The Gurney Float (or, Health as an Ecosystem)

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.
460px-Bronchoscopy_nci-vol-1950-300 w titleKill 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
Sully and Hazel 11202943_552415938691_2615937082461385651_o w title, strokeago 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.

—- credits

Video, music: original

Bronchoscopy photo, from Wikipedia, retrieved from, on July 4, 2015. “This image is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the National Institutes of Health.”

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3 Responses to The Gurney Float (or, Health as an Ecosystem)

  1. Deborah Sullivan says:

    Enjoy your freedom, Jason.



  2. Bob & Mary McCauley says:

    So sorry to hear of this setback, however, so happy it was resolved and you’re now back home enjoying your family and all that life has to offer! If it takes gurney rides on occasion to keep you breathing comfortably then it’s worth every rotation of those wheels! Life is all about change and adjustments and if this is the “new normal” for you then so be-it – beats the hell out of the alternative!!

    We love you and you continue to take good care of those new lungs!

    Bob &Mary

    Bob and Mary McCauley

    185 NW 107th Ave

    Portland OR 97229-6203


  3. Lori says:

    I was diagnosed in sept of 2012 that I have ILD, also known as IPF, at age 41 and never thought I’d hear “you have 2-3 years left to live”. I was shocked, very upset to say the least. I don’t think I really expected it until the week before I went for all the test that one as to endure to see if they can be a candidate for lung transplant. I think I could of cried up a woman made lake of my own. And yet I’m still waiting to hear back from Toronto general to see if I’ve been excepted or not. Some further tests had to be done and I have completed the last one about two mouths ago and have left messages for them to call me back, but yet I still wait. They have my life in their hands to a degree. You know that they can’t say for sure that one will pull through the surgery plus the after math of it all, if one does make it. Yet it’s sounds like a better way of life after the surgery reading your own experiences. I would like to know how it all as gone. It gives me hope, even thou I know my out come may not be like yours I still want to know the good and the bad, and it would also help me mentally to prepare for when and if I get excepted. Thank you for the insight you have given and I will read more as it comes. Many blessing, and God bless you with good health to best that you can endure.


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