Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Only connect

Today was a big day - my first visit to the kidney doctor since my labs - and my general health - went downhill. It was a satisfying visit; he cares about my comfort, and wants to keep me off dialysis as long as possible, so we are on the same page. On the other hand, he feels it is time to visit a vascular surgeon and get an access installed, so I am ready to go on dialysis whenever necessary - a moment that no one can predict. Sometimes you get more reality than you want.

Afterward Tom drove me to the lab to get a blood draw. Among other things, the kidney doc needs to verify my ferritin level so he can get some EPO shipped to me, to address the anemia that follows from kidney failure. EPO will give me more red blood cells, without which life is not worth living, or even possible.

It was a very good blood draw, an experienced tech with a sense of humor. I told her she should be doing musical comedy. We agreed, we'd all like to be paid for clowning around.

Coming out, I found the reception area empty except for one man, the sort of morbidly obese person you might see on TV but seldom out and about. He was leaning back in his chair catching his breath. I noticed that his gray hair was in a little pony tail, and he had a pleasant face. I smiled at him. In the back of my manicy brain was the thought that people usually look away from anybody with a disfigurement or handicap.

He smiled back, and surprised me by asking, "How are you doing?"

I was hobbling along, the neuropathy worse with every step. I try to concentrate on standing up straight and walking normally, but the pain in my feet and legs has a mind of its own.

"About as good as you," I replied, laughing. After all, there we were, getting blood draws in the hospital lab because we are both ill.

He laughed too. He had a nice laugh.

Slowly walking on out, I felt how warming it was, that moment of connection between strangers. Illness tends to isolate us. It's something to remember when someone is sick or dying. Sometimes we stall, we can't think of how to "help" someone. Speaking from my experience with cancer, deaths in the family, handicaps, I'd say, Don't try to "help." You can't heal us or find some magical way to make us happy. All you can do is give a little comfort or pleasure, and a sign that you have empathy. A heartfelt card is nice; a visit is great. The best gift is when someone is willing to be with you and acknowledge your truth without drama. Acknowledge that you are still a person; fat, crippled, dying, I am still me.

Here is the quote I took my title from today.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect...

--E.M. Forster, Howards End

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