Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Mechanical Lung, or Using a Vent in Public

A friend ended a recent note with, "So I hope you'll permit me to ask you some questions over the next few days about using a vent in public. The prospect feels like a narcissistic wound."

Ah, it is so, this thing about the human lung being connected to that preening little narcissistic gene dancing away in the human psyche.

I'm gradually becoming more dependent, I replied, but I can -- with the help of a little Tylenol-with-codeine -- go about 4 hours without the ventilator. Not in heat. Not in cold. Not when stressed. Not when in a situation sparking claustrophobic feelings. All of which situations I attempt to avoid.

I don't carry the little Trilogy (about the size of two shoe boxes stack vertically) on my wheelchair. Yet. I see the day on the horizon, though. I've used it when giving readings. I've used it in random other settings, but I've never taken it into, for example, a restaurant. Why? I'm self-conscious. I feel the vent is another "look at me" thing, although why anyone who rides around in a massive power wheelchair would worry about "look at me" I don't know.

I did use it in the outdoor pavilion during a recent family reunion (an all-day affair), and no one asked about it. One little fellow about eight did come up and say, "Hey, what's wrong with you?" I don't mind kids and their curiosity, and so I simply replied, "I didn't eat the vegetables when my Mom told me."

And truth be told, it's not a matter of convenience when it comes to carrying the vent around and into a public setting. It's ego. I see the vent (as I did the wheelchair early on) as a emblem of weakness, and we all know what the male ego thinks about weakness.

But I know this too: I use it more than I appear to use it. For example, I'm using it now, and I'll use it almost constantly as I write away the afternoon right up to the point I take a shower and hit the sack. I continue the charade by using it in the van when we travel to a place where I will refuse to use it because of self-consciousness, ego, or narcissism: a meeting, a mall, a restaurant.

Ah, but one cannot outwit entropy.

I know I won't be able to hide behind my ego indefinitely, and I believe I will stumble beyond whatever false embarrassment (from the fires of the aforementioned ego) I have conjured up long before I collapse in public because of inadequate ventilation.
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