Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You get used to it

If you are suddenly struck by what finance types call a Black Swan event, you become helpless, confused, angry and begin to lament like the Duke of Gloucester, "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; / They kill us for their sport."But when Time, The Great Healer, has done enough work you find ways to deal with the new reality and eventually you get used to it.

Sometimes, when I will be sitting on my wheelchair and browsing or reading a book with great interest, I will suddenly feel like passing motion so I will have to be shifted quickly to the bed. Occasionally, by the time the nurse makes the bed ready and Jaya comes to the room to shift me, my metabolic wastes would have made their presence felt.My muscles will stiffen automatically in disgust. (I know it is made of rare stuff but...) This stiffening makes it difficult for the nurse to manoeuvre me around the bed for cleaning the mess thus delaying the whole horrible process.

I found that the quickest way to relax my muscles is to let my mind wander thereby putting me in a state of suspended animation. I will start thinking about some topic that I had read recently for example, the trouble with intuition or inequality aversion or how language shapes thought or how news is made now. While my mind is busy thinking about these issues, I am only dimly aware of my surroundings. My muscles will become relaxed and the nurse will be able to complete her unenviable task quicker. A wandering mind has uses.

Sometimes, when a few visitors will be waiting in the front hall to meet me and I will be about to make my grand entrance, I will feel like passing motion and will quickly have to be shifted to the bed. The protagonist of Five Point Someone, when he finds himself in an embarrassing situation, wishes that dinosaurs were not extinct so that one would come along and gobble him up and put him out of his misery. (Evolutionary biologists will say that dinosaurs are not extinct because birds are dinosaurs but we will let that technical issue pass for the moment.) I also have a similar wish on such occasions especially when the nurse is on leave and Jaya has to perform the duties of a nurse.

Isak Dinesen put things in perspective, “What is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine?” The roof and crown of things? Tennyson must have been joking.

At times I am so lost in my thoughts that I fail to notice the nurse giving me feeds through the feeding tube. When Jaya asks me about the feeding I stare blankly at her and she has to get the details from the nurse. Even I am surprised that I did not notice something so obvious. I suppose the default network of my brain must be active at these times.

I have realised the wisdom in Duke Ellington's words, "There are two kinds of worries - those you can do something about and those you can't. Don't spend any time on the latter." Most people eventually get adjusted to the whips and scorns of time. Even if it means lying on shit. It is not easy. It doesn't happen overnight . But it happens. In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert writes:
For at least a century, psychologists have assumed that terrible events- such as having a loved one die or becoming the victim of a violent crime- must have a powerful, devastating, and enduring impact on those who experience them. This assumption has been so deeply embedded in our conventional wisdom that people who don't have dire reactions to events such as these are sometimes diagnosed as having a pathological condition known as "absent grief". But recent research suggests that the conventional wisdom is wrong, that the absence of grief is quite normal, and that rather than being the fragile flowers that a century of psychologists have made us out to be, most people are surprisingly resilient in the face of trauma.
Learning from the Heart is a book written by Daniel Gottlieb who suffered a spinal cord injury that left him quadriplegic at the age of thirty-three. He writes:
I got insight into the process of becoming more dependent when I was reading Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Alborn. When Morrie, the author's mentor, was first being affected by ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), he turned to Mitch and said, "Oh my God, one day somebody will have to wipe my ass."

When I read that quote my immediate thought was, "You'll get over it, Morrie. I did." Having a catheter and needing someone else to bathe and dress me used to be a horrible indignity. Now all those things are simply regular parts of my life, just as anyone who needs to wear reading glasses or bifocals makes a habit of putting them on and taking them off. Whatever you need today that you didn't need yesterday simply becomes a part of your life.
Later, he writes:
No wonder there is a little comedian inside of me who finds great humor when people unthinkingly say to me, "Sometimes when I think about my life, I just feel paralyzed." I just look up and say, "Sometimes I feel that way, too!"


  1. I don't know whether to smile or to weep now. Either emotion is befitting and insulting at the same time. Awesome piece. Thanks, as always, for the very inspiring blog.

  2. Having performed such duties for my mom-in-law,I can only say that caregivers do what they do without thinking much about such "unenviable tasks".One does many things because one just has your case,Jaya is your partner.Would you not have done the same for her if she were in your position??Don't fret....some things are just meant to be.