Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How Lucky I Am

At ten last night, I plopped into bed exhausted, expecting sleep to overtake me. My sciata had other ideas. What was particularly depressing was I had been up and about that day, with recovery in plain sight. Now I had a possible major setback to contend with. It wasn’t till about four in morning that I was able to drop off into an approximation of sleep.

I literally had to force myself to get out of the house and go have breakfast and put on a happy face. Bantering with waitresses is part of my recovery bag of tricks. I managed to make a lame joke about adding a Coors Light to the coffee and orange juice and water that JoAnn, my other favorite waitress of all time, was bringing me.

Please, God. No setbacks please. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

I was hoeing into my California omelette when I started paying attention to the conversation at the adjacent table:

A woman about my age was bringing a neighbor up to date on her husband. Half his foot had been amputated. It was touch and go. He had diabetes. He had been experiencing loss of feeling in his extremities for years. He’d had a major infection. He’d been on crutches for more than a year.

That wasn’t the end of the story. He’d had complications. A severe rash. Meds side effects. Plus stupid doctors. Emergency room visits. On and on, it went.

Diabetes runs in my family. My father mercifully died before doctors got a chance to amputate him piecemeal. He was a cripple the last six or seven years of his life. My younger cousin barely made it to age 40. The last time I saw her, my aunt was pushing her in a wheelchair. Her complexion was ashen gray and I didn’t recognize her.

Then I thought of a spur-of-the-moment visit I had made two years before when I was in Washington DC. “Walter Reed Hospital,” I said to the cab driver. I found my way to what appeared to be the main unit. A young man with no leg, with what appeared to be his family in tow, was being wheeled down a corridor.

I found my way to a smaller out of the way building. Young men - kids - in wheelchairs were enjoying the spring sun outside. Everyone of them had a missing limb. I approached the first one. “Hello, sir,” I said. “I’d like to shake your hand.”

I did this a number of times. Then I found my way to the lobby of a rec center and did it again.

I paused in a grove of trees. There I lost it. My body shook uncontrollably. Tears streamed down my face.

JoAnn came over to my table. “You know,” I said. “I can’t help but think how lucky I am.”

The sciatica? Nothing.

I returned home, still feeling pain, but in a rare state of transcendent contentment. I settled into a comfortable sitting position on the couch with my laptop, performing small chores, savoring my temporary splendid relationship with my universe.

For the heck of it, I pulled up an educational video I had done earlier this year. In one scene, I am running full tilt as I leap onto a small rock, which becomes the platform for a spectacular sub-orbital mission. The film freezes at the apogee of my ascent. The closing segment of the video opens on the same freeze frame, then shows me gracefully descending in slow motion. It is a beautiful sight.

I was 59 when I filmed that piece. I’ll be 60 in a few months. I joked to my daughter in an email two days ago that age is the biggest risk factor for everything that can go wrong with you. So don’t be stupid like me, I advised her - stay young.

I may or may not be able to attempt that kind of leap again, but it doesn’t matter. Age has its compensations. I will be a grandfather in a few months. Yesterday, my daughter emailed me a recent photo. She is a natural beauty, but now she radiated a special aura.

The sciata is a bitch, a taste of things to come. I’m entering the decade where things fall apart. But, right now, I’m okay with that. That could very well change tomorrow. But at this very moment, trust me, I have so much to feel lucky about.


Elizabeth said...

Very sorry to hear that your sciatica is continuing to torture you. Thank you for the reminder that it helps to consider how much worse things could be. And for the reminder that doctors can be pretty stupid.

Here's one: last month I got what seemed to be a bladder infection, but not quite. I get a bladder infection about twice a year, whenever my resistance gets low--this has been going on since my teens. After several years of ending up in the emergency room to get an antibiotic, someone told me that a teaspoon of baking soda gets rid of them. Then a few years ago I found out acidopholis also works, and is gentler on the system. I always pass this information on to people who get bladder infections, and on each occasion people agree that these remedies work. But this time my home remedies didn't work, so I went to the health clinic. They gave me an antibiotic and sent out the urine sample. The antibiotic didn't work after a few days so I called the clinic to find out that the sample showed I didn't have an infection. So I said to the doctor, then I should stop taking the antibiotic?, thinking this was a rhetorical question. The doctor said, no, you should keep taking them. Then she said, all those times you thought you had an infection you didn't. I was just stymied. They weren't infections because you got rid of them with something we don't believe in. The proof is that your remedies for an infection didn't work when you didn't have an infection. You just have to laugh. Or howl at the moon.

The same brazen illogic rules my psychiatrist's office. She tells me my manic depression is not treatable but I should keep taking my meds anyway. I say, well, we know they aren't doing me any good, and we know they have dangerous side effects, but you think I should keep taking them for the sake of, what, propriety? She just looks at me. Obviously I'm being unreasonable. Look at what side of the desk I'm on! Then she says, you should be on clinical trials. I say, but then I might be on a placebo, which would take me off my meds. Isn't that a concern? Well, times up. She writes me some scripts for the meds she knows don't work.

These doctors are supposed to be society's most intelligent people, yet in this age of effortless communication, they can't organize their practices so one doctor knows what another one has done.

