Monday, June 23, 2014

Hey! Stop it! Hey! Ow!

I was in the clinic getting a blood transfusion the other day, and there was a woman in the next chair. I could tell by looking at her that she was miserable. I probably would have known without looking at her, and I certainly knew based on everything in her tone and her words. Some people give off that energy, that the world has dealt them a crappy hand and it isn’t fair and there must be someone to blame. And it seems like the easy thing to do when you are dealing with serious illness, to wallow in self-pity.

It’s not. There is nothing heavier than anger and resentment, and there is enough to carry on this journey as it is.

Prior to getting the transplant, I have to have an echocardiogram (ECG) and a pulmonary function test (PFT). Due to the sporting proclivities of my first donor, I have been through this process twice. During the PFT, both pulmonologists told me that all my levels are normal, except my oxygen diffusion. Guess what causes reduced impaired oxygen diffusion? Chemotherapy! So I get to sit with a specialist who tells me I’m broken in some new, special way that I wasn’t broken before, thanks to the treatment.

I am scheduled to admit to Brigham & Women’s Hospital in less than two weeks. On Tuesday, the doctor called. My ECG showed an abnormality; my heart’s ejection fraction (EF) might be too low to safely go through the conditioning chemotherapy. My ECGs were all normal up to this point. Here’s another quiz: what causes reduced EF besides a heart attack? You guessed it, chemotherapy! So, the cardio-toxic drugs they have already given me have damaged my heart, and there was some question of whether I could keep it together to get the pleasure of receiving more cardio-toxic drugs. Fortunately, further tests have indicated that we are in the clear, if on the low side. With some effort, I should be able to improve the EF over time.

Everyone is really nice about it. But there’s no getting around it; they’re hurting me and they’re doing it on purpose.

A couple weeks ago I went for a routine blood draw, and the nurse did a really clumsy job of it. It finally occurred to her to apologize, but it struck me that all these sticks, the ivs and the piccs and blood draws, are the minor routine procedures which bear no special attention; they’re so far down the list that they qualify as nothing. Another time the tech was bouncing off the floor in a caffeinated frenzy, and although that stick wasn’t quite as painful, it was still not perfect. After the fact she told me she hasn’t been drawing blood lately and, as I can tell, some days she’s better than others. Ha ha. The biopsy is supposed to hurt like hell, so that one gets acknowledged, but it doesn’t have any bearing on how many get ordered.

Now, I’m not saying that anyone wants to hurt me, but that doesn’t change the fact that they do, over and over again, intentionally. We are supposed to avoid people and situations that hurt us. What happens to our relationship with the world, and with ourselves, when we a regularly seeking these people out and giving them permission to do it? What happens when everyone tells us, when we tell ourselves, that it’s for our benefit?

I try not to do things the hard way. That’s not to say that I don’t embrace a worthwhile challenge, but I find that when something feels uncomfortable, and that I have to force myself to do it, it ends up not being the right thing for me to do. I’ve watched too many people (including myself at times) choose to be in interactions or situations that make them miserable because they think it is what they are supposed to do. My general rule is that emotional pain is information like any physical pain; it usually means I’m doing something wrong. Identifying that, admitting it, and fixing it are sometimes huge challenges (especially when it comes to relationships, both personal and professional), but ignoring it or pretending it is possible to ignore it are usually worse ideas.

And yet, here I am, doing all sorts of inconvenient and uncomfortable things. There are two options at this point. One is to recognize that I am choosing to be a part of this process; choosing to endure the injuries and indignities of it in the knowledge that the corporeal alone is subject to the suffering. The other is to resent it, to believe myself to be a victim of indifferent or malevolent forces.

I don’t want to carry all that extra weight.

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