Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Life Issues

The Risks that Come with Staying Well

Yesterday, I caved. Hoisted the white flag.  

It all started innocent enough. I decided Friday to contribute my part to the wellness industrial complex. I went in for my second shingles shot. Outside of a bit of discomfort in my left arm, I would be fine. Ride this out. The pharmacist administering the medication noted that the effects are varied–sort of the roll of the dice. She casually remarked that it slammed her husband. Too bad for him. Must be frail. Fragile. 

I should have listened. 

I’m told the shot is necessary because chickenpox hides dormant in the body. At a certain moment—like the worst moment possible—getting on a plane for an international destination, attending a state dinner with the President, or heading for a vacation on the Pend Oreille—shingles will strike.  

I’m beginning to think I should have taken my chances.  

After a night of the chills—right up there with Shackleton in the Antarctic—terrifying dreams, severe muscle pain, headache (the kind where you hear the constant sound of a hammer—what are they building?), assorted hallucinations, and the real possibility I should make sure my will is in order, I decided to get up. Tough it out. Swim, bike, walk, and finish certain writing goals. This is what people do who score high on Strengthfinder’s category, Achiever.

It was not to be. After some mindless moments at my desk, I conceded, gave in, and headed back to the discomfort of my bed. And I did something I have not done for years. I wrote the day off. Gave my facial stubble a day on me. Let my muscles atrophy.

Have you done this? Just say—“Okay God, I don’t want to squander the days. I know, I know, To whom much is given, much is required. Redeem the time for the days are evil. Press on. But today is a sort of loss leader. There’s a good chance it will earn no profit. In fact, let’s call it a loss. At the judgment, let’s just park this day aside as an anomaly.” 

What if you gave yourself a day to just sleep? Join the ranks of the pallid drones? Or binge on episodes of Foyle’s War. Or….? It sounds great. Sherlock and Brea were in dog heaven. A day in bed to with their provider and do what they do every day—nothing. But not after a shingles shot. It’s torturous boredom. You’re too out of it to read, too unfocused to think rationally, too down for the count to watch anything that has a plot. Your thought process is right down there with a retarded fruit fly.  

Even sleep feels like an effort. Like being sentenced, for there is no comfortable position. No moment where you go—that’s it. Like you just found the perfect sleep number. Under a pile of covers, I determined to move into unconsciousness, and I did—in cycles that lasted about four minutes, followed by endless staring at the ceiling. Sleep eluded me. An occasional glance at the clock told me this might be one of the longest days of my life. Time started to feel like a line at DMV. It’s January, but daylight seemed to go longer than the summer solstice in Norway. 

Then, as if it couldn’t get worse, it did. Much worse. My wife, who also raised the flag, came in and turned on the Hallmark Channel. 

There is something redemptive in all of this. Such moments bring me to greater sensitivity, especially to those who face these conditions every day. They also bring me back to my mortality. As Gawande puts it, in his book, Being Mortal, “Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bones.”

No one gets a pass. Immunizations push against these limits, but at best (no side effects), they’re simply patch jobs that can force one to face up to one’s temporality. And facing up to this is to face up to what one is doing with one’s life. 

Okay. After my HiCaf tea, I’m ready.

Sidenotes–Our study tour to Turkey still has room for any adventurers who wish to join,  See my previous post for details. 



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