Taking on, letting go

What to gain? Living in the here and now. What to lose? Control.

I gave up control (or the illusion thereof) for Lent. I’m a worrier. “What will happen if …?”

“What if ..”

As a person of faith, I profess regularly that I trust something–Someone–greater than myself. In my case, that Someone is Christ.

But also as a human being muddling around in this faith, I often don’t walk the walk of trust. I often fret and worry and cuss and furrow my brow.

So when my spiritual director recently asked me what I was giving up, the usual ideas ran through my head: Chocolate? Facebook? Wine?

Trust me, it is far more difficult for me to give up my sense of control, and to focus on what’s right in front of me. Today. This minute. This person.

This Lent, as my mind projects miles into the future, I try and catch it.

“Be present.”
“Do the next right thing.”

It’s working out pretty good so far.

A wise friend years ago suggested taking on a discipline, as well as giving something up. To me, relinquishing control and taking on presence is in that vein.

Many people do many different things during Lent, to make more space for God. There’s no formula, no right or wrong.

For those walking these 40 days, I’m grateful we walk together.


‘All is spent’

Nature is “a spendthrift economy; though nothing is lost, all is spent.”
— Annie Dillard, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”

The other day I was sitting across from a woman, a patient’s wife, and I was so close I could see a tear dribble out of her eye and sit on her lower eyelid.

Then came another. The tears just sat there for what seemed an eternity, then they fell, going who knows where.

I’ve been obsessed about these tears since. What happened to them? So my imagination started working.

I imagined they fell to the ground, one by one. I imagined they got into the floor of the patient’s room, then worked their way into the earth. From the earth they made their way into the water stream and flowed to a creek, then to the nearby Chattahoochee River.

By now they are making their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The woman’s tears serve her and they serve the earth. They cleanse her and they cleanse the earth. Tears are a gift of washing and renewal and replenishing.

Today I am grateful for her tears, and mine, and yours.

Nothing is wasted, or lost. Amen.

My summer of my discontinence: The End

By Michael Owen

The invasive aspects of this little medical adventure were over at this point. One-way traffic had been restored to the UFH, which I hope will remain the case forevermore.

But then the waiting began. Did I have bladder cancer or not? I told myself I would just assume that I did in fact have the Big C. That way, I could only be pleasantly surprised by the pathology report, but not disappointed.

Bullshit. You can fool a lot of people, but not yourself.

It took almost a week to get the results, a week of dread despite the nonchalant front I tried to put up.

During this week, I thought back to the time this little ordeal began. Since that time, I discovered that I know several people who have had bladder cancer and survived, some with no significant after-effects, some with bothersome but not disfiguring outcomes. They were all supportive and more than willing to talk and to answer questions — some pretty personal questions, as you might imagine.

I felt encouraged. I can survive this. But still, given the choice …

Then came the day the doctor’s name popped up on my iPhone. It took a few rings before I could answer. All my “I’m prepared for this” bullshit suddenly evaporated.

“Hey, Doc.”

“Good news, Mike. There’s no sign of cancer.”

He kept talking, but I wasn’t hearing him. I heard nothing. My mind went to all the great friends and family who’d been there with so many thoughts and prayers and so much support for us.

Us. Oh shit. Us!

Shut up Doc, I have to call Allison.


OK, I don’t have cancer, thank you God.

But the damndest thing is, I seem to have some mild form of survivor’s guilt. Believe me, I’m not complaining. I’m more puzzled than anything else.

Friends who have had cancer, and not just bladder cancer, shared their situations with me while I was waiting, offering me hope and support. Some have survived or are surviving their cancer. Some may not survive it. One, a very dear friend, lived long enough to congratulate me heartily, then died just this week.

They all propped me up when I needed it most. Then, poof! No cancer.

Lord knows I wasn’t disappointed by the diagnosis. But since, I’ve felt oddly guilty, especially when my cancer survivor friends congratulate me. They are genuinely happy for me, of course, and I appreciate that deeply. But I can’t help but feel as if I briefly and undeservedly intruded on their fraternity.

The human mind is a funny thing, isn’t it?

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through my medical adventure, even if it was on the Urethra Franklin Highway. It’s a road I hope never to travel again … at least not northbound.

One-way only from now on, God willing.

