We learn early in life to relate to our world by using our five senses. Many individuals believe a fetus in the womb learns the sound of his mother’s voice long before birth. I love to read true stories and have recently been reading Steve Scalise’s very fine, open and graphic book he wrote as the result of the trauma he experienced on June 14, 2014 on a baseball field outside of Washington DC. One of the points he reminded me of was the importance those senses play in each moment of our individual lives. I related to his words because of my own life-threatening experiences in the past and others that are ongoing today. Not only did he suffer life threatening trauma and pain but also the added stress of being shot by a mad man.
Last night as the NW wind blew and rattled our ancient glass window above our bed, it occurred to me how important our sense of hearing is; although I did wish I could briefly turn off the dog’s ability to hear. It was more complex than that, however, because he sensed the weather change as well as feeling the motion and vibrations in the room, due to the roaring wind. I realized how our daily lives are experienced via the input we receive from these same five senses. I thought it would be enlightening to look at these today: sight, hearing, and sense of smell, the sense of taste, and lastly the tactile ability to touch and feel via our skin, which is incidentally the largest organ in our bodies. I believe, from my own experience, that these abilities are heightened by our adversity and the alterations of our bodies.
SIGHT: In a life of chronic or acute pain we see much we never saw before. We see more doctors than other folks do unless we work in the field of medicine. We see more medicine bottles; more heating pads and the inside of more medical equipment stores than most. We have to check our skin for rashes from disease or from medication or too much sun. We check our stools for blood from NSAID’s. We see our blood being drawn by a lab tech and placed in test tubes at least every other month, for years. We see far too many medical forms, insurance forms and health questionnaires. We see a plethora of information on the internet; most good, some ridiculous and others selling some product. We see the pores on a doctor’s face as he/she peers into our eyes, ears and nose. We also see far more fear and anxiety on our own faces and on those who love us
We sit at a window and watch the golden sun rise as we face another day after a fitful night. We watch our bodies as they morph and change from our disease or some medication we must have to make it through the day. Hopefully we also have a source of beauty within our own homes or through a reflective window with the gorgeous flowered bushes of the season or the signs of the changing seasons themselves.
HEARING: We often lie alone in the dark, awakened by our pain, listening to the sounds of our own breathing and the drumbeat of our heart. We hear our own voices complaining and wish we could shut up. We hear the rush of wind and rain hit the windows, because we have more time, just to listen. We hear the subtle sigh of others when the subject of our health is mentioned. We hear what they do not say. We hear the joyous sound of our children and grandchildren giggling, screeching with glee or singing a song as they go about their lives of work or play. We hear the dog that lies at the foot of the bed, gently snoring in sleep or “tooting” in relaxation. We hear the sounds of our spouse joining the dog “in song” and envy them both the ability to be so deeply asleep. We hear and appreciate the various musical instruments floating from a CD as we drive, relax or slowly go about our daily chores. We hear some music whose depth touches us to the point of tears.
Many of us hear the whine of a wheelchair motor, the rubber thud of a cane hitting the floor and the squeaky wheels of a walker. Sometimes we hear the sounds of our own bones moving and popping as we shift our position, rise from a chair or force ourselves to stretch and move. Have you ever heard a body cry out while the mouth is silent?
SENSE OF SMELL: We smell bad breath, sometimes our own, sometimes not. We smell with greater appreciation a dinner we have struggled to cook because we love our families and don’t want to let them down. We enjoy the scent of fresh herbs as we rub them between our hands. On other nights, when the day has been a bad one, we appreciate the aroma of pizza, a brown bag of Chinese cartons of food or the piquant pungency arising from a box of Mexican take-out.
When we are battling nausea we politely turn from a friend or healthcare worker who is wearing a noxious perfume or has BO. We smell the rotting food in our refrigerator because we just don’t feel well enough to check it or can’t lift that vegetable drawer. We smell the scent of acrimony arising from those who judge us unfairly. We smell an odor arising from a beloved pet and know we need to check a rear end or make the painful effort to run a tub of water and solve the smelly issue with pet shampoo. We have a renewed, stronger sense of smell from our roses, scented geraniums and lavender.
