Bendigo, Australia — April 26-May 14, 2011
From Ven. Roger:
This vessel-like world which existed at an earlier moment does not do so at a later one. That it seems to continue in the same way is because something else similar arises, like the stream of a waterfall. — From The Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun by Lama Zopa Rinpoche
In the middle of the Yamantaka initiation [during the month long retreat at Atisha Centre in Bendigo, Australia] Rinpoche felt some sensation on the left side of his head as he left the gompa, then something more on the walk back to his room. Rinpoche said it was “like something was trying to enter him.”
The first two weeks of the course went very well. In a tent that was inside the steel structure of the Great Stupa of Universal Peace and Compassion, about 200 students attended the first part of the one month program. On the way to and from the sessions, Rinpoche would walk the “yellow brick road” constructed by Ven. Gyatso. Surrounding the road are statues of gnomes, little animals, a human skull, life-like snakes and Redback spiders: Gyatso’s world! This was the road leading to the monastery from the gompa at Atisha Centre. On this road Rinpoche had a number of us, during the day and night, catching ants or gently moving them out of the way. As well there were a number of weird creatures, all that had to be saved and made to circumambulate a holy object. Then signs started to appear on the paths indicating things like “Ants crossing…Beware!”
When Rinpoche arrived back in his room from the session of Yamantaka, it was clear that something wasn’t right but Rinpoche was determined to continue the initiation. It was about 8 p.m. and Rinpoche was determined to continue. I was quite concerned so there were several calls to Dharamsala discussing with Khadro-la what would be best. When Rinpoche saw that it was difficult to continue the initiation he wanted to have appointments with students. After some back and forth Rinpoche gave up on that which was a relief as it seemed very obvious Rinpoche really wasn’t well.
The next morning Rinpoche had lost some use of his right side and had slurred speech. We took Rinpoche to the hospital and had to go through the emergency department. We waited for about nine hours, getting tests and medication, and Rinpoche was assigned a bed in the men’s ward. They had no private rooms and this was the beginning of the Easter weekend, so they were short of staff.
Rinpoche spent two and a half days there while they tried to control the blood pressure and sugar levels. They had a CAT scan done and this showed no bleeding in the brain nor clot. It was an open ward with a few hardened Aussie outbackers and one Irish man who did his best to keep up with them in telling yarns from World War II! It was more entertaining listening to them than watching TV. They certainly gave the Irishman a hard time, sometimes it was really embarrassing!
All through the day and night nurses would be doing tests and checking on Rinpoche (I stayed in a chair beside Rinpoche ). It was bit of an ordeal for Rinpoche. By this time Rinpoche had lost all use of his right arm and most of the use of his right leg. He couldn’t walk or stand and his speech was slurred [so much so that] he couldn’t be understood. Communication was Rinpoche typing messages on his iPad with one finger of his left hand (he has gotten quite good at this over the last few days). There was a lack of specialists due to the holidays and the main doctor was worried. If Rinpoche tried to eat he could choke and some food could enter his lungs and then he could possibly get pneumonia which would be very serious, even fatal. So they decided to put Rinpoche on a drip for five days until the end of the holidays when he could be checked by the Speech Specialist.
Luckily we were able get another assessment and Rinpoche could eat some food over Easter. Two days ago we were able to get Rinpoche a bed in a private hospital close by with a private room. Once transferred it was a much better situation but we had to go back for an MRI the next day at the main hospital (Rinpoche lost his new glasses there somewhere). No ambulances were available due to the holiday so we had to get Rinpoche into the monastery’s old car and go for the MRI. Not easy moving Rinpoche around like this in that condition.
While we were getting the MRI done Ven. Holly drove the car back to pick us up and collided with another car leaving the monastery car’s passenger-side door hanging off! We managed to get Rinpoche in the car and hold the door shut and get back to the hospital.
Today is the first day when all the hospital staff are back and it was very full with X-rays , ultrasound , physiotherapy, a speech therapist and a thorough heart examination with several visits of nurses in between, testing blood pressure and sugar levels, etc.
The doctors have said no visitors for sometime as Rinpoche is exhausted and with the physiotherapy it is going to be very tiring for him.
I think Rinpoche is quite exhausted. It is like after 40 years nonstop on the road…it is all catching up! Now Rinpoche is sleeping through the night! BUT! Give him a chance….At one stage (in the middle of this) Rinpoche wanted to go back to the course (150 people are still doing the retreat) and sit on the throne and finish the Yamantaka initiation. He typed on the iPad: “I can sit on the throne, Geshe-la can read the initiation text, then people think they are getting the initiation from me!” I really don’t know physically how that could have worked, but Rinpoche wanted to try and obviously had been thinking of how he could manage it. It never happened because when the doctor heard this she said, “NO. WAY.”
