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26 June 2024

Dealing with the Fear of Surgery

by Kathy Sagar

Kathy Seger Ottawa

The envelope arrived in the mail explaining the basic info I needed to know for my surgery.  “Surgery?” I thought.  From the details contained in the letter I would be awake and would have local freezing.  I decided that reframing the situation was a good option.  Moving forward I referred to it as a “medical procedure”.  This made it seem more manageable for a person who lays down when they get needles due to feeling faint.  This is a fact I don’t love to admit, because hey, aren’t I tougher than that?

The body you normally see does not exist.

Over the following days and weeks, thoughts of the procedure entered my mind, got mulled over and mildly stressed over and then I’d move on to other thoughts. There was a video link in the letter that would provide info about the step by step process that I would undergo. I have a very small patch of Basal cell skin cancer, the most common and easily treated type of skin cancer. The dime-sized area of damaged skin between the bridge of my nose and the inside corner of my eye needed to be removed. It is the result of sun exposure over my 48 years in this body. I wanted to watch the link, but I knew I should be strategic and not watch it right before bed. At the end of one work day, I entered the link address into my computer and watched the brief video. Even people who don’t study Buddhism know that our obsessive self-concern (self-cherishing) is oh so very strong. So when they came to the part showing the doctor cutting out the damaged skin, it was animated. I appreciated this. I have to admit I kinda winced and looked away all the same………because this is what was going to happen to me! I take this opportunity to attempt to apply some of the wisdom that I perhaps don’t 100% grasp. I tell myself “Remember, the body you normally see does not exist”. I feel a very small but noticeable shift.

Shimmering interactive holographic human body icon with glowing effects in the air

A very wonderful place to be

A month has passed since the letter arrived and I’m up early to be at the clinic for my “procedure”. I’m in the shower and I’m reciting a traditional Buddhist prayer. I do this sometimes as a way to relax my mind and also today as a way to call on my support team who I know will be with me through the upcoming ordeal - AKA the Buddhas, who I kinda like to think of as Superheroes. I concentrate on the words of the prayer - saying it slowly, word by word and not simply reciting on autopilot. When I come to the line “And your mind is refuge for all living beings”, it jumps out at me; what a lovely, helpful thought. I will attempt to shift my focus while they are doing the procedure and use my imagination to be linked to Buddha’s mind. It seems like a very wonderful place to be. It’s worth trying.

While having breakfast I find a pocket sized, rigid piece of paper that will survive the day in my pocket, grab a Sharpie and write; ‘And your mind is refuge for all living beings'. I slip this, and a small image of Buddha into my jeans pocket.


Applying Dharma

At the clinic the nurse gets me to sit in the dentist-like chair; it adjusts in height and tilts in all the same ways. She is very friendly and I already feel close to her. She has helped put me at ease. I am grateful. She looks me in the eye and genuinely asks how I’m feeling about the procedure. “I’m generally feeling okay about it, but I’ll be honest, I am pretty nervous.” She says that having an Ativan is an option to reduce anxiety.

In life’s different challenges we all have to know what support we need and what our limits are. Sometimes we have to actually be in the situation to sort that out. Sometimes we muddle our way through and then have that knowledge for next time. I know I have been able to remain calm during quite intense situations. I also know that once the dust settles my emotions run higher; maybe I should ask for an Ativan to-go! I wanted to use this experience to really apply Dharma, to strengthen my refuge practice. This is a practice I really grasp and can fully get behind. In the years I have been studying and practicing Dharma I have been moved to tears many times by the gratitude and awe I feel. Grateful at having connected with the Buddhas and in awe of the wisdom I have been exposed to and am working to further develop. I appreciate the offer of Ativan but tell the nurse I’m good (I’ve got the superheroes with me).

the statue of budda in the river, mystery, beautiful moon, beautiful sky, asia culture, masterpiece, asia culture --ar 16:9 --style raw --stylize 750 Job ID: 91da68aa-f5c8-40ba-a646-370169a4529c

Moving my mind to the Buddhas

A lot went on that day between my arrival at 7:30am and my departure at 3:00pm. There were needles for freezing, needles for stitching, there was time waiting, there was time actively being worked on. And for good chunks of that time I had the capacity to actively move my mind to the Buddhas, to go for refuge.

Towards the end of her working on me I asked the doctor how much longer the procedure would be as I was getting some referral pain due to the freezing starting to wear off. She said “I just have to put in two final quilting stitches and then we’re all done”. As someone who loves sewing myself I found this quite humorous. But more importantly, it reminded me that as Dharma practitioners we are all works in progress.

Kathy Sager attends KMC Ottawa

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