Thursday, November 12, 2009


There are so many things we take for granted when we're well: The freedom to go outside; eating good food; showering without having to ask permission; and so many other aspects of a normal life. One of the most profound things we take for granted is the ability to see someone's entire face. Because my immune system is basically shot, people have to wear masks when they come in my room, and I have to wear a mask when I have visitors. It's true that the eyes tell much in terms of expression, but when 2/3 of someone's face is covered, part of their humanness disappears. Mask: "A covering worn on the face to conceal one's identity." I never imagined what a difference a hospital mask can make. It really does steal part of one's identity.

I have been cared for by so many doctors, nurses, assistants, and other staff, I sometimes don't even recognize them when I walk around the floor. During such excursions, I am masked, but they are not. It's also interesting to note how often people look right past me, not aware if I smile at them or not. Now that I've been here awhile, more people are noticing me during my walks.

I miss seeing the faces of those who visit me. I can't have many visitors, since it's such a contagious time of the year, but for those with whom I do visit, I miss sharing the emotions that facial expressions provide, especially smiles.

For now, I will have to settle for reading people's eyes and voices. That's a lot, really. This temporary form of identity theft is for my protection. It keeps me from contracting bad things while I'm in the blue room. But the days are sometimes long, and I am anxious to escape this confinement.

This is Day 22 of treatment. Three more days of chemotherapy and then it's wait and see again. Part of being a patient is being patient -- something I have never been good at. I'd like to think that I could have learned this skill in a less dramatic way. But here I am. We respond to life's challenges with as much grace and dignity as possible, and control what we can. For now, the masks are necessary, but I really look forward to the day when they are no longer needed, and to seeing the identities behind them.

Do the world a favor, smile at everyone you see today.



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