The world is mad. The news has been particularly ridiculous these days. People still saying that Obama isn't a citizen. Great comedy. Some woman interrupting a town meeting or some such to insist that Obama's a Kenyan. Says "we want our America back," and the room erupts in cheers. Just say what you mean, lady, something like "don't you see, there's a black man in the White House!" Then Henry Louis Gates, Jr. getting arrested for breaking into his own house. Then the health care reform joke. Why is it so hard for Americans to do the right thing? Why are we the one wealthy country that can't make this work? The blatant fact of our overpaying for care falls on deaf ears. Congress works overtime to come up with a bill that doesn't address the cost problem. The big concern is that private insurance companies won't be able to compete with a more reasonably priced public plan. Oh, the poor insurance companies! They might not be able to rip us off as easily! The same people that believe so fervently in competitive markets cry out that the insurance companies would suffer if they had to compete. It all just mystifies me.

The world is full of suffering and pain, and punishing stupidity. Thank you for reminding me that it is also full of blessings.

Shirley U Gest said...

I adore this blog and laugh out loud at the wit upon insight. I found the comment "the drugs don't work, but keep on taking them," shock therapy of a good kind.
I recently took myself off an anti-seizure med that was reputed to control mood swings and feel FREE of the symptoms I was taking the drugs for! Mild hour long highs now and then but no rages, no crushing depression, walking a mile twice a day, sleeping, calling friends, painted the garage door, even thinking I might be able to work again. Have I been let loose from this medication straitjacket where I was unable to finish anything for 5 years, not even dish washing? Why did the rages stop when I stopped the pills? Have I settled my "chemical imbalances" through some other means? I don't think feeling better without the meds is a coincidence.
The information on "thin skin" and how a little part of the brain exaggerates positive and negative perceptions was perfectly conveyed. I work on the punishing side of my hyper sensivity using the Byron Katie 4 step thought check method. I use the insightful side of hyper ssensitity for healing, animal communication, spirit world connection.
I always hoped to find some reset button flicked off after some critical emotional flaming damaged the delicate system of thought/emotion/response, a simple fuse box flip switch to find and the lights can come back on.
When I was young and I'd become ultra injured in the thin skinned psychic body, a few puffs and I was off to a new thought, turning it into humor, writing novels, raising kids, having fun. Only later in life was I "diagnosed", and medicated to spend 10 years in fear of how much WORSE I would be without them.
Last year my husband went in to talk to my social worker about my degenerating condition and came home with a pamphlet on Borderline Personality Disorder. This sent me off in a thin skin rage and I called the clinic director who gave him the pamplet, whom I had never met, and asked how she could give me this new diagnosis. I was irate, indignant, hurt, and loud. This PROVED I was BPD. So now I was not only incureably mentally ILL but had a corrupt personality. DEPRESSED BIG TIME.
I recently found a website by a purported rogue psychiatrist who said male shrinks use the term BPD on women with whom they have issues, while angry men are labeled "borderline" (just the one word, not with the "personality disorder"). Wait! Had I not suggested when I was frst diagnosed maybe I was just a broken spirit (a thin skin without reefer) and not mentally defective? Yes! I had argued while sobbing after an extraordinary series of horrific events that left me drained and exhuasted. Suddenly, after reading the rogue MD's inside info and John's light hearted exploration of bi-polar etc, the whole weighty belief I was defective flew off my body and mind. I feel better than I have in 20 years.
Your work, John, was my lift off point for daring to take a chance. The Industry makes it DEADLY serious, the illness tragic.
I could have killed myself just 4 weeks ago but I took a leap and am landing far, real good. Keep me laughing.
Maybe the blind should lead the blind.

John McManamy said...

Many thanks, Shirley. Your insight is your best mood stabilizer. I will caution that you are likely to feel better in the short term when you go off your meds. The side effects disappear,your energy returns, your mind is crystal clear, and you can "think."

This is your true "normal," which in no way should be compromised by meds.

But beware of your cycle kicking in, which can be a heartbreaking experience if it reasserts itself. "Oh no, here we go again." This would be a good time - while your head is clear - to plan for this contingency. If you have to go on meds again, you might look ahead to a different meds strategy, perhaps much lighter doses, perhaps taken on an as-needed basis. It doesn't have to be all one or all the other.

But clearly you are on the right path. Please keep posting.

Shirely U Gest said...

Everyone around me is holding their breath except the dog. I will take anything that helps if I go off on the ferris wheel mental tilt a whirl carnival, but this anti-seizure drug did not stop rages, relieve depression, or allow me to function. I think a hookah and some HASHISH would be better for calming me down than the Big Pharma stuff.
I trust your caution and encouragement.
The local young president of a national alliance for mental well-being organization died "suddenly" as they say, after a stay in local ward. I knew her meds were not working months before she left the world. This breaks my heart! Looking for ways to share additional techniques to stay alive during those storms. I am hopeful, though it scares people to see me laughing. My legs don't ache, I can pee! Also started vegan diet 2 months ago...hmn. And I am still grumpy, not like I have been dosed with manic love chemicals, not living in the Grand Estates.
Old woman living Small town life, but this is really nice, even if it does not last forever.