In 2011, I rushed to the hospital barely able to breathe with chest pains. When I got there, the lady doing the intake was quite rude–it’s one of those little things I remember–and while my best friend was trying to tell her what was wrong, she bluntly said, “I need HER to tell me, MA’AM.” It was quite curt. My friend said, “If she could breathe, she might be able to talk….”
Finally, I put my hand up and said, “Chest pains,” between breaths.
Suddenly, the room spun and everyone jumped. I was already in a wheelchair and they began pushing me to the back quickly and yelling at my friend to follow while yelling ahead, “We have chest pains in 108!”
I jokingly say that if you want to get treated in the hospital ER quickly, just tell them you have chest pains! But the thing is, and trust me on this one, you do NOT want to be subjected to all the tests they will then do to you because you SAID you had chest pains and if they find out you lied, they’d kick you out–and yes, they CAN and DO do that here.
So about 7 days and tens of thousands of non-insured dollars later, I was finally sent home, in what the discharge papers said was ‘fair to poor’ condition, with the promise to follow up with no less than five different doctors in the next two weeks. I honestly think if I’d had insurance at the time, I would have been in the hospital a lot longer. Little things, little things. It’s funny to me that I remember this all so clearly, and yet, I can’t tell you much about what the docs said when they came to my room and told me the ‘big’ news.
I remember turkey sandwiches with little packets of mayonnaise the med tech would bring me late at night when the promethazine finally kicked in enough I could eat and was starving since I was unable to eat my dinner most nights. Those were the best turkey sammiches ever. And what is it about that mayo in those little packets? Is it not the best?
It would be another year before I actually requested the paperwork and got a copy of my chart. More on that in a minute.
This isn’t my medical blog, so I’m really not talking about my health here. What I’m talking about today is an attitude, a way of living life, viewing things, that can change your entire outlook.
Have you ever heard the old saying, “Don’t sweat the petty stuff?” And then there’s a follow up to that that goes like this, “And it’s all petty stuff….”
The secret, then, is this: It’s always the little things. Everything is little. It’s all the small stuff.
On the fifth day of the hospital stay, I sat on the edge of the bed. I hadn’t been able to eat. I had bruises from failed blood draw attempts and failed ABG draw attempts and they were talking about taking blood from my neck if I had to give more. I almost died. My condition was quite serious.
But when they came to me and told me I was going to have to give more blood for yet another test, I turned to my friend and said, “What would they do if there were something really serious wrong with me?”
She looked up at me like I’d just said the stupidest thing in the world. Then her eyes got watery and then we both started to laugh. She said, “Sweetie, this is pretty serious, I think…” and we couldn’t stop laughing at that point.
Yes, I was in the hospital and almost died and I’m sitting on the side of the bed, miserable, and laughing. Because I didn’t think it was ‘that’ serious.
The point of this is, it’s up to you how you choose to take things. You don’t get to choose what happens to you, but you absolutely get to choose how you respond to what happens to you. And your response, in a way, DOES help determine in small part what happens to you. And it grows from there.
For me, it’s always been about the small things, the little things in life. I didn’t fall in love with Dr. Michy in a fireball explosion of lust and passion… though there was some of that there, to be sure… I fell in love with him over all the little, patient, careful, considered things he did on my behalf. Buffy isn’t my best friend because of some grand gesture she made for me, though to be sure, she’s made a few; she’s my best friend because of all the things, big and small, that she’s done, but mostly, the day to day little things that keep my life working smoothly and for the better.
And it’s the same with negative too, if you want to go down that road. You don’t usually get divorced over the big splash of the affair. It’s really all the little things that weren’t tended to that led to the affair happening in the first place. Or whatever the other reasons are for divorce.
Fights usually happen because little things build up until they explode. Tend the little things along the way and they don’t build up.
You must find a way to laugh in any situation. Laughter heals. Laughter makes things better. Laughter is good energy.
Laughter is not a little thing.
So a year after I was released from the hospital that first time, I requested my medical records. On page one, I got pissed off because they said I was an obese women, presenting with hirsutism of the upper lip. Fuck you, UTMB. You try going months without being able to breathe and tell me whether you give a crap about some hair on your lip… that you didn’t even know you had!
What I meant to say was: This was on the front page of the report. Buried about 19 pages in, it said I had a myocardial infarction. This is basically a term that means a generic heart attack of sorts. Page one was about hair on my lip (which I no longer have, thank you very much!) and page 19 shares a heart attack. Nobody even told me I had had a heart attack.
I guess to the hospital, it’s all small stuff too.
But for some reason, four years later, it still bugs the crap out of me that my permanent medical records describe me that way, and doesn’t bother me one bit that I had a mild heart attack.
Because, you see, the little things, they matter to us.
And I think the secret to life is learning how to deal with the little things. Keep the ones you want, move through the ones you don’t and don’t hang on to them. Realize that everything passes. The only reality is right here, right now.
This exact moment in time. And nothing can be so bad in this moment in time if you’re still breathing. As long as you’re still breathing, there is hope, a chance.
For me, it’s hard sometimes to stay upbeat with all I’m dealing with. I get down. Of course, I do. And it’s almost always the little things that get to me. The irritating frustration of the droning sound of the damned oxygen concentrator. I wish the house could be quiet like it used to be. The need for the damned tubes up my nose. Being unable to stand up without getting dizzy. Having to lug oxygen tanks everywhere I go. Multiple doc appointments all the freaking time. Blood draws. Medical crises.
Just plain not being able to live my life the way I want to and feeling like snot most of the time.
But I’m here. And I’m alive. And that’s not little at all.
So I try really hard not to let the little things build up and get to me. And I’m learning that when you take things one little thing at a time, it’s all really little things. It’s when we let it all pile up to what seems insurmountable that we start to feel these little things are overwhelming.
One moment at a time. For me, one breath at a time.
Because, you see, in the end, life is a zero sum game. None of us get out of it alive. We can’t take anything we have here with us. Nothing beyond this life is guaranteed. So all we have is right here and right now. And I’m not going to spend a second longer than I must feeling sorry for myself, being angry, being sad, being scared of things that I can’t control.
Right here. Right now.
Breathe in. Breathe out.