You know, I’ve had to think a lot about medicine and drugs lately.
About the middle of week four of my radiation treatment (my total treatment schedule took about 6.5 weeks), I started feeling the side effects of radiation. I’d lost my ability to taste and was back to a liquid diet, I was feeling worn out, and worst of all, I was starting to spend a bit of time every morning coughing up this bright yellow mucus.
During my weekly check up with my radiation oncologist (who was threatening me with a feeding tube if I lost any more weight), I said NO! I will not take any narcotic pain killers. I tried to remind her and her nurse that most narcotics make me feel even worse – often to the point of vomiting. I reminded her that I was allergic to codeine. Why would I take something that I KNEW would make me feel worse? Wasn’t I suffering enough? Besides, I didn’t want to end up as a statistic of the opioid crisis.
That’s when the oncologist laughed at me.
After a few more minutes of heated discussion, I won. I went to see a pain management doctor elsewhere in the hospital to discuss other non-narcotic options to help me get through the last couple of weeks of my treatment.
But the point was clear in my head: some doctors are really not afraid to dole out the meds. It is up to the patient to take control of their thoughts, pain and fears and do the right thing for themselves.
Fast forward to when the neuropathy in my mouth was a bit more controlled. I was able to think a lot more clearly and my daily tasks – including checking in with work – were sort of getting accomplished. I still slept a lot.
One evening, I happened to be part of a conversation around the dinner table. Really, I wasn’t participating. Just listening, since I was having some trouble speaking more than a couple of words without coughing. It didn’t matter, though, if I said anything or not – this was an old conversation that I’d had (or listened to) in many different places with many different people. Every single iteration focused on one of two scenarios, something like this:
Person 1: I have guns! I need my guns! I live (insert country metaphor as desired). I need to protect what I have! You understand Jen, you live in the same place as me!
Person 1: Well, you lived in bear country, right?
Me: Yes, I’ve lived in rural areas of Alaska, Washington, Colorado and Wyoming.
Person 1: You need to protect yourself!
Me: From what? I’ve hiked in all of those places, by myself, for years. I know what to listen and watch for. I’ve come across bears, even when I’m hiking alone. (This is when I tell the story of the juvenile bear – probably out of the den and on his own for the first time that spring – that crossed the park road about 25 feet in front of me when I was hiking down the road from the rest stop to the Teklanika River early one spring before the Denali park road opened for the year. The bear stopped, I stopped, and we watched each other for a bit. I started talking to the bear and he walked off the opposite direction. I kept going the direction I was going and did not turn back to my car.)
Person 1: You weren’t scared? I would have sighted him. He wouldn’t have gotten me.
Me: Um. I’m still here. He didn’t even come near me.
Person 1: I would have shot first and asked questions later. I need to protect myself.
Me: The human voice is really a good weapon against wildlife. They hear us coming and often have moved in the other direction before we every knew they were that close to us. They don’t want to be around us.
Person 1: I don’t care. I will protect myself.
Me: Um, I think you’re missing my point. Let’s move on.
Or Scenario #2:
Person 1: I live in XYZ Big City! There are crazies everywhere! I have to have my concealed carry permit. I never leave the house without my gun!
Me: Ok. *shrugs*
Person 1: Don’t you ever worry about what people are going to do to you? You don’t live in a good part of town.
Me: Yeah, I’d love to live in a mansion with servants.
Person 1: I’m serious. My neighbors are awful. I had to call the cops the other night because they were making so much noise at midnight and I needed to sleep.
Me: You needed a gun to call the police?
Person 1: Of course not. You’re being to haughty. I need the gun to protect me and my home. People get robbed all the time.
Me: What does that have to do with noisy neighbors? Are you going to threaten them with your gun? My bike got stolen about 15 years ago.
Person 1: See? I’m not going to let anyone take anything from me!
Me: You think I chose to let that happen? It happened while I was asleep one night. They cut my bike lock off.
Person 1: I need to protect me and my family. You never know what people are going to do.
Me: I was asleep in my bed when the bike was cut from inside its lock. I don’t own a gun.
Person 1: I don’t know how you feel safe in your own apartment, alone, without protection.
Me: Ok. I don’t need a gun.
Person 1: How would you defend yourself?
Me: I’ve taken a couple of self-defense classes. But really, you’re more likely to get attacked by someone you know, in a domestic situation, than a total stranger on the street.
Person 1: *shakes his head* I’d at least keep a gun in my bedroom if I were you. Somebody is going to take advantage of you and your situation.
Me: Ok. I’ll let you know when that happens.
(I hate to stereotype, but I believe more men have said this to me than women. I have been in… um… domestic situations. It’s not fun. Without giving details, we’ll just say the powers around me prevented me from standing up for myself as I would have liked. But guns would not have helped.)
I have had these two conversations again and again with so many people in so many different places over the years. It took until my cancer treatment this spring, and my (forced) slower lifestyle, to concretely realize just how much of a high some people get off of fear. Forget the opioid crisis for a moment (yes, just only one moment); the new American High is fear.
Fear of the unknown. Fear of things beyond their control. Fear of things people TELL them to be afraid of (even if they haven’t actually experienced it and may never). My favorite is the fear that “they” (whoever “they” actually IS) are going to take away your lifestyle, particularly when talking about the gubment. (Read: government, although these types rarely pronounce the word fully.) Trump is making a LOT of money off this last one, shame on him.
Let’s see. I like to knit socks. So, since wooden knitting needles are such a hot commodity, my $8.00 set of bent needles that I’ve had for 17 years are the target of a thief? Or is s/he going to cut out the part of my brain that lets me think through my knitting patterns? Is THAT stealing my lifestyle?
Perhaps the example above is simplified, but I mean it when I ask: Do you want to live in fear? Do you already let fear control you?
Yes, there are bad people everywhere. Yes, a few people get injured every year by wildlife.
No, the government really doesn’t care how many non-reality shows you watch on TV. But you should. And you should probably stop that habit.
It is my theory that, if more people took a more proactive approach to their lives and lifestyles, knowledge and experience would drive out fear. But too many people are way too passive in their acquisition of knowledge and experience.
If you’re afraid of wildlife, get out and do some hiking. I’ll go with you. (Although my present physical state might limit the number of miles we cover.) If you actually see any type of omnivore or carnivore bigger than a marten or a fox, and other than human beings, I’ll buy you a beer.
If you’re afraid of the people around you, get to know them. I’d wager you’ll find they are more like you than you think – even if they don’t look like you or live like you.
If you’re afraid of some group or government entity stealing your lifestyle from you, I’d like to challenge you: start thinking about this… upon what is your lifestyle based? Material possessions? If you are speaking of religious affiliation, what politician is stopping you from going to church? Next time they block the doorway to your house of worship, take their picture and send it to me.
Even criminals who steal peoples’ identities generally do it digitally. How would a gun help with that? Are you being safe online?
Guns are not the answer.
“But I’m a hunter!” say some people. I know subsistence hunters. And I know Bubba Rednecks who claim the Second Amendment. They are generally two divergent groups, in my experience.
Like I said earlier today, you cannot prepare for every eventuality. But I am going to do my best to not let fear control me. My choices may take more work than some people’s, but no one can steal my knowledge of sock making.