Thursday, October 22, 2009


As I sit here and type this, I am acutely aware of my work e-mail accounts that I should check, and the client I need to respond to, and that article I bookmarked this morning that could be useful for my book. I’ve neglected Twitter woefully the past couple of days, and I’m late getting my writing group this month’s submission.


I know it is universal, this daily push and pull between the tasks we need to do (and the hierarchy that exists when we need to do several things) and the things that in an ideal world, we’d able to do or want to do. We make countless small decisions each day that reflect this notion: to read the newspaper or respond to an e-mail, to eat lunch at your desk rather than taking a short break and getting out of the office, to look over work on the train rather than zoning out or reading for pleasure.

What I’ve come to appreciate lately is that line is unbelievably relative—what you would do on a normal day is of little significance when major crises happen. You do what you need to do when people in your life are sick or need help or experience loss, just as you throw normal routines and schedules to the wayside when you experience your own crises, losses, or disruptions. In the immediacy of the moment, there are things that simply matter more.

But that’s the obvious part. What’s more complicated is the gray area in between the everyday and the extreme, when there are many conflicting priorities. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know a person out there who doesn’t (at least on occasion) find the balancing act of multiple priorities difficult to manage. I honestly can’t imagine how often parents must face these decisions, but I know that the hierarchy of priorities gets turned upside down when you have a family.

But I do think that any type of chronic illness adds a unique layer to an already complex terrain.

As a minor example, I canceled chest physiotherapy the other day because I was feeling terrible (unrelated reasons) and just couldn’t stomach the thought of a half-hour’s worth of clapping. I wanted rest and I wanted peace. Yet by the very next day I was much more congested and wheezing on both my inhale and exhale, and knew that not having chest PT made a difference. Do I regret the decision? No, because in that moment, other health concerns outweighed the needs of my usually demanding lungs.

Decisions that might make so much sense from a financial, professional, and emotional standpoint sometimes conflict with what makes the most sense from a physical standpoint. There are all these reasons to take on a new challenge, but sometimes no matter how many compelling reasons there are to do something, the difficult answer comes down to this: what is good for the body and the mind do not always correspond. Sometimes the long-terms physical consequences of decisions are not worth the short-term gratification.

Of course, the reverse holds just as true. Sometimes it is more important to take the risk, to have that experience, than it is to miss out on it. Speaking as a girl who needed multiple doctors’ letters and lot of legwork to prove I was healthy enough to travel abroad when I was accepted into an Irish university, I can vouch for that.

And sometimes it is more important to be there for someone else even if it comes at the expense of your own body or comfort, because those memories are what people carry with them. Those memories are what you carry, too.

This all makes me think about I conversation I had on Twitter about H1N1 vaccinations recently. When asked how I felt about getting one, I said that it made sense for my individual circumstances—I am in a high-risk category, and all infections hit my lungs harder to begin with. I’d rather deal with the consequences of the shot than take a gamble with a flu virus that can cause serious (sometimes lethal) secondary lung infections.

But, these are my circumstances and my health priorities and might not apply to you for your own individual reasons.

In the end, I think most of us face so many choices that force us to weigh benefits and risks. From choosing time with friends over work to choosing certain medications over others due to different side effects, very little is without calculation…and the line is always changing.

But that’s what keeps things interesting, right?


VAF said...

Well said, as always! Thanks for addressing the issue of risks and benefits when it comes to both medical decisions and life decisions in general. Coincidentally, I blogged about risks and benefits relating to the H1N1 vaccine yesterday, although not as eloquently as you, of course (it was really more of an emotional rant :P ).

I've already had the seasonal flu shot and am waiting for the H1N1 vaccine to be available. Meanwhile I am trying to keep the paranoia and panic in check, but it's not easy, especially with a baby on the way! I really hope that both of us (all of us, especially those at high risk) manage to avoid contracting this or any other flu this season.

FridaWrites said...

In case others haven't mentioned it, the inhaled nasal form of the vaccine is not for those with chronic health problems--people with health problems are supposed to take the injectable only, which is in even shorter supply.

Our kids' school ran through strep throat, the regular flu, and swine flu in September/October. We were lucky Tamiflu worked very, very well.

Cell Phones said...

You are absolutely is difficult to do the balancing act and one has to as you say.handling a chronic disease is very difficult yes.

Anonymous said...


Once again you touch on a subtle reality of life in the shoes of the chronically ill. The added layer of complexity our health brings to our daily multi-tasking/prioritizing is not understood all the time.

Thanks for your posts.

Big Brother....

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