Here in the private hospital now, we have two doctors looking after Rinpoche and a good team of physiotherapists, as well as the nurses who are always visiting. Plus we have great support from the retreaters doing lots of prayers and pujas. Also Atisha Centre and Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery are always helping out. There have been many high lamas, monasteries as well as students all over the world doing prayers and pujas. [Click here to see an ongoing list of this collective effort.]
We are very, very grateful…THANK YOU.
The doctors say Rinpoche could recover reasonably well with intensive therapy over the next several months although maybe not fully recover. That is still too hard to say, but they are feeling quite positive after today’s tests. In the next one to two weeks they say they will know better the longer term outlook. The doctors do want Rinpoche to stay in the rehabilitation ward of the hospital for the next two weeks. Their biggest concern is controlling the sugar levels and blood pressure. If this doesn’t happen they are very concerned Rinpoche will have another stroke and this could be more serious.
Khadro-la in Dharamsala is very eager to come to Australia to help Rinpoche using her own unique methods. We are trying hard to get her here as soon as possible. Khadro-la has been on the phone every day giving advice and organizing pujas for Rinpoche.
Again thank you to everyone and we will keep you updated. [Regular updates found here.]
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has given advice for Rinpoche’s recovery and asked Sera Je Monastery to do certain pujas for Rinpoche.
End of April
Rinpoche had a “continuation of the stroke” as the doctors termed it. It was quite concerning as Rinpoche then slept (it appeared … but it felt like some kind of concentration practice … but hey, what do I know!?) for three days and nights only sitting up for meals briefly. Several doctors were consulted in this period as well as high lamas. More pujas and prayers were done all over.
We have been here now six weeks (Bendigo, Australia). Maybe this is the longest in one place for many years. Each day over the last week Rinpoche seems to be getting noticeably better. Now three weeks in the hospital, life each day here is busy. You wouldn’t think it, but it is! We take on a lot of the work the staff normally do so that Rinpoche is more comfortable. A small Dharma team: (Kunsang, Ailsa and Gail) cook outside the hospital (at the monastery) and bring the food in three times a day; I stay 24 hours and have a comfortable niche on the floor beside Rinpoche; Sangpo and Holly are here 18 hours a day. We help with general care as well: We do sugar levels and insulin injections (four times a day), under the supervision of the doctor and nurses.
There is hydrotherapy during the mornings, physiotherapy in the gym afternoons, speech therapy every day (most of the time we help Rinpoche go through the exercises). In between a lot of rest for Rinpoche as he still gets very tired, which is expected. Nurses are always checking in/monitoring every few hours, night and day. The staff are very good. The doctor is great and very understanding. Rinpoche has invited her to see the relics and she said she will go next Saturday.
In Rinpoche’s hydrotherapy the people in the pool are mostly quite elderly. Rinpoche said after one session in a quietly sad contemplatively way, “They have nothing meaningful to do, just waiting for death.” Occasionally you hear the emergency alarm go, someone is having a heart attack or, Rinpoche always asks, “Did someone die?” Late last night Sangpo brought into the hospital a large Tug Chuma torma he just made. Rinpoche wanted to do puja after midnight. One of the nurses on the way in was interested and wanted to know if it was a cake we were going to eat and could she have a taste of it! Another nurse who came into the room after to check Rinpoche was also quite interested and so Rinpoche explained briefly about its significance (Kalarupa). Not sure she got it but seemed interested. Nurses are getting quite familiar with the unfamiliar in Rinpoche’s room. The altar, prayer wheel, water bowls. Rinpoche’s doctor brought in a small prayer wheel from Nepal, something a tourist buys, to show Rinpoche and Rinpoche had it gold leafed for him and mantras put inside. Rinpoche does prayers for everyone in the hospital: for those who will come in the future, those who have been here before, those who will use the same sheets and equipment etc., etc.
The difficult thing is the fatigue. They say this is the case for all stroke patients and so trying to find a balance of doing the necessary physiotherapy (critical at this time in particular) and getting enough rest is quite exhausting and Rinpoche has to rest a lot.
In all of this, Rinpoche’s attitude hasn’t changed at all….The same Rinpoche, but in another way different.
Rinpoche sent a message to one high lama: “This is my past negative karma ripening now, may it be the cause of the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” That high lama replied, ” Rinpoche is not experiencing negative karma but has taken on a big obstacle for the world of Tibetan Buddhism.”