Saturday, October 25, 2008

Expectations aren’t always what you would expect

“Our expectations were too high”. “It was better than we expected.” “It’s not everything I expected it to be”. “It went beyond my expectations”. Then there is Expectation’s brother “counting on”. “I counted on you being there”. “Don’t count on me”, or the opposite “count me in”.

During this summer when I was driving back and forth to Boston for radiation, I had much time to discuss things, much things to discuss, and somehow the conversations always seemed to touch upon expectations.

Why are our expectations so high? It may start young. When we are little and our parents drop us off at a play date; they promise to pick us up at a certain time…and they do. We come to expect that if someone says that they will be there for us, they will be. Many of our parents come from the depression era, where getting a college education seemed to be the key to success (many of them didn’t have this advantage). If you could get a college education, and you weren’t plagued with a mental or physical disability…you would automatically get a good job, and make a good living…and you would be better off than your parents and likewise, your children receiving the same benefit of an education, would be better off than you. We’ve grown up watching TV where bad guys are caught and prosecuted; where liars are realized. On TV we also saw how people worked hard, made money and bought really, really big houses, and lots of things. Our government allowed us to expect that we could borrow from the future while living decadently in the present…and that it would work out.

What do we expect? We expect that we will grow old. We expect that our kids will outlive us. We expect that we will have a roof over our head. We expect that our spouses should/will understand us…know us…but they don’t always. We expect that our government will take care of us…but they don’t. We expect that if we eat at an excellent restaurant that we will have an excellent meal, and service; but we know enough to know that this may not always happen. We expect that our family and friends will be there for us in a time of crisis…that doesn’t always happen. We expect that when we read a good movie review, that the movie will actually be good. We expect that when the traffic light is green, it’s safe to go. We expect that if we get a college education, we will get a good job…or we used to expect this. We expect that our business partners will not rip us off. We expect that if we work hard, we will make a good living. We expect that our doctor’s know what they are talking about, and if they don’t they will refer us to someone who does…but they don’t necessarily do this. We expect that when the label says “99% fat free”, or “doesn’t contain nuts”, that it has only 1% fat, and no nuts. We expect lots and lots of things.

I find/found along with all the people I discussed expectations with…that not having them be met can be heartbreaking, angering, confusing, and disappointing. I’m guessing that many more with whom I’ve not yet had the occasion to discuss expectations…feel the same way.

My conclusion. Expectations aren’t always what you expect them to be, and that perhaps the best defense is a good offense. Expect less and you will always be pleasantly surprised, grateful, even thrilled at times.


Thinking about expectations, makes me also think about what is real? Who is real? Who is being real with you? How are we supposed to be able to figure that out? Everything lately seems to be all upside down. Knowing what is real has become such a challenge.

I find myself wishing that like the bunny in Velveteen Rabbit, that the more loved you are, the more real you would become; that the older, less attractive, more threadbare you became from being loved, the more real you would become. This seems like a simple, very detectable measurement by which to judge things. What do you think?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The power of fear

Perhaps because this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there have been many stories on TV, in magazines, and online about cancer, of fear, of surviving …these all hit home; and they also make me aware not only of Breast Cancer, or Cancer in general, but fear…and how much of it we all have.

We have fear of our dying, fear of the ones we love dying, fear of growing old, fear of ageism, fear of separation, fear of commitment, fear of inadequacy, fear of never reaching our potential, fear of poverty, fear of losing what we have, fear of never having anything, fear of small spaces, fear of too much space, fear of heights, fear of not being seen for all we may be, fear of being seen for all that we may not actually be, fear of being alone, fear of crowds, fear of terrorism, fear of being attacked while at home, fear of being attacked when we are out of our home, fear of global warming, fear of overpopulation, fear of winter, fear of water, fear of bugs, fear of dogs, fear of germs, fear of a lack of control…so many fears.

