In my meditation this morning, I heard these words: 26 years old. 26 is a number I associate with my infant surgery for pyloric stenosis. I was operated on when I was 26 days old and at age 26, I had a major breakthrough about my operation. 8 (2 + 6) was my favorite number as a child, and I was born at 3:26 a.m.
I was 26 years old when I realized that I had been holding back crying since the operation. As crazy as it sounded, I told the therapist who happened to be answering the phones at the Women’s Center the day I showed up seeking help that I’d had a surgery 26 years ago but was afraid to cry and break my stitches. She put on the message machine, took me into a nearby room, closed the door, and said some magic words: Don’t worry, you can cry now. It’s ok. You won’t burst your stitches. Tears broke free. It wasn’t as if I had never cried since the surgery, but I had withheld my tears, fought them back if I could, felt frightened when I did cry, and steeled myself to my emotions, afraid that feelings were dangerous. The surgeon had told my mother before I was discharged that if I cried, my stitches would break and and I would die. At 26 years old, I finally started to live.
When I was a child, 8 was my favorite number (2 + 6). At age 8, I felt that life was full of wonderful possibilities and that my future held something exciting. I’d wake up eager to go to school and go to bed restless, excited about what the day would bring. My teacher loved me and I loved my teacher. I carried a little brown briefcase to school with my initials WPW on the latch. Homework was fun. Gym class was awesome. I liked the clothes I wore to school and the friends I had made. There were problems that upset me but overall, 2 + 6 was a time of hope and happiness.
The 26th day of July is when I was saved. My mother considered it my “second birthday.” It was also a day of anxiety, pain, terror, and anger as I was operated on in the early morning. The previous afternoon, my mother had brought me to the hospital. I was down to 4 pounds. Once admitted, no more breast feeding, no more holding. Was I anesthetized for my surgery? Many were not in the year 1952. Was I intubated? Given a paralytic drug instead of anesthesia? Was I given a local? Records gone, I will never know. I was rescued on the 26th and given new life. Life was also taken away, for my emotions were locked up, packed into a suitcase, and thrown into the sea. Still, the number 26 held magic.
26 has been a signpost for me. Years ago, when a friend suggested that I move into her friend’s studio, I wasn’t sure. I was also considering a small cabin. But when I heard that her friend’s phone number had a 26 in it, I immediately decided to take the studio, which I’ve rented happily ever since. 26 was good luck, survival. Though 26 was also restriction and pain, I saw it as a charm.
It’s time for a new number. I appreciate 26 and all it has been and meant, but my future demands new digits. In May, I’ll be retiring from full-time community college teaching and embarking on a career in public speaking and education, teaching courses in medical humanities, including writing as healing. I’m thinking about 7 and 27. 5 + 2 (’52, the year I was born) = 7. 26 + 1 (the day of my birth) = 27. July 27, 1952 was the first day of my new life without pyloric stenosis. I’m no numerologist, but I enjoy doing the numbers!