TASTE: We often have the taste and after-taste of a much too expensive medication. We taste something bitter all day long and realize it is our own attitude. We taste home-baked bread from the bread machine with a newfound appreciation. We taste new foods like rice milk, soy, and new vegetables in an attempt to lead a healthier life. We long to taste some foods we can no longer eat due to dietary restriction, sometimes actually dreaming of the taste and waking to the reality of its loss in the morning. We taste various delicious flavors of tea and juice because we’ve had to forego the taste of coffee and hot chocolate to avoid caffeine. We often taste our own resentment because we’ve already given up so much. We endeavor to relieve ourselves of the taste of self-recrimination as we watch the “flavors” of our life change as we modify everything. We long to taste freedom from the guilt of all the lives we have unwillingly altered, as well as our own. Awe guilt, the most wasted of all emotions. We must, very often, replace it with love and faith as we realize so much of what we are experiencing is not our fault and totally out of our hands.
SENSE OF TOUCHING AND FEELING: We have to feel our lives change entirely while we are grateful for life, itself. We feel disapproval from those who think we are “faking it.” We feel the judgment in their eyes as we try not to see judgment for them in ourselves. We long to feel tolerance, understanding and love. We feel our bodies morph and change due to our diseases, medications or accidents accompanying or resulting from our pain. We feel spring coming with all of our senses. We more deeply feel the emotions in movies, books and articles with renewed understanding of life. We feel our own tears fall.
We feel a different kind of pain as we see medical bills arrive on a regular basis and try not to feel the worry in a dear spouse’s eyes. We feel the loss of friends and families crippled by their disabilities and refuse to feel ourselves in their shoes. The thought is just too painful and threatening. We work to keep our eyes on the “prize” of a healthier selfand independent life and feel ourselves always struggling to be as healthy as we can be.
We feel the changes in weather more than we ever did before. We are deeply affected by the swings of heat or cold. We feel pity from some individuals. We feel indifference fromothers. Tactilely we love the feeling we attain from a heating pad, an ice pack or a soft blanket. Fleece, foam rubber and all things soft become our new friends. We feel altered because we are. The importance we learn to place is on feeling at all. All of our senses are heightened by this experience which has become our life.
All of our five senses are more vibrant, more alive and more present than they would in the way of life we left behind; the life we usually took for granted. I highly recommend Congressman Scalise’s book. It is honest, full of graphic medicine and its many miracles in his recovery when the odds were all against him and full of the many mysterious ways faith played a role in his recovery and survival.
Earlier I mentioned three times in my own life when I had been close to death and now let me just briefly explain. As a young mother I had a tubal pregnancy which ruptured the ovarian tube and fallopian tube on one side of my abdomen. I was alone that evening with my two small children as my husband at that time was working out of town. That was long before cell phones. All of the blood drained into my abdomen, pressing on my diaphragm, as I hovered between consciousness and semi-consciousness. We didn’t have a phone because my husband had not paid the bill. By the time he got home in the wee hours of the morning, rushed me to the hospital my blood pressure was barely discernable. As I was being wheeled into surgery, I could feel my spirit leave my body and whispered a prayer for my life to improve over what it had been. I don’t know if I spoke it or just felt it within my own mind. I lived after having surgery and all of my blood replaced. Lying in that hospital in Santa Barbara, CA, I knew then I was going to go back to college and become an RN and I did. My entire life changed.
The second time I came near death was several years later when I needed repair from allthe bleeding and trauma I had experienced and during the surgery my surgeon cut my ureter in half. That is that tiny tube we each have on each side of our bodies that feed your urine from the kidneys to the bladder for elimination. I had a splint placed into the tube and it was left there until I healed. The doctor told me she just had a feeling to check her work all over again before she closed me up. Thanks to the Lord, she did and found the error. Jim, my dear husband of now 40 years, told me when she came out to tell him after an extra long surgery she looked as if she had to tell him to “eat a dead mouse or a rat on a shingle.” Yep, that’s my guy. I healed well.
The third time I faced a near death experience was during my mastectomy for breast cancer. As my surgeon, another one, had removed the breast, the muscle covering my chest wall began to hemorrhage. She could not get it to stop. She is a tiny, excellent woman who threw every abdominal pad they could find in the surgical theater onto my chest and got on a stool and literally got on top of me and leaned with her whole body to exert pressure. Once again, I lived but I am wrapped very tightly on my left side and one can literally count my ribs on that side of my chest.
Apparently, Mr. Scalise and I both had work to do in and with our lives. That part I leave up to God and I know he does as well.
Five senses are wonderful and it is an amazing miracle how acutely brilliant they become at these times in our lives when we need them the most. Once again, thank you Lord.