Monday Morning Monkey Mind

As far as animal-based metaphors go, it doesn’t get much better than “monkey mind.”

A Buddhist term, “monkey mind” refers to a mental or emotional state that is untamed, confused, or restless. Most of us are familiar with visits from this simian symbol as we attempt to cozy up under the blankets at night, ready to sleep after a long day. Before we know it, there the little fella is, swinging from our synapses and wreaking havoc in our weary thoughts.

My monkey – let’s call it Kong – was waiting for me as I turned in last night, and it was sitting at the foot of my bed, ready to go when I awoke a few hours ago.

As I write this, my mom lay in an operating room, undergoing four procedures over the course of two hours or so. After over four months of low sodium that led to a significant seizure, low potassium, a gall bladder infection, multiple UTIs, and multiple sclerosis flareups. Those flareups made her unable to use her hands for weeks at a time, experience double vision, and sent conflicting messages to her esophagus when she eats. Swallowing quickly becomes gagging, yawning, or burping. Sometimes one right after the other; sometimes simultaneously. Ma hasn’t walked since Feb. 13. Her lack of mobility has created a significant sacral pressure ulcer. Given its location, infection is an ongoing issue. And her inability to eat much has stunted its healing and her recovery in general.

So right now she’s having her ulcer cleaned up, with vacuum-assisted closure being done to prevent infection and promote quicker healing. After this, she’ll have an incision – six inches or so in length from what I’ve been told – made on her abdomen. Once opened up, the surgeon will do all the necessary rewiring for a feeding tube, a colostomy bag, and a cystostomy tube.

The surgeon told us late last week that Ma has a good chance at recovering and having a successful rehabilitation from the procedures. Of course, MS is always around, happy to screw things up however it can, so the mileage on success may vary.

With all of this, Kong – my mind monkey – is having a field day. The past few months have really been Kong’s salad days. It hasn’t had a time like this in years.

Kong’s favorite thing to say is, “Yeah, but what if …” I’m doing my level best to be mindful of such thoughts and counter them. Maybe beat Kong at his own game, countering his negativity with ideas like, “Yeah, but what if … it works out just fine?” Kong doesn’t know what to do with that one.

I’m also trying to notice the stuff around me and in me, rather than what I imagine is happening elsewhere in other rooms and other minds. It’s an ongoing challenge.

Just before I start writing, I walk to the hospital cafeteria to get another coffee. The woman at the register watches me fill the cup, and when I turn to pay, she just smiles, waves, and says, “You enjoy that coffee and have a good day.” I appreciate how she is aware of her words. She doesn’t tell me to have “a great day” or “a wonderful day.” She knows where she is and the circumstances many of her customers face. “A good day” at a hospital feels more attainable than “a great day.” In that moment, nestling the cup in my hands, I don’t think there’s an act of kindness that could have made me happier.  

Kindness. Think about kindness.

Kong reminds me of what was happening in the operating room. Of what could be happening there.

Carrying my hot cup of coffee back to Ma’s hospital room where we’re spending our morning, I pass a group in the hall. Well-dressed and clearly hanging on every word being spoken by one of them. I try to stare without staring, and I realize they’re listening to someone I know. Jonathan. I’ve known him since my newspaper editor days. He’s one of the most dedicated, conscientious, and community-minded people you’ll ever meet. Jonathan has a hell of an eye for nature photography, and they don’t come friendlier. He was also appointed Interim CEO of the hospital where Ma is cared for these days. He’s also been the COO for quite some time. I have to smile as I think, “Good things still happen to truly good people.”

Good things and good people. Think about good things and good people.

Kong crouches on a frayed synapse just beyond my reach and howls. Unhappy monkey.

I returned to the hospital room. My father and sister sleep in chairs, recovering from the early arrival time we have this morning. My wife shares her daily group text. She’s conquered Wordle again. From the hallway, a variety of beeps chime from different rooms. A nurse waves at me as she passes. At the other end of the hospital, Ma is in good hands. Not our hands, but still, good hands. And that’s all I need to know right now. I open my laptop and start to type.

Be here now. And I am.

In the distance, from a branch so high I can’t see, Kong snores, taking a much-needed rest.

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