Thursday, November 19, 2009

Muddling through

A few years ago, Chris and I took a long overdue trip to California to see my extended family. While we were there, a group of relatives, including my tiny grandmother brought us to a small Buddhist temple to pay our respects to my grandfather who had passed years earlier. Chris and I speak little to no Vietnamese and so we tended to orbit one another while my aunts and uncles visited with the monk holding vigil that day. For a short period, I found myself standing with one of my younger aunts while she had a conversation with the smiling monk, listening to the sing-song cadence of his voice as he spoke at length. There was a long pause during which my aunt started to giggle. As it turns out, the monk had been speaking to me the entire time I'd been daydreaming and looking around the temple.

My aunt explained to him that I only spoke English and he had a good chuckle over it all. I should have had a laugh myself, but the experience made me feel out of sync for the rest of the day. What must that poor man have been thinking as I looked at everything but him?

This theme continued throughout our visit at dinner parties and shopping excursions. Guests or proprietors would talk to me without me being aware that I was the focus of their conversation and I would continue doing whatever it was I was doing at the time. The point I'm so inelegantly trying to make is that I look Asian and while in the company of my relatives who are multi-lingual, most people assume that I am as well.

As a child, I spoke fluent Thai. No one else in my family did, including my parents. I learned it from the maid while we lived in Bangkok. I wasn't fluent in English until I was about four and I learned it from watching Sesame Street. I've always been the one that was just outside of the norm.

I've felt out of sync this entire week. I've been doing a lot of things out and about solo and realize that while wearing a hat, I look just as average as everyone else. Except, I've forgotten how to speak the language.

I find that I'm no longer comfortable doing some of the pedestrian, mundane things that I used to do. An errand to the Apple store to have Chris's computer serviced left me frazzled. An impulse stop at another shop left me feeling isolated. A visit with a local opthamologist found me floundering for words.

These are the everyday things that I've been aspiring to do since I've been transplanted. I thought I was sick of having to buy everything off of the internet. I longed to be able to try clothes on in a shop. All of the little nuisances that add up to a normal life now are so foreign to me that I marvel at being able to do them at all. The very act of asserting my independence has left me feeling disconnected.

A visit with my local oncologist yesterday put the entire week into perspective. Dr. B. came in, reviewed my counts with me and asked me if I had anything new to tell him. I slumped in my chair, shook my head and said, "Not a thing." He smiled and told me that my counts were perfect and everything looked normal. He checked my head and neck for unusual lymph nodes, then did the spleen check and pronounced everything normal. We went through the perfunctory checks for heart and lung functions. Normal.

As I left with a copy of my counts in hand, he reiterated to me that I was the best looking transplant patient he'd ever seen. Someone else remarked that you'd never guess I'd had anything done to me.

So I suppose this entire week has been a test of my patience and my nerves. As for how I did, I'm still standing and will have to work on embracing life as a normal person. There will be hiccups and I will stutter, but I'm determined to relearn how to speak the language of the everyday.


Mara said...

Sweetie, you're rejoining the world after 1+ years in isolation. It's going to take some getting used to. It's like the world's worst Monday.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the best post I've read in a very long time and it's fabulous! These are the very things you've been wanting to worry about instead of the alternative!!! Disconnected, yes. Uncomfortable, yes. Isolated, probably. Happy? YEAH!!! Life is returning to normal and you are a little out of practice but thats a really good thing. Just jump back on the "bike" and peddle off!

Love and prayers, always
Amanda F.

PJ said...

The bad news is, you'll probably never get back to your "normal" pre-leukemia self. Your experience with serious illness and your treatments have irrevocably changed you.

The good news is, the new you is stronger, more resilient and will live a fuller life than most normals. Like it or not, we are strangers in a strange land because of what we've been through.

Nancy said...

Well said. Seriously, what is normal anyways? Embrace every single day!!! Life is a gift! Love ya, n

Lisa said...

I'm not the bubbly eternal optimist, I don't think it's as easy as being grateful for every day and just putting your switch to "happy." In my mind and experience: "it's never over."

While the problems are different, cancer life post-active treatment can be harder. It's the psychological trauma and endurance that beat me down, not so much the physical parts.

When I tell my oncologist "I'm fine," he smiles and then says, "No, really, how ARE you?" I am sorry that you are having these feelings... Only other cancer patients can truly understand what I've called this part of "being depressed about living." Keep sharing. It doesn't make you a negative person: it makes you a realistic one.