As soon as I’d clambered into the house, I waddled into the bathroom and weighed myself. Two pounds heavier than when I’d entered the hospital.

I put a tape measure around the belly That in itself took effort. Almost forty-eight inches. Wow!

Given the five or six cups of hospital food ingested in the past week, these statistics made no sense. What was going on? Was it the types of food? The lack of deep sleep? The constipating meds?

I took the meds anyway. What if the pain got worse? I slept seven or eight hours straight for the first time in a week The nurse did call, poor dear, around midnight, doubtless very glad to find that I’d kidnapped myself. I would have liked to apologise for fleeing on her shift, but was already in dreamland. I awoke so grateful for that sleep. And then the fun began.

It was a good thing I’d left the hospital. Had I stayed, the morning staff would have discovered me in a pool of nasty-smelling stuff from top and bottom orifices, somewhere between bed and sink.

At our hojme hospital, Kay had put my wonderful mattress atop our library guest bed, which is a hard, unaccommodating fold-out thing (probably designed to discourage long visits). Unlike the $26K hospital bed, it did not rise, but it was also a lot closer to the ground, which meant I could if need be sort of roll out of bed and fall onto the floor without damaging anything except my dignity–not that I had much of that stuff clinging to my unwieldy bod by this point. From the bed, I could peruse the spines of several thousand books. My head lay nearest the god-bothering books, floor to ceiling–very appropriate for the occasion, I thought. One look to the left brought back Rumi’s poems, Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, A Pace of Grace by BC’s own Linda Papov, the lovely face of Peace Pilgrim striding along her path, and The Idiot’s Guide to the Bible. I could let my eyes bounce along the shelves, up at the classic and then the upstart philosophers, human thought in all its luxurious, even excessive, variety. Then education, another collection of upstarts, of whom I am one–or was, until this happened. Then, books on the wonders of the body–you don’t realise how much has been written about what we humans are and how we work until you get sick. Some titles were too apropos: Who Dies? What Survives? I figured I could answer the latter title in one word–sure as heck didn’t need a whole book to tell me death is a synonym for THE END. But the book spine that blinked at me like a neon sign was Life without Pain. Imagine: someone believed strongly enough in that possibility to put out a whole book on it. That’s where I was going–to a life without pain. But not quite yet, apparently.

The home hospital had safety features in addition to ambience and a strong nurse in Kay, who proved able to lift me almost painlessly from the bed until I could retrain my muscles. A clock with a second hand allowed me to keep tract of my own pulse. A beautiful glass with a steel straw in it offered me water from the nearest shelf. For a call button, we set a large steel bowl and the steel wok lid beside the bed–the only items sure to wake Kay in case of emergency. We coaxed one of our ancient thermometers back into working mode, but left the far more expensive blood-pressure reader in its lonely exile in the bathroom, as it invariable reads the BP some thirty points higher than Walmart does. Instead, a six-weeks-old gray kitten agreed to snuggle with me and lower my BP–what could be better than that?

That first day was hard. The action began as soon as I woke up and wouldn’t stop. There was plenty of exercise for both of us–just not the boring kind one does in a gym. Kay was kept running, lifting, cleaning, as the gastric experiences of an entire week decamped. Even water wouldn’t stay down, but a human being has to have water; so it was sip, sip, sip all day, just to stay hydrated. The body temperature began to rise and Kay threatened me with Emergency or even 911, but somehow, after twenty-four hours, we’d beaten it back.

Thirty hours after coming home, I weighed seven pounds less and measured four inches less around. I took my first shower, a plastic bag taped over the incision site. I felt incredibly clean, both in and out, ready to build up this body again. There is nothing like the face of death, I thought, to prepare you for living.

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