Saturday, July 12, 2014

Physiological Gambling

I preface this post with a bit of background info:
It was the fall of 2009, and I'd already been dealing with my chronic pancreatitis and pain for ten years, and been mourning the loss of my son for six years. I ended up in the hospital with a bad case of pneumonia and had tested positive for the H1N1 virus, aka "The Swine Flu". For whatever reason, women in my age bracket were more prone to this virus. After five days in the hospital, I went into lung failure and was put on a ventilator and spent the next eight days in the ICU in a drugged coma. My parents were told I had a 50/50 chance of survival. God chose me to stay on Earth.

I was sent home on 24/7 oxygen, and I am still on it. The virus permanently damaged my lungs, and I've struggled with susceptibility to pneumonia. It has definitely complicated the medical puzzle of my life. I try to remain hopeful that someday, I will get off the oxygen, but until then, it is one day at a time.

On to my story....

A few weekends ago, my mom and I went to Scioto Downs with a friend. Playing the slot machines is a relaxing way to pass a few hours. It's practically hypnotic: spin, spin, spin. There's really no slot machine technique I've picked up on, as it's all pretty random. The only true control over the situation is how much money you chose to invest. I accidentally did myself a favor by stashing my second $20 bill in my bra, which I didn't find until I got home.

As with any outing, I have to tote around a ten pound silo of liquid-Oxygen like an awkward second purse. I definitely stand out with my oxygen canula in my nose, and plastic tubing hanging down. I used to get looks because I was tall with dark hair and porcelain skin. Those were nicer looks. The more current looks are those of inquiry, judgement, pity, fear. Little kids will stare and point, make comments about the lady with the "stuff" hanging out of her nose (not boogies.)

I wasn't prepared for the first time a little girl pointed at me and started crying, "Mommy, that lady looks like a monster!" She wasn't the only one who ended up with tears in her eyes. My physical pain is something that may be readable in my eyes or on my face by those who know me, but overall, I can hide my pain on the inside.

Same in regards to my heartbreak from losing my son, Gabriel. I can keep that pain hidden, except, perhaps, on the rare occasion when I see a baby, and I get tears in my eyes. My loved-ones can see the heartache in my face, but the average Joe doesn't see a thing.

The opposite is true of my lung issue. It is visible! It is like a streaker on the football field of the OSU v. Michigan game. I think the stares are multiplied because of my age. People see this younger woman with oxygen on, and they are curious. The same was true that night at Scioto Downs. I had a great time, but I had reached my fill of puzzled looks, but the fun wasn't quite over yet. When I stepped outside, there were at least a dozen patrons skulking around with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. Most people don't have to worry about being flammable when they exit a building, but I do. Fortunately, my friend's car was right outside. No one got blown up that night.

I don't care how much money people chose to gamble in casinos. If they want to bet the farm, E-I, E-I O for them!  I DO care to see them gamble with their health. It confuses me to watch people abuse their bodies in ways that are confirmed to be detrimental to their overall wellness. There's an "it won't happen to me" attitude I hear some physiological gamblers express, and the ignorance in their logic makes me crazy.  I see them puffing away on their cancer sticks, and I envy the fact  that they can breathe without portable oxygen. More than anything I pity their lungs that deserve more appreciative hosts. 

I have 52 feet of  tubing running through my home so I can breathe no matter where I need to go. When I have company over, I worry that no one trips over my oxygen leash, and that is what it feels like... a leash. I would love to have the lung capacity to run after my precious and very busy nephews. I pray that someday my lungs are strong enough to breathe unassisted. I dream of one day meeting a man and having the chance to kiss him without my tubing getting in between our lips, or of finding a man who can look beyond my tubing and kiss me nonetheless.

I look at those people lingering around the exit of the casino, and I just want to shake them and say, "Do you know what I would give to have my lungs back? Do you understand the gift you are throwing away?" With smoking, it's not just a few stained teeth and eternal bad breath that are on the line. It's the ability to breathe independently, without shortness of breath or pain. It's the possibility of going into lung failure and requiring a ventilator. My encounter with H1N1 and the 8-day intubation that came with it still impacts my lung health.  I think its safe to say that every day one spends smoking will impact her lung health for years to come.

At some point, people need to realize that these anatomical gifts are NOT unbreakable. They come with limits and should be respected for the miraculous machines they are. They should not be gambled with or taken for granted. Every cigarette is like a spin on a quality-of-life slot machine. God doesn't offer exchanges on worn merchandise. There is no magic wand to repair what we break on these journeys we each take, so take great care of the body you have.