i. Dear physician—
You, physician, describe yourself as a lifeguard.
I openly admit, my experience with lifeguards as limited—either sensationalized Bay Watch babes or post-pubescent teens picking their noses while getting tans. In both scenarios I know one thing to be true—when a person begins to drown, you jump down off your stand, let the wind catch you hair, and you run. With all power you muster in your legs, you run. Because your job as a lifeguard rests in the name. You guard life. You throw out the raft, reeling in the drowning buffoon who thought it would be cute to take a swim after too many beers and possesses the coordination and aquatic buoyancy of a drunken ostrich.
So, if I could explain one thing to you, my physician—it’s how you are not a lifeguard. You are not a lifeguard because you often use the words “wait and see.” And when you are the one with the tired, uncoordinated legs, “wait and see” are unappealing words to hear from a lifeguard. Those words, instead feel like you are trying to teach me how to swim amidst the drowning. Those words do not feel like you running, hair in the wind, muscles pumping out of your body, to come and save me.
It feels like I’m that stupid buffoon stuck in the kelp—just trying to tread water. You, physician, you have the life raft. At least, that’s how it looks to me.
And you say—Wait, and we will see.
And I say—I’m growing tired.
And you say—you can make it longer.
But, is this living?
But we need Data.
But this is my life. Can I have the raft now? My arms and legs are tired.
Just a little longer.
And that there, dear physician, is how months and years fold into each other. How you have trained me so well to be aware and suspicious of every feeling in this body. And then you tell me to trust you—you say you won’t really let me drown. And you make awkward jokes that most of your patients haven’t died. (That dear, lifeguard-physician, is not helpful.)
But I don’t want to get to near drowning. I would like to get to near not-drowned.
So maybe, dear physician, you should not call yourself a lifeguard. Maybe we need to find more words for the work you do—the way you hold, move, shape, the lives of the people you treat. Your indelible hands helping to determine my tomorrows.
ii. Dear person reading this—
I could tell you about the procedure—if you want to know. I could tell you about the special soap they sent me home with; that had special instructions on how to scrub my body. How it wasn’t soap but a sponge with plastic bristles. I could tell you how it made me itch.
I could tell you about waiting in pre-op. I could tell you about how many pregnancy tests they made me take –which felt absurd (but I guess they wanted to be sure they were only dealing with one heart, not two?). I could tell about being introduced to the eight other people in the procedure room—how they introduced themselves and shook my hand, how they made me feel human. I could tell you about being made exposed, how I was the only naked body. They made me modest with special stickers. Covered me all up with them to keep all the electricity in my body. And I could talk about being woken up in the middle of it, laying on the table—feeling it all happen. But really, those are the parts I care about least. Except to say they happened.
The parts I care to tell you about or the ones that never happened. How they fixed the problem. How when they wheeled me into post-op and my groggy eyes opened, I would look up at my Love and smile. We are better. How the pangs of recovery were filled with the hope of physical therapy and being able to run again.
But instead, I am learning, again, how Diagnosis turns Chronic. Where words like “observation” and “collect data” are words that carry their own rituals and rites. Instead, I care to say that after the nurses left and I was alone, feeling hot tears involuntarily form and stream—mouthing the silent prayers of “Oh, fuck,” another day and another day and another day keep coming. And new routines are becoming less new. And incisions heal. Scars form. And this inexplicable body still continues—and people bring soup. And laughs are still had. And more tears have come. And I might just be more resilient than I thought.
iii. Dear those who brought the Tupperware—
To you, dear saints of the Tupperware, this month healing did not come in the form of Medicine or Science. (Or Magic. Because I am always waiting for the Magic and the abracadabra.) Instead, healing came in plastic tubs. You, pilgrims with porridge, filled these tubs with soup and ice cream. You brought these gifts to me, to my family, and sat with me on my front porch. Or in my living room. Or at my table.
I ate your food. And damn, you are good at cooking. Or buying rotisserie chickens. Or picking up burritos. You have excellent taste in ingredients. You know when to bring a Popsicle. When to bring the wine. If life with chronic illness feels like perpetual interruption, you interrupted the interruption.
You brought books. You brought laughs. You made the incision in my chest hurt. A kind of hurt that reminded me the joy of being so well loved.