December 8, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker
I got to go to Gary’s office as a patient on Tuesday, which was very interesting. I wasn’t there as Gary’s patient, of course (he knows better than to sign up for that) but as a patient of one of his colleagues. Maybe a colleague that he doesn’t like very much.
Nothing exciting is wrong with me. Just vericose veins, which run in my family. As we start to have babies our legs start to look like someone is popping popcorn in there. It’s not dangerous or serious, it’s just that my blood is lazy. It gets all gung ho about heading out via the arteries zipping towards my feet when it’s all downhill like a water slide… but when it’s time to do the hard work on the way back up it gets all lazy and just sits there. And sitting around creates bulges.
That’s kind of what happens with the rest of my body sometimes, too.
Although, the nice doctor explained that it’s not really the blood that’s the problem but the veins failing to provide the appropriate structure.
It’s the same with my exercise program. It’s not that I am lazy, it’s that nobody has provided me the structure. Oh, that’s definitely it.
There are a number of treatment options for the defunct veins, none of which involve humourously labelling things that don’t work, and all of which involve removing my veins. This is just like what happened to the toilet. Except that we replaced the toilet with a new one, but there’s no replacement vein plan. Which you’d think would be a problem because you’d think leg veins would be important but apparently not so much. There are other, less “extroverted” veins that are doing the bulk of the work, so no real harm done.
Easy peezy, lucky me.
Very lucky me. It was my first time in that little room, but I knew well from Gary’s stories from work what history it holds. That room has seen years of people being told their lives are changing forever. People being told they will die or be disabled. Or, people being told that the symptoms they’ve lived with for years can be cured. People being told that their scans are clear and there is no trace of cancer. The same awe and sense of history that some people feel in huge cathedrals, I felt in that room—with it’s walls steeped in deep sorrow and great joy.
“What’s the blend of the types of outcomes?” I asked Gary once, “I mean, if all you know about someone is that they’re sitting in the waiting room of your office, what’s would you say is the chance they’re going to die?”
“One hundred percent.” Gary answered.
I thought it was a morbid thing to say, at the time. Who wants to think about that? But the room gave me new perspective. I left it with just slightly more awareness than I arrived with. A joy in the ease and energy with which my body meets the challenges of each day. A remembrance of the fact that I live without chronic pain or other symptoms. As I walked out onto the bright, sunny sidewalk I was filled with an awe for the beauty of the day and the winter sunshine.
Sometimes I find great joy in remembering how lucky I am. I stood there gazing out across the river thinking how grateful I was not to be among those who received shattering news. I stood there thinking about how I would get to see my kids grow up, and about how many more sunny days I would get to step into, and about how my whole life is stretched in front of me. Like a scene from a sappy movie, a series of imaginary family portraits from years to come started playing in my mind.
Except I don’t know about years to come, I thought suddenly. A lack of terminal diagnosis doesn’t mean a guaranteed long life. An uncertainty sits at the edges of every beautiful day. A darkness nibbles there. Tomorrow is a question mark. And, at some point after that—maybe far off but definitely there—there’s a statement. One hundred percent, says Gary.
I think we can choose what this means. This certainty can sit behind each day like a shadow, unrecognized and subtly shading each moment. It can be something we turn away from, that guides our vision by virtue of where we cannot look. Or it can be brought forward and made a part of the picture, like a frame that brings things into sharper focus. It can make the colours in the vegetables you chop for dinner more vivid, and the child’s hand on your leg more sweet. It can bring out the smell of the leaves or the taste of the soup.
In the words of Dick Gilbert:
“The gift of life is not a gift of great sweeps of years, but in the exhilaration of a single day—the day which we live now. Why can we not look at the gift of today and fall on our knees in gratitude?”
I read once about a man who was dying of AIDS, who wore a t-shirt that had the letters “N. D. Y.” on it. It stood for “Not Dead Yet”.
Not a bad motto.
For any of us.