April 2006

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Eight years ago today I received from my donor and donor family the gift of life, my double lung transplant. I have had eight great years of feeling almost like a normal person. Even now, with 15% lung capacity, I feel better in many ways than I did with Cystic Fibrosis. Back in 1998, my medical team cautioned me that I was trading one disease (CF) for another (immunosuppression). But my transplant sure felt like a cure. I still have CF, of course, and it affects several parts of the body. But the most life-threatening and irritating part of CF is what it does to the lungs.

Physically and mentally, CF is like Chinese water torture. At its best, CF is like having a bad cold every day of your life. I had a bad cold for 29 years. The mental challenge is even more severe. As I outlined in this post, I spent most of my life chasing a slowly rising life expectancy. Between 1980 and 1990, when I was 12-22 years old, the median survival age for people with CF went from 18 to 29 years.

Growing up, I never believed I would live long enough to get married, have kids, have an exciting career in the real world, or do any of the things most kids take for granted. As I got older, it became more and more clear to me what I was missing out on and what I was going to miss out on because of CF and the pressure of that loss wore on me. That was the mental water torture.

There’s no question that having CF has made me a stronger person. And I won’t claim it’s the worst ailment/plague/curse the world has ever seen. But I think it deserves to be in contention for that dishonor, if only because of its water torture diabolicity. (Not a word, but it ought to be.)

Can’t say I miss you, CF, ya farkin bastard.

January, closed.
February, not open.
March, geschlossen.
April, open until 2am chill leads to strategic reassessment.
May, open all night with a fan in the sill that must be shut down ere dawn.
June, open all night + fan.
July, open all night with the fan on.
August, open all night with the fan set to eleven.
September, open until 3am chill leads to paradigm shift.
October, the opposite of open.
November, open not it is.
December, as closed as John Quincy Adams Junior High School on a Sunday morning.

Over the past few months, I’ve just about devoured the archives of National Public Radio’s This American Life. What a great radio program! These shows offer a plethora of juicy insights into human nature, which makes them damn hard for an alleged novelist like myself to resist.

These tidbits come from the episode called Advice:

  • Studies have found that people tend to feel better about themselves after they give someone else advice. However, people tend to feel worse about themselves after someone else gives them advice.
  • The purpose of therapy is not to give people advice on solving their personal problems. The purpose of therapy is to coax people into following the advice any reasonable person would have given them, advice they have known from the beginning they should follow.

This all makes perfect sense to me. If you are giving advice, you get to be Siddhartha Junior sitting on the mountaintop dispensing your wisdom — if only briefly. On the other hand, if you’re getting advice, there is something wrong with you.

Most advice is intrinsically useless. We all know what we should be doing to improve ourselves and our respective lots in life. It doesn’t hurt to have the people we love pester us about it once in a while — but usually they are not telling us anything we don’t already know.

It’s a truism that only you can change you. Or is it? The therapist’s job is to be a catalyst to that self-change, gently nudging you along the road to self-improvement until you do what you know you need to do.

I would say other people can be catalysts to change as well. I know that over the course of my own life, I’ve changed the most in response to other people’s reactions to me, not because I had a Eureka moment originating deep within my psyche. Another instance of, “No man is an island,” I would say.

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