In the last few years I’ve spent countless hours driving from my home to major hospitals and medical centers for treatment of the variety of diseases my body owns. Most of these drives have been alone with nobody else in the car, though in the last few months a friend of mine named Mike has enjoyed the ride. He doesn’t drive but he likes to help me put me wheechair together, break it down, load it up, and help me out with doors and other obstacles. He also talks a lot even though he tells me often that he’s “shy” (If you meet him don’t believe a word of it; once he gets to know you, he doesn’t stop talking if he likes you.). He’s a good friend, and while I don’t ask him to come into the actual appointments with me, I often appreciate his presence before and afterwards.
My drive times to and from appointments are “decompression” times. Often it takes me 1 hour or more to get to an appointment and as long driving back home. 3 hours of driving per day isn’t uncommon on appointment days. If the weather is cooperating for me to pick up my favorite AM radio stations, I like to listen to Christian sermons and Bible teaching. Otherwise I may sing along to a CD or just enjoy the quiet and use my eyes to take in the scenery, as I prefer to drive the back roads through farmland anyhow. I may sing, pray out loud, or just try to quiet my mind.
If the appointment is for a new doctor, I typically feel especially wound-up and anxious so I try to keep my thoughts about the things I want to say to or ask the doctor. Inevitably I find there are a few questions I forgot to write down the night before (when I stayed up till 2am writing down my thoughts since I couldn’t sleep anyways) but it’s not possible for me to write while driving so I find myself trying to remember – trying REALLY HARD to remember by the time I get there. When I’ve been with a doctor for a while and I trust him or her (I mostly trust female doctors…most of the male doctors I’ve seen I haven’t kept on my payroll for real long, not sure why…), the anticipation isn’t so great and I enjoy the music or sermons more. Either way, I may have that nervous energy fueled by the adrenaline that gets me there and through the appointment.
The drive home has a different flavor, however. It’s feel depends partly on the news I received during my appointment. If my doctor has good test results and I’ve been feeling better or at least I know we have another treatment option to try before we’re out of ideas, the drive isn’t as difficult and I can hold it together. I may have a bit of hope and even sometimes I smile and feel happy. I like having a plan and being able to move forward. If, on the other hand, my doctor says “We’ve done all we can. We can’t do anything more to help you. You’re going to have to learn to live with this” or I’m feeling crappy and I’ve been diagnosed with another disease, there may be tears between me and the windshield, obstructing my view…tissues filled with snot getting thrown onto the floor of the passenger’s side of the car (that is, if I was able to find the tissues in time)…a bit of speeding (just 5 miles over, okay?)…and the occasional punch to the steering wheel (which my hands usually protest the next day). I can get away with this when nobody else is in my car and it’s just me, myself, and I. I can yell and cry if I feel the need.
It doesn’t work that way, however, when you have a passenger. First off, most passengers don’t appreciate you throwing snotty tissues at their feet. Yeah, not so cool. They also don’t like you punching your steering wheel or yelling or crying uncontrollably with heaving sobs. So when someone else attends an appointment with me, and I trust their driving skills, I’m glad for them to drive me home if possible. It gives me one less thing to think about and I can rest a bit more in the passenger’s seat. Yet it also means I need to save the expressions for later, which can be hard for me.
Just getting through the appointment itself is exhausting. I take that back. Just getting TO the appointment itself is exhausting, much less getting THROUGH it. I think it’s the physical effort, lack of sleep, energy spent in paying attention to driving while my mind is racing around talking about 15 other things, and the emotional battle before the appointment that together takes a whopping toll. When that gets combined with the effort of communicating so much in so little time and trying to keep my intestines from blowing up from anxiety (white coat syndrome, anybody?), it’s hardly a wonder that I’m “too pooped to pop” as one of my friends would say, by the time I’m trying to drag my butt home. With that kind of exhaustion comes a whole new challenge – controlling the expression of my emotions.
When I have a passenger/chauffeur with me on these day trips, the only way I’ve found to make sure I don’t burst into seemingly random tears is to shut up and not talk much. But that’s not like me either; I like to talk. Therefore I blog, right? 🙂 Even if nobody listens, I guess I still like to talk! So the silence strikes Mike and others as odd and friends know I’m not okay. Most are alright with me not being okay, but I kinda feel bad because I don’t want them to be worried over me…I just know I need to have some alone time afterwards to express what I’m feeling in my own private sort of way. The decompression has to be put on hold.
Perhaps one of these days I will manage all of this a bit better. For now, however, I still have quite the internal experience on my drive home, as do my passengers. Makes me grateful for those who stick with me, those who are my loyal friends even when it’s a rainy day, month, or year. You are appreciated.