During my advanced Yoga Teacher Training, I was also in the process of getting my Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist training. Ayurveda is a system of self healing by learning to live in balance with the elements.
Part of our homework for this program was to begin to follow a daily self care ritual (called a dinacharya). I had good intentions with this list of 5 or 6 items I was to incorporate into my morning routine, but who has time for that. I need to get up and moving in the morning. Things to do!
It took me several months of looking at the list and ‘shoulding’ myself over it. I did eventually start the daily rituals. I was scraping my tongue, using the neti pot followed by nasya (nasal) oil, dry brushing my skin, and some days doing the warm oil massage (abhyanga). I was going through the motions of doing the tasks. Just another chore to check off my list.
I began to notice slight changes in my overall feelings toward life and the curve balls it throws. My overall demeanor was a little more laid back and a little bit more go with the flow. But I still had LOTS to do on a daily basis and that oil massage and meditating in the mornings? Come on, that is when I get stuff done. I just didn’t have time except for the occasional weekend. So I continued to go through the motions.
Then one morning, my life as I knew it changed. I was just preparing for a client to arrive when I got a call from Lifeline. Lifeline is a service that monitors the well being of people who are elderly, or in less than optimal health. The client wears a panic button, if you will, on a necklace.
When I answered the phone, the Lifeline representative told me that my mother had used her Lifeline to call for help. Paramedics had come and transported her to the hospital. She had no more details for me than that.
A little later, (I was not so with the flow or calm at this point at all!) the ER nurse called and let me talk to my mom. She said, “Something about my heart and maybe needing a catheter.”
I got in my car and drove to the hospital. The front desk couldn’t find my mom anywhere.
A few minutes later, a patient representative escorted me to the heart center. A nurse informed me that my mom had been rushed into the Operating Room for emergency open heart surgery. Her aorta, which is the main artery that feeds the body blood from the heart, had essentially ruptured. The technical name for her condition is Dissected Aorta.
The surgery was over eight and a half hours. When the surgeon finally came out to talk to me, he said they were going to keep my mom in a medically induced coma because they had sewn a graft, or patch, onto the diseased part of her aorta. The tissue that was left wasn’t very healthy, and his exact words were, “I do not want her to move a muscle.” He said that night was going to be critical.
My mom was 59 years old. This happened right before Christmas.
Those daily practices from my yoga and ayurveda training homework that I had been doing half-heartedly as tasks, I embraced them in a new way. I not only started doing them, but I clung to them because they were the only ‘known’ I had in my life during that time. I knew I could get up in the morning and support myself with these acts of self compassion and love. I sat on my cushion and meditated because my breath in that moment was the only thing that was a given. They became my center and my way to ground.
My mom’s one night coma turned into two, then three. She wasn’t breathing on her own, and they had to keep her on life support. A social worker talked to me and my sister to see if my mom had a living will and asked if we knew what mom’s wishes were. None of the doctors or nurses were giving us any indication at all if she may recover or not.
Over the next couple of days, mom did start to move restlessly, frantically wiggling her foot, she would start to try to open her eyes.
Watching my mom start to wake up from the coma with lost and wild eyes was the most heartbreaking thing I have gone through. She still had to have the breathing tube in her throat. She had no clue who she was and when the nurses told her to stop pulling at the tube her eyes just got big and there was no connection there. No one home. Sometimes she would nod or shake her head, but again her eyes were missing their soul. Her eyes were hauntingly glossy, distant, and lost.
They were going to do a tracheotomy and make an opening in the front of mom’s neck to put a long term breathing tube in. All of this was going on around me, and the only reason I was able to react calmly and with a clear head and continue to be the point person for the family was because of my practices.
The only reason I had strength to continue to get up in the morning was because of my practices. They nurtured and supported me and most importantly built ojas, vital essence, that I needed.
Surgery was scheduled for the tracheotomy the next morning. I got up early and drove for what felt like the millionth time to the hospital. I walked into her room and there she was without her breathing tube and looking mostly at me. The tears I managed to hold back while around her all came out at that moment. I hugged her around all the tubes and wires, and I didn’t want to let go.
This past December marked two years since her surgery. She calls it her re-birthday. The road to recovery has been rocky. Mom stayed another couple weeks in the hospital cardiac care unit and then at Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Center for another week. She lost a lot of cognitive and physical skills in the three weeks she was in a coma.
She still has a lot of memory issues, but she is my mom. – and she is alive! Because of her ordeal, I learned how to love myself for maybe the first time ever in my life.
Yoga is a powerful tool.