Chronic Wounds, Maranasati Meditation, and Mountain biking

It’s hard to explain what I do for a living. When I say “I sell wound care products”, I get a familiar look in response. Something phonetic about the words wound and care doesn’t sit well in the brain’s language processing centers. So when I tell someone “I sell wound care products” they usually scrunch their eyebrows, which signals more explanation is required.

Finally when we get on the same page as far as what words are coming out of my mouth, there is still some explanation required. Most people think of wounds in terms of those resulting from car accidents, falls out of buildings , guns, knives, or blunt objects. While those type of events certainly inflict wounds, and the products I sell can be used to treat them in many cases, it’s still not really my focus day to day.

I had no idea twelve years ago, before I started my wound care sales career, that people get wounds that do not heal. But they do , and they don’t, sometimes for years.

The human body is an amazing thing. Every day complex chemicals and signals coordinate intricate symphonies of complex sequences and commands that keep our hearts pumping, muscles moving, and brains thinking, thousands and thousands of times each day. But sometimes things don’t always go perfectly. Like any perfectly designed process, sometimes things gets messed up.

Diabetes and Heart Disease are big contributors to the failure of wounds to follow their normal course of healing to closure. Both diseases affect the body’s ability to deliver the building blocks and blood necessary for the body to heal properly. And there are other factors like aging, immune system problems, other comorbid diseases, or exposure to radiation, that prevent wounds from healing properly.

It is estimated that 6.5 million people in the US have chronic wounds. These patients suffer from discomfort and pain, and also the distress and isolation that comes with having an open wound.

There are diabetic foot ulcers, pressure ulcers, dehisced surgical wounds,pyoderma gangrenosum, venous leg ulcers, and more. Wounds come in all shapes in and sizes. Some just look like a scrape. Some are quite large. Or deep, with things like muscles or bones visible. They can get infected and ooze multi color purulent serums, or become red and inflamed. The infections are caused by tiny pathogens who find this warm, wet, and flesh filled environment very hospitable. One particularly common critter is Pseudomonas, a particularly smelly offender. It’s usually detectable to anyone on the same room, and sometimes even further.

And I work for a company that makes products to help heal these wounds. I call on healthcare workers including doctors and nurses, and explain how the products my company makes will benefit their patients. Often this involves being present in the procedure rooms while the patient is being treated. It’s not something for the squeamish. It’s not pretty, it often smells. But with the skill of these providers and the advanced products they have access to, many wounds heal, and the patients get better, which is great.

And it is a reminder that our bodies are all in a constant journey from ashes to ashes and dust to dust. The life we have is neither permanent or static. It is always moving along a path from birth to death, and things are always changing. Sometimes we are sick and sometimes we are well. It’s a good reminder for me not to take my health for granted and to not put off doing things I want to do.

The Buddhists have a practical approach to the body’s finite shelf life-a meditation practice called Maransati, in which they ponder the nature of death and dying. The practice intends to create spiritual urgency and inspire the individual to diligently work for spiritual growth, a kind of carpe diem approach to seeking enlightenment . Practitioners contemplate nine stages of corpse decomposition:

A corpse that is “swollen, blue and festering.”

A corpse that is “being eaten by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals or by different kinds of worms.”

A corpse that is “reduced to a skeleton together with (some) flesh and blood held in by the tendons.”

A corpse that is “reduced to a blood-besmeared skeleton without flesh but held in by the tendons.”

A corpse that is “reduced to a skeleton held in by the tendons but without flesh and not besmeared with blood.”

A corpse that is “reduced to bones gone loose, scattered in all directions.”

A corpse that is “reduced to bones, white in color like a conch.”

A corpse that is “reduced to bones more than a year old, heaped together.”

A corpse that is “reduced to bones gone rotten and become dust.”

The Way of Mindfulness The Satipatthana Sutta and Its Commentary by SomaThera,

So it appears I’m actually engaging in a spiritual practice at work. Except, I guess, for the fact that I’m trying to ward death and decomposition off. For a little while.

And often after work I go ride my mountain bike. Which often results in other wounds. But also has its own spiritual reward. Being out in nature, exercising, and pushing myself mentally and physically brings about a sense of being connected to something bigger than myself. Or maybe I’m just nuts. Anyway, it’s important to treat your body as a temple, and eat well, exercise, and keep it well maintained. But again, we only get this one short shot with our bodies and what’s the point of taking rigorous care of it if we’re not going to push it once it a while. You don’t buy and Ferrari and then drive it the speed limit.

I’ve spend most of my life avoiding the contemplation of death. I don’t like to think about it. But it is one thing that is certain for all of us. When we’re having a bad day, it’s good to remember that “this too shall pass” . And also when things are going well, it’s important to remember to savor it, as it shall pass as well. So, I’m glad I have a job that reminds me every day that my body is actually in pretty good shape. I’m healthy, and I should be grateful for what I have. And it’s also a reminder it may not be like this for long, so I should do the things I want and need to do to enjoy living, and not put things off until tomorrow. Like getting some knee pads.

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