A few months ago, I lay on my back on an exam table, wearing a blue cotton hospital gown. The doctor held my right arm in her hands. There was a medical student, a man about my age, sitting next to her, watching as she dotted my arm up and down with black marker, marking various nerve spots. I was having an EMG (electromyography) done, to test the muscles and nerves in my right hand, because of a very subtle tremor I have only in my right hand and only when writing. (This is no small problem when you are a writer.) An MRI last December showed inflammation in the middle of the back of my hand, but it is a mystery as to how it happened, and why. Seemingly out of the blue at 23 years old, I stopped being able to hold a pen properly, or write anything down.
The doctor picked up a tool and sent electric shock zaps (not the medical term) into a nerve near my elbow five times. It twitched, each time a bit stronger. Each time a bit more painful, but bearable… though I no longer know what my pain tolerance is compared to someone who doesn’t give themselves 6-8 daily injections.
The doctor explained to the medical student what they were looking for on the computer screen beside them, after the zaps. Something about timing. Something about nerve response. She did this all over my arm for about 30 minutes, then told me everything looked good. But we weren’t done— next, to test muscles, she had to insert thin needles up and down my arm and wrist and hand, into the muscles. Then I had to flex the muscles with the needles in them. This was not fun. This was painful. I’m sorry, she said over and over again as my limbs constricted in pain, eyes tightening. Afterward, again, she told me everything seemed fine.
When I came home, I sat on my balcony in the sun and started listening to an OnBeing podcast interview Krista Tippet did with Naomi Shihab Nye, called Your Life is a Poem. I was particularly struck when she said this:
I mean, just thinking about everything that’s going on, kind of like when you’re a child fascinated by all the stuff that’s going on inside your body, and you didn’t have to tell it to do that. Like, I used to think my stomach is — I’m digesting right now. I didn’t have to tell it to do that. It just did it. That’s incredible. Or the heart beating, or the blood rolling through the veins.
And you think, wow all this stuff goes on. That’s not commonplace to me. That’s miraculous. It’s amazing.
I paused the podcast, and thought about that for a second. I don’t often stop to notice my breath unless I’m being told to in yoga or meditation. I don’t walk around thinking about my heart beating in my chest, unless it palpitates, and then I’m only thinking of the plethora of things that could be wrong. I write a lot about my interior body, but only in its chaos, only in the wake of the things it can no longer do because of diabetes. And as I curse it for all of its brokenness, it continues to carry me. It continues to provide me with breath and blood, vital and wholly unnoticed.
I took out my notebook, and began to write the sentence, I’m in the midst of a bit of a medical mystery. Only, I accidentally wrote “miracle” instead of medical, so the sentence read, I’m in the midst of a bit of a miracle.
And then I stopped writing, looked at it for a long time, and took a deep breath. This sentence told a different kind of story. One within which I can breathe, and live. One that, when I can pause long enough to let it in, rings so very true.
I’m in the midst of a bit of a miracle.
I left it just like that, my one-sentence-story, unstoried and restoried with the matter of one word, and turned my attention to the glowing green leaves of the sugar maple tree bending toward the ledge of my third-floor balcony.
We are living in a poem, and we are the poem itself.