Sunday, July 27, 2008

Re-Entering the Atmosphere

Anyone who knows me knows that I am addicted to two things, coffee and television. If you read this blog, you will know, I have recently weaned myself off of coffee. And if you live with me (hmp, hubby) you know I cheat sometimes. But I drink waaay less than I used to.

BUT! Unlike coffee, television is not something I have any interest in giving up. Some people drink a beer at the end of the day to relax. Some people take a walk to wind down. Some people cook a big meal to chill out after work. I watch TV. If I'm sad, if I'm bored, if I want to relax or get out of my head, I turn to my old pal, the TV.

I was reminded this weekend of the time immediately after transplant (both of them) when I turned my television off. I would try to watch it but it was unbearable. The silly banter, the mindless "probing hot topics," the unfunny jokes and the actors taking themselves way too seriously...I just couldn't stand it. TV ceased to be entertaining, instead it was maddening.

There is a time after a major medical trauma (or other life event) in which the way we live our lives suddenly seems very superficial. There is a need to express and discuss a deeper reality of life--the realities that come when you face death and are trying to re-acclimate to life on earth. The world has changed colors, and as our rocketship barrels towards the earth's surface our life is unrecognizable. To not discuss the descent to earth would be like not aknowledging a stick in the eye.

Our society is not very good at accommodating those who are trying to re-enter the atmosphere. I remember the December after my first transplant, I accompanied a friend to a work Christmas party. The usual "What do you do?" and "Where are you from" and "How do you know so-and-so" ensued. I just couldn't play the game. As much as I wanted to be superficial, I just couldn't and I would answer the questions honestly. "I am not working right now, I am recovering from a lung transplant" was the beginning of the end of my new conversation. The party-goers were clearly not expecting that response and they compensated for my uncomfortable honesty with an even broader, faker smile. They did the best they could to bypass any more transplant conversation and made excuses to leave me standing alone with my eggnog.

I'm not bashing people. I understand this was not normal party conversation and why they would want to exit stage left. We just aren't trained for this type of honesty in our culture.

What I do want people to understand, though, is the dilemma that faces those of us who are attempting atmosphere re-entry after a major medical intervention. We have two choices: watch TV or turn it off. Grin and grit our teeth through what feels like an unbearably phony conversation or keep it real. For me, the choice was simple. I had to speak my truth--not out of some superiority or judgement--but because it was all that seemed to matter at that time. Not talking about my transplant would make me disapear.

So, if you find yourself at a party and you spot someone alone with thier eggnog, take a moment to pause. Perhaps you have spotted someone who is attempting to re-enter the atmosphere after a medical problem, divorce, death of a loved one or any other life event that is too real to ignore. If you're brave, maybe you can walk up to them and ask "What do you do?" and expect to hear the truth as it sounds when someone has turned off the TV.


Jen! said...

Great post - I like your balance of not being judgmental of the way people react to "non-chatty" talk, while still being able to keep it real. I have a hard enough time of that when asked what I do for a living and I don't even have the word transplant in my answer! Half the time I just say I don't work and get the looks of "wow, must be nice" and half the time I say I have a chronic illness that causes me not to be able to work and the looks of "oh God get me out of this uncomfortable conversation." I guess it depends on what mood I'm in and which look I'm in the mood for. It can be frustrating, but it's nice to know there are others out there dealing with similar(ish) things.

Tiffany said...

Good point, Jen. I had a certain idea in mind that related to acute trauma like divorce or transplant. But you are too right... the scenario described here definitely applies to people living with chronic illness.

Thanks for the comment!!

woolywoman said...

Actually, liking TV is a pretty adaptive response for spending a lot of time in hospitals. It's not like you have access to, or energy for, the great books while recovering from a lung transplant. Being able to zone at will and enjoy the role of observer seems like a good idea.

SeaSpray said...

Profound post!

Thank you!