Right after my third transplant and subsequent recovery, I noticed three typical, reoccurring scenarios among my friends. These scenarios could not have take place prior to the transplant, during the dying phase, because frankly, I wasn’t able to pay attention to much of anything.
Some of you tend to think that I’m versed in your physical woes.
“Take a look, Gloria,” my friend said, turning her back to me and pulling down her shirt to bare her left shoulder. “It itches. What do you think it is?” She asked. I looked at the red blotch and answered hesitantly, “I don’t know…could it be allergies? If it doesn’t go away, I’d go see a dermatologist,” I suggested. I saw the relief in my friend’s face, as if I had just soothed that itch.
It’s no secret that I’ve cheated death more times than I care to count (cats, move over). Because of my medical history, I’m considered an authority among my friends in all things ailments. I’m their comfort zone. A buffer between what their illness could be and what it really is. They come to me not so much for advice, but rather to get confirmation that if I made it through much more daunting health issues, so will they.
Some of you tend to think that I have a special gift for surviving. Well, I don’t disagree with that one.
“I had food poisoning and had to stay in bed all day. Ugh! I felt terrible,” my friend said. Then, remembering with whom she was speaking she quickly added, “of course it was nothing compared to what you’ve been through.”
“No, no!” I answered, a little embarrassed, “food poisoning is awful.”
True, none of my friends have had a softball-size open wound below their right ribs reaching all the way to the pancreas from which pancreatic fluid (battery acid) gushed to the surface burning and dissolving their flesh. Still, food poisoning is unpleasant, to say the least.
My friends have seen me bounce back numerous times from the worst-case scenario. I represent a success at overcoming tons of physical conditions. They have a tendency to consider me a barometer for their own illnesses.
For my friends with animals, I now understand that you love them just like a human being.
“I have to take cortisone every other day,” I told my friend. “I really hate this medication but if that’s what it takes, then that’s what I’ll do.” “You too?!” He replied enthusiastically. Alley also has to take cortisone for his arthritis. He doesn’t like it either. I have to mash it up in his Fancy Feast.”
Finally, it had happened. My friend had found kinship between his cat and me. I was being compared to a feline. At first, I felt a crease between my brows. Nothing personal, I love animals (from afar) but no way does my health, or I have anything to do with them (I wouldn’t hurt a fly). But then, on second thought, I realized that my friend meant well. He obviously saw nothing wrong with the comparison because his cat was as important to him as I was to my family.
Whether I’ve been compared to a spiritual adviser, a superhuman or Alley the cat, I’m honored that my friends consider my survival an accomplishment and therefore, come to me with their physical woes. Most of my friends have more or less witnessed my journey. I'm blessed to have had their support in difficult times. And I've learned plenty about myself and them.
I’ve learned to be patient: illness affects each person differently. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for the next person. I’ve learned to listen: when speaking of their illnesses, either they tend to dramatize or put on a courageous face. I’ve learned to sift through all that and to be honest with them. I’ve learned to be flexible: sometimes, there’s more to their story than they’re willing to tell me. Their words help me find the proper tenor for that conversation. And last but not least, I’ve learned to love animals even more, especially my compadre, my peeps, my man Alley the cat.