Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Importance of Being Useful

I went in for a lung check-up the other day and something truly unusual happened: I was quiet. Well, of course I really mean my lungs were quiet, because it was a very early appointment and my lungs are tight and quiet in the morning and get progressively wheezy and junky as the day unfolds.

I’d never had an appointment so early in the morning without an acute infection making things noisy.

“I’ve never heard you so quiet,” my doctor said. (After we’d talked about my book research, my other jobs, his grant writing, and lots of other stuff, because he’s the

“Ah, welcome to the morning lungs. My physical therapist always tells me I have two sets of lungs with totally different personalities, the 6am set and the 6pm set,” I said.

We moved on to other topics, but as I drove home, I thought about the many different sides there are to any illness, and any patient. I can be a wheezing, hacking, choking mess at night when my therapist arrives, but if you saw me at noon on a good day you might not even suspect anything was wrong.

That got me thinking about the days before my diagnosis, when there was only one “lung personality”—out of control. There was no chest PT, no understanding of the causes of my inflammation and infection or the complicated ways in which many of my medical problems were intertwined.

A few months ago, I wrote this post on disappointment, and the importance of writing a new script for ourselves, even when we might not want to. But I now realize that sometimes it works the other way around: sometimes good things happen, and we change our script in ways that make our lives better…but that doesn’t make it any less of a transition.

I was elated when, after months of diagnostic tests and procedures and a lifetime of serious illness, I got the right labels, the ones that matched my actual experience of illness. I was no longer the mystery lung patient, dodging whispers of supposed noncompliance and literally living on toxic doses of steroids.

But as awesome as it was, it took me some time to accept it was real, this newfound clarity. It took months for me to believe my rigorous daily regimen would actually improve my quality of life, that “normal life” could be something other than the snippets of time that occurred in between prolonged hospitalizations. I thrived in my new life post-diagnosis, but a tiny part of me, the part still fighting for self-preservation, kept wondering when things would fall apart again.

That’s not to say things haven’t been hard or my health hasn’t deteriorated, but several years later, I no longer doubt things in the same way. I’m realistic about my situation, but I also do not expect calamity to be an automatic part of my life.

I am not defined by labels so much as aware of their power to both limit and liberate. Sometimes good things happen in unexpected circumstances and you just have to let go and allow yourself the chance to live out the new script. Of course my PCD/bronc diagnosis is just one example of many, but it's the one that seems most illustrative to me today.

The other day, the always interesting and often controversial Penelope Trunk had offered this pithy bit of advice on her blog: “You should be useful to readers each time you post. It feels better. For everyone.”

That’s something I think about often when I post. So, readers, I guess the take-away from this extended anecdote is this, something I’ve said before:

It is not unreasonable to hope for good things. That’s true in all aspects of life, but sometimes when you live with chronic illness, it’s an important reminder…and hopefully, it’s useful one, too.


Never That Easy said...

Laurie - Your posts are some of the most consistently useful posts I read. Just so you know.

Anonymous said...

Having a label can be liberating, can't it? Thanks for the moment of hope!

Kairol Rosenthal said...

Hope. The four letter word. As a cancer patient, I get inundated with it. I'm tired of it. The key chains. The bumper stickers. The emails. Hope, hope, hope.

My relationship to hope boils down to this: I want to be well. I have a desire to be well. That is fine, and sometimes nice to feel, but has little connection to the outcomes and physical reality of my body. I try to be a proactive patient and take advantage of the times when I am well, and realize that not matter what I want, most of my wellness hinges on my body's biology, which is largely out of my control.

Excellent post as usual!


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