Saturday, August 8, 2009

I'm Such a Wimp

About this time last year, when the EOS debilitated me, my dear friends had to push me around in a wheel chair during visits to City of Hope. I'll never forget my feeling of sheer, irrational terror when a friend brought the wheel chair into the examining room. I didn't want that symbol of weakness taunting me, and I didn't want my doctor seeing it. I insisted that it be removed. I must have been like the patient equivalent of a Bridezilla.

That time was a nightmare that I don't want to ever repeat. I came close this spring when the EOS started to go haywire again, but early steroid intervention kept me from going off the deep end.

I'm amazed now at how strong I feel physically and emotionally. But I'm equally amazed at what a fragile little tea cup I can be.

Take last night. I attended a Greek cooking class at hip cooks. I felt young and with-it among the hipsters in a downtown Brewery loft.

When it was time to roll the dolmas, a young woman student crossed the room in her stiletto heels and sweetly advised me to wash my hands because she had seen that I had coughed. (My coughing has nearly disappeared, but it does crop up occasionally, especially at night.) I said, "Oh, of course," and headed for the wash basin.

But on the way back, I coughed again. I knew she was watching me. Should I put my newly coughed-on hands on the grape leaves, rewash my hands or throw my hands in the air and sit it out. I decided to sit on the sidelines and watch instead of participate.

This made me sad because I really wanted to roll a dolma, but I didn't want to risk coughing. And then I started feeling like a social pariah on the sidelines and couldn't smile or enjoy watching the activity. Two sweet women came over and tried to rescue me. I told them about my cough and they said "Poppycock," or whatever hip young women say these days.

I continued to watch, feeling more morose by the minute. I considered fleeing the scene entirely but my growling stomach won out over my middle-school mentality.

When it was time to devour the eight dishes we prepared, I decided to eat in silence. This proved to be more impossible than stifling a cough. The sweet and hip young woman from Silver Lake told me she had coughed for the first 17 years of her life. I took a risk and did something more socially unacceptable than coughing: I told her about the eosinophils. She listened politely and even asked intelligent questions. Then I felt much better.

I began smiling and laughing and sharing stories. And the woman sitting across from me, the one who had asked me to wash my hands, was smiling at me and laughing at my stories.

She didn't hate me after all.

10 comments:

marinik said...

so glad at least you got to enjoy the food... and you're not a wimp ;)
as my grandma was Greek, i'm curious to know what you guys made???
anyways, you take care and yasoooo!

Petrea said...

You're one of the least wimpy people I know.

Ronni Gordon said...

Good story. Especially liked the outcome. It's interesting how we can feel self-conscious - or wimpy - about things that are totally out of our control. I guess it's pretty normal. Hey but it's great that your cough is so much better.

Susan C said...

Mari, we made eight different dishes and it was all fabulous:
Smoked Eggplant Dip (Baba Ganoush)
Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolma)
Spanikopita
The Best Grilled Veggie Salad
Grape, Haloumi and Tarragon Salad
Marinated Lamb Skewers with Tzaziki
Baklava

Petrea, that's what I thought, so I was surprised to see how quickly I could revert to junior high school. I'm glad I stuck it out though.

Ronni, And I know you can appreciate that sometimes a cough is not just a cough. It's a metaphor for so many other things and fears, both physical and emotional.

Margaret said...

I hate hearing that this happened to you. I don't think you should worry about "social acceptability." If anyone says anything to you about coughing, you should just smile and say "Don't worry. I'm not contagious. My coughing is the result of my cancer treatment." That's not socially inappropriate. That is honest. I say out yourself. You help every cancer survivor when you out yourself and show people how strong and fabulous you are.

Sue G said...

The wheelchair story feels so real to me. I refuse to get a handicap sticker for my car--even though the summer heat and chemo kick my butt and make walking distances excruciating--because it's a label I don't want for myself. I don't think that is a sign of weakness. Rather, I believe it is a sign of strength and determination in the face of challenges. So I applaud you for not wanting to be associated with the wheelchair. It served its purpose, but it certainly didn't define you in that moment of need.

I'm glad you came out of your silence during the cooking party. I think everything is a teachable moment, either by words or actions, and you taught those women that there is much more to you than what they knew. And I imagine the lady who asked you to wash your hands did so out of some fear about swine flu or something similar...and you were able to engage her with your stories and show her that fears need to be met head on and with humor rather than giving in to them.

Good for you!

Petrea said...

I agree with Margaret and Sue G. In this way, this "teaching" way, your cough made you not a pariah but someone to learn from - the exact opposite of a wimp, actually.

Nelle said...

Susan,
I was going to say in part, what Margaret said and also what Sue G said. I used to hate being stared at when I was out in the summer heat with a kerchief on my head. I finally told someone who made all kinds of insensitve comments that I lost my hair due to cancer treatment. I could not believe how liberating it was. I do think that swine flu has caused a cough to become something that brings a lot of attention. I have been coughing and wheezing today myself and I am annoying myself to no end.

altadenahiker said...

Not really related, but still wanted to share this story.

At The Huntington today --

I led a tour of 8 women, all inter-related in some way (mothers, daughters, in-laws). At one point, one woman's wig fell off as she was removing her eyeglasses. She was bald, and turned out in some stage of chemo.

The two daughers said, "Mom, it's hot out here. Why not just leave the wig off, you'll feel more comfortable."

The mother would have none of that, and the women gathered round to situate the wig in the proper position.

Three things struck me: 1)The woman seemed perfectly healthy; 2)It is now quite acceptable for women as well as men to go hairless; 3) Wigs sure look real these days.

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