M’Histoire: Pushing the River


I’m not sure, but I think I’m doing the same stupid thing I usually do
β€” talking too much about things people don’t want to know. After all,
that is the obvious next step after deciding one has A Message. Sigh.

This actually started before the last blogpost. There were a few
people I felt safe talking to before. I figured I was lucky. I worked
as the Head of the largest independent Dentistry Library in the world
for almost a dozen years. I not only know my way around the oral
health literature better than the average bear (if I do say myself),
but I also had the comfort of knowing that I had a lot of friends who
get what’s going on, who I could talk to about what was happening
without the fear of “scaring the straights.”

Back when I was at Northwestern running a multimedia lab for the Med
School, yes, they did have the William Hurt movie, The Doctor. No, I did
not watch it, but I heard enough about it I should have know better.
Mea culpa, no excuses. Actually, I should watch it. I’ve heard it’s a
really excellent movie. At IMDB they give it this tagline: “He was a
doctor who thought he knew it all… until he became a patient.” One
of the things I heard was that one big surprise waiting for him was
the way his relationships and interactions with other doctors changed.

I was in a meeting with a group of healthcare providers I’ve
considered friends for years, and who are absolutely passionate
amazing care providers. One of the things we work on is consumer
health information, which my library does for many communities and
with a variety of collaborators. I shared with them how my own current
issues have me looking at the website in a different way, that I am
looking for information more intently and finding that our website
seems sometimes a little frustrating or incomplete to me in its
current form. The discussion that followed was intense and
wide-ranging and a topic I will save for a different venue and time.

What really struck me was their eyes. At one point or another they all
expressed their concern and good wishes, but every single one of them
looked down and away when doing so. I was baffled. I don’t think they
were aware they were doing it, and they seemed to try to not do it,
but just could not make themselves meet my eyes. I, on the other hand,
stared at them more intently, almost like the doctors sometimes look
at me, with a fierce diagnostic puzzlement, probing and prodding to
try to elicit some shred of useful information to explain what was
happening, to force the shreds into a coherent pattern.

Was it that I spoke out of turn and it was inappropriate? Was it that
I was too concerned about the darn diagnostic test that has been
terrifying me since mid-December? Was it simply a bad case of TMI (Too
Much Information, please don’t share)? Or was it that this particular
group of people know far too much about this particular scenario and
what it could mean? Are they afraid that if I look into their eyes I
will see what they know about this and be more afraid? Is it that they
deal with this day in and day out as their job, with their own coping
mechanisms, and are uncomfortable seeing a one-time colleague slide
inexorably into patient-hood? That having a colleague as patient
breaks down the coping mechanisms that make it possible for them to do
what they need to do?