Then there are the survivor stories; people who have been through some of the worst circumstances that a person can imagine. But they have gone through it…mostly because they had to, because lets face it, what is the alternative? You fight to live another day. There is a common thread I’ve noticed to many of these stories; these survivors often say that after having been through what may be the worst times of their lives, they are afraid of nothing anymore. They have looked fear in the face, and conquered it, and for that they are grateful and forever unchanged. I believe this to be mostly true. For me personally, there are many challenges that no longer rock me, but I don’t think all these survivors speak completely honestly. There is one huge fear that overwhelms me…that may always overwhelm me, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one; the fear of not being able to always choose the fears I wish to overcome. If I choose to jump out of a plane, or to speak in front of 10,000 people; (when at one time I would be too afraid to do either of these things), this is my choice. If I get sick again, I don’t choose this; I believe the biggest fear that I have is that I cannot choose all of what I don’t want to happen.

So ultimately, what’s behind any good fear? The lack of control…this is the hardest one to beat.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two months after radiation-I’m so tired of being me

When you’re sick in bed, what might you be doing? What might I be doing? Watching TV. What’s on? Not much. What’s worth watching? Not much. It’s too depressing to watch Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos, or Maury Povich. There’s Oprah, Ellen, Tyra, and for a short while…Wendy, this is occasionally good...but mostly there are movies (some good, some not so good, many bad), and the NEWS. The NEWS now is especially tormenting. You want to watch, you need to watch, you shouldn’t watch, you have to watch. What difference does it make if you watch? So is it NEWS or a bad movie? Oh, all the decisions for a sick person.

The world seems to be imploding…and so am I. A week after I consulted with Dr. ENT and received his clean bill of health, I felt really awful. So off I went to Dr. Ear. Dr. Ear sits at the bottom of the Ear, Nose and Throat pyramid. While my Dr. ENT deals with life saving surgeries, Dr. Ear deals with abscesses and wax…gross. So he does his Dr. Ear thing and proclaims that I have an ear infection, and…a sinus infection…something Dr. ENT emphatically denied I had…in fact he said that any irritation I had was most likely due to radiation, and that I would have it forever. When I tell Dr. Ear what Dr. ENT said, he says this “well, I don’t know what to tell you, this is what we do here, and you have a huge infection”. I like how he says that that is what he does…proudly he pronounces that this dripping, waxy, oozing territory is his…Dr. ENT would not get close to this stuff…too beneath him. So beneath him I guess, that he was even unable to see it.

This was a happy day for me; finally I had someone who concurred with what I was feeling about myself…that I was infected and needed modern day medicine…something more than hope and saline spray. I went to the pharmacy, filled my prescription, took it, and started down a sad and sick path that I had not visited since last October right after I had surgery. Not even during radiation did I feel this bad. I began to hear a whooshing noise in my hearless ear, I ached all over, I was dizzy, my ear pounded with pain, I was nauseous, sick, and did I mention extremely sad?

I called Dr. Ear and he told me to stop taking the medicine, that I was probably having an allergic reaction. He prescribed medicine #2…I started to take that…I felt worse…as though that was even possible. As elated as I was initially with Dr. Ear, my enthusiasm had waned completely; it made me start to question his bold statement “this is what I do”. For me, he wasn’t doing such a good job. Besides the fact that I was now feeling sicker, I was confused about what was wrong with me. Was this an allergic reaction, was it radiation, was it tumor? And the whooshing was just driving me nuts. I have such a stew of doctors at the moment…neurologist, radiation oncologist, PCP, neurosurgeon, ENT, head and neck surgeon…I just wasn’t sure to whom to tell my story. I called my PCP…always a calm guy in the storm. He listened and decided to prescribe a regular broad base antibiotic…nothing to 21st century, and said to give it a few days and see how I feel. He also added that if the whooshing continued that I should call my neurologist.

I took the broad base antibiotic, the whooshing started to recede, I do feel better, still have an earache…but I’m relieved to have dropped some of the other symptoms. No more whooshing.

What can I say; it was a setback I could have done without. As I approach the one-year mark from my surgery last year, I feel so tired of this, so tired of being this me.