My summer of my discontinence: Day 5

By Michael Owen

OK, to summarize so far: Blood in urine, doctor one, CAT scan, doctor two, biopsy, emergency room catheterization. Back home, but fairly uncomfortable.

Being catheterized and wearing a leg bag pretty much sucks, but it has its moments. It’s kind of funny to be standing there talking to someone and thinking, “This person has no idea I’m pissing like a Russian racehorse.”

But you REALLY have to remember not to do that after the catheter is removed. Especially if you’re wearing khakis.

Anyway, two days after my ER visit and catheterization, I went back to the urologist for an “evacuation test.” If I passed the test, the catheter would come out. And believe me, I was ready to be shod of it.

Again, a nice young woman came into the exam room and told me to strip completely from the waist down. This was starting to remind me of college.

I reclined on the exam table and draped the paper blanket over the area she was about to uncover and once again pondered why we go through this façade of modesty.

She came back in, removed the leg bag and discarded it into one of those red hazardous waste receptacles, which I tried not to take personally. Then she held the end of the catheter upright and, using a funnel, poured a measured amount of distilled water into my, uh, bladder.

Again, this used to be a one-way street.

Once she was sure I had a full tank, she said she was going to remove the catheter. Flashing back to Nurse Briggs & Stratton, I braced myself.

“On three,” she said as I gripped the sides of the table, and the middle too, truth be known.

I didn’t hear her say one, two or three, so moments later, I nervously said, “I’m ready.”

“Oh, it’s already out,” she said.

I was so relieved I almost said, “I could kiss you.” But considering my lack of pants and her alarmingly immediate proximity to my lack of pants, it probably would have been inappropriate.

Then she had me sit up, handed me a calibrated stainless steel can and said, “I’ll leave the room while you see if you can teetee.”

Teetee? Tee? Fucking? Tee? I was about to tell her that 58-year-old Southern men do not “teetee.”

We pee, we piss, we take a leak, we bleed the lizard, drain the dragon, see a man about a horse, punish the porcelain, drain the radiator — whatever — but we do not teetee, I wanted to say.

But she’d already left the room.

So I teeteed.

And saints be praised and dragons be drained, I put out almost exactly as much as she’d put in. Now, while that just made perfect sense to me, it seemed to impress her mightily.

“You did great!” she gushed, sounding a bit too much like a kindergarten teacher.

At least she didn’t stick a little gold star on … well, anything.

(Tomorrow: “Shut up, doc. I have to call Allison”)

The summer of my discontinence: Day 4

By Michael Owen

Now where were we? Blood in urine, two doctors, one hospital (twice), one biopsy and now I’m back at home.

Well, after a half-day of freedom back at the house, the old bladder decided it had suffered enough abuse. It was pissed off, so to speak, and went on strike. This is not my diagnosis. That’s what a doctor later told me.

All day long I was putting water in as I’d been told to do. But as the day progressed, less and less was coming out, even though I had the physical sensation that I REALLY had to go.

Then it just stopped altogether.

At that point my lower belly was slightly distended and felt like an over-inflated football. That’s it, we’re headed back to the ER, I said.

When my name was finally called, I was taken back to a little curtained space to wait for an available treatment room. But at that point a nurse felt my bladder (from the outside, for a change) and realized they’d better do something quickly.

Then a very cute young blonde nurse hurried in, drew the curtain around us, handed me one of those gowns and told me to strip completely from the waist down. Normally I would say something pithy like, “But we haven’t even been introduced!” But I was not in a humorous mood. And besides, she’d taken my wife by the arm and stepped outside while I undressed.

Now that almost made me laugh. First, my wife has seen me without pants. We’re Episcopalians. Second, this nurse and I were about to get staggeringly intimate, so why was the simple act of taking off my pants such a big deal?

Screw modesty. My bladder was about to go Hindenburg.

Anyway, she came back in and wasted no time in whipping out a catheter and deftly inserting it, bless her heart.

The word “relief” doesn’t even come close. I’m not sure how much I peed, but I’m surprised the nurses didn’t have to form a bucket brigade.

Once I stopped thanking Jesus and the nurse (and not in that order, forgive me Lord) she explained the workings of the catheter and the “leg bag” that would be ,strapped to the inside of my leg – left leg, if that’s any of your business. Then she showed me the care and feeding of the “hanging bag,” which I would use at night.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to use these for a few days,” she said apologetically.

