasted to try to justify why we are in the circumstances that we find ourselves in, because we never know the whole story; an aspect of all humans is our ‘mis-knowing’, or avidya: thinking we know when we don’t. At the end of the day, the only way to find peace, knowing we are taking the right action and understanding the present moment is unfolding exactly as it was intended, is to look to God, our divine source that ultimately is in control of all the cosmic forces that place us in a given place at a given time.

In Eckart Tolle‘s book A New Earth, he reminds us, “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”

When I do go home, whether it be on Tuesday or in another week, there will be a certain amount of looking in on my past with fresh eyes. Luckily, the past eight weeks, with all of the ups and downs and uncertainty, has also been a time of reflection, of cultivating great gratitude, and a reminder of how precious life is. It turns out that perspective and action (also of thought and word) ultimately define our lives; who we are, what we surround ourselves with and how we make decisions.

John Lennon and the Beatles were right. Instant karma is gonna get you, and all we need is love!

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