July 4, 2015 | Jason Ohler
I’m one of the reasons your health care costs so much. Sorry.
I am four months post transplant. I felt fine until my doctors told me I wasn’t.
Back into the hospital I go. I’m levitated by the gurney beneath me as I float through double doors, down hallways, squeezing in and out of elevators.
During my last gurney ride, my chauffeurs were talking among themselves as if I weren’t there. Something about a party that appeared promising. It sounded like fun. (I didn’t wait for an invitation.) This time they were quiet, probably because I was recording my journey (see video, an Andy-Warhol-with-an-iPhone approach to film making, accompanied by some original music). They knew I was committing my journey to posterity, and god knows what we do with our recordings these days. Potentially, they all become a part of our digital tattoos.
My sudden departure from what was beginning to feel like normal life occurred because a bronchoscopy (basically a throat probe using a camera-enabled snake) revealed some infection in my lungs. I was suddenly in the middle of a shoot out.
Kill the infection now, before it kills me. My immediate thought was, oh god, more hospital food? Thankfully, Terri brought me smoothies.
I shouldn’t be surprised by the ups and downs of life. It is how entropy weaves a good story. Yet, illness always seems like a shock. It helps me to think of health as an ecosystem.
Being healthy becomes the environment that you don’t notice – ground, as McLuhan called it in his figure-ground theory. Illness he would call “figure” – anything that commands your conscious attention. The two comprise a complete ecosystem. The ratio of things we don’t notice to those we do is about a gazillion to one. (Multi-tasking is largely an illusion.) Yet, it is our environment that makes us who we are. It massages us totally, inescapably. It silently leaks into our expectations, building a tacit schema called normal living. We build each others’ environments. Unconsciously we establish each others’ norms and assumptions.
And we assume health. So when illness visits, it becomes “figure” and lets us know that we are defined in part by how we handle the challenges of cellular change. The interweaving of the many systems that comprise our personal ecosystem becomes a dance between figure and ground.
This Fourth of July my independence is in the hands of my doctors. Moments
ago they liberated me. The lung cultures are back, and the results suggest that more pills will fix my most current entropic dip and restore the health of my ecosystem. I can go home as soon as the last pouch of clear IV liquid has leaked its magic into my veins. I am free to enjoy an evening of grandkids, barbecue and a night sky aglow with fireworks.
But the doctors assured me that there would be another gurney float in my future. Apparently there is another bit of entropy’s handiwork that needs to be addressed. I’d share the details, but I’m blocking them for now, opting to enjoy the fact that I’m free. And breathing.
Video, music: original
Bronchoscopy photo, from Wikipedia, retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bronchoscopy_nci-vol-1950-300.jpg, on July 4, 2015. “This image is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the National Institutes of Health.”