Have to?

Hell, this is football season, I thought. I saw myself kicked back in an easy chair with a cooler of beer beside me and a small hose running out back into the bushes.

(Tomorrow: Real men don’t “teetee”)

The summer of my discontinence: Day 3

By Michael Owen

OK, so far, I’ve found blood in my urine, have been to two doctors and one hospital and now I’m heading back to the hospital for a bladder biopsy.

At first, I’d been told it might or might not be an outpatient procedure. But after the surgery, I was told I’d be held overnight for observation, which likely means someone had a boat payment due. Not that I’m cynical.

That of course meant an overnight catheter, which I’d never experienced. I was blessed on this one, because they inserted it and hooked it up to its big plastic bag while I was still under general anesthesia.

Upon awakening, I vaguely remember groggily telling a nurse that I REALLY needed to urinate. Being groggy (and being me), “urinate” might not have been the word I chose. But she was clear and succinct in her response.

“Knock yourself out.”


A quick glance under the sheets confirmed what I’d suspected. OK, when in St. Francis, do as the Franciscans do.

The next morning, having paid the aforementioned boat payment, I still had to have the catheter removed and then produce a specified amount of urine before I could be released. They have to be sure the bladder is functioning. I thought this was kind of silly at the time, but would later discover it was anything but that.

First, the catheter had to come out. I cannot help but suspect that there is an unofficial competition among those who remove urinary catheters to see who can make the patient squeal not only the loudest, but the closest to a register normally reserved for 10-year-old girls. I certainly hope my nurse won an award that day. You’d have thought he was trying to start a lawnmower.

Then the guy in the bed next to me and I had the same doctor, so we got the same lecture about putting out or staying put. Pee or stay, the doc told us.

Game on!

We sat on opposite sides of the drawn curtain guzzling water and exchanging good-natured urinal banter as our wives shook their heads and rolled their eyes.

At one point, I suggested to a nurse that if she could procure us a few cold beers, we’d be gone and out of her hair in no time. She said that was never going to happen, proving demonstrably that she lacked the compassion of even the guards at Shawshank Prison.

Bless her cold heart.

Whether it was the advantage of age or that my bed was closer to the shared bathroom, I prevailed and got the first wheelchair ride to freedom.

Or so I thought.

(Tomorrow: Wildcat strike grips greater metro Johnsonville)

The summer of my discontinence: Part II

By Michael Owen

Last time, we determined I had a problem with blood in my urine. So I went to my GP, who sent me to a urologist, who arranged for an abdominal CAT scan, which indicated there was a problem, which I could have told him.

Pissing blood = problem.

The next step would be a visual examination of the inside of my bladder, a view that can be accessed via only one path, of course — right up the ol’ Urethra Franklin Highway.

That involves snaking a long, thin instrument up into the bladder. The instrument has a little light and camera and allows the urologist an up-close look at what’s going on in another of those places where the sun doesn’t shine.

“No, it’s not called a weinerscope,” the doctor said.

I was prepped for this procedure by a nurse, a black woman. Now, at the risk of fomenting a racial stereotype, this concerned me at first. But when she didn’t take one look and exclaim, “It’s twue! It’s twue!” I relaxed. (See Saddles, Blazing.)

So she took a long tube and shot something like lidocaine all up in there to deaden the pain. There’s a good side and a bad side to that. Yes, it mostly killed the pain, which was great. But afterward? You know what your mouth feels like when you leave the dentist’s office? Yeah. A total power outage in greater metropolitan Johnsonville.

Anyway, the urologist didn’t like what he saw, so he scheduled me for biopsy surgery during which he would snip a few tissue samples from the interior bladder wall for pathological evaluation.

Here the exact number of intrusions upon my anatomy grows foggy. I have no idea exactly what they did while I was under general anesthesia, and I’m just fine with that. I say I’m fine with that because the instrument they use to gain the access they need is apparently pretty scary.

They use the same Urethra Franklin Highway of course, but it apparently gets four-laned for this procedure.

The instrument has to be of sufficient diameter to allow the surgeon room to feed tiny surgical instruments up there to snip what they need and pull it out, then go back in and cauterize the wounds.

Yes. Cauterize.

I had a mental image of him poking one of those plastic butane wands up in there and clicking away.

(Tomorrow: A real-life pissing match)