December 4, 2012

Common courtesty...isn't.

So as of November 15th, I'm on oxygen.  There it is.  The next major change in the morphology of my lungs has happened and they can no longer provide enough O2 perfusion for activity or during sleep.  (Still OK at rest while awake.)  To me, this is a one of those major waypoints on the CF path, a certain point of no return.  More exercise might get my PFTs up, but it won't improve the tissue function.

It's been quite a learning curve just figuring out how to deal with oxygen as I move about the city, especially the timing of things as I put on and take off my cannula and turn the regular on and off.  Soon, I hope to be on a pulse regulator rather than continuous flow and perhaps make these tanks last longer.  For that matter, I'm looking into trying to get liquid O2 because these tanks will NOT last me long enough for a decent bike ride.  I went through 1/3 of a tank yesterday in a 2-mile ride (at 2.5 l/m).  So how is a tank supposed to last me even the length of a typical home-to-Spaeth commute?

Anyway, this post is about the changes I've seen in the way total strangers interact with me once they notice I'm on oxygen.  I have to preface this by observing that ANY change in physical appearance tends to make people react differently to you.  Anybody who regularly wears a suit and then one day just wears a t-shirt and jeans (or vice versa) can feel the changes.  My fedora is a big game-changer.  I quite simply get more respect, for some reason, when I wear that hat.

So knowing that as we walk among each other, we are all making snap judgements and snap decisions about our own behaviour, we can adjust our appearance and demeanor to suit our goals, if we wish.  Not many people DO, mind you, but we COULD.  And, perhaps, if more people did - and if those snap judgements were a wee bit more considered each time, then perhaps common courtesy itself would be on a rebound.

But that's dreaming, right?  Well...maybe.  Maybe not.

A few nights after I started on O2 while walking, I was passing by an NYU building just as a student was struggling to get out of a heavy door.  Poor guy was on crutches and in a boot.  Damn; I've been there!  I know that struggle.  Everybody else was walking right past, but I took a moment and opened the door and held it for him.  What a sight we must make - one cripple helping another.  OH wait!  I did not just use that word!  Neither of us are crippled - we're just temporarily burdened by certain medical apparatus.  Right.

So...has MY behaviour changed because of the oxygen?  Maybe.

Other people's has, I think.  I was in a grocery store last week; had stopped in to snag some boxes of Uncle Ben's but I also checked for some chocolate-fudge pudding.  And they had some!  I hadn't expected this, so there I was in checkout with my oxygen on and balancing several boxes of rice and pudding in my arms without a basket.  Dumb Dopher.  I dropped a couple boxes of pudding and the guy ahead of my turned around in a sort of annoyed way, but once he spied the oxygen, his demeanor changed instantly.  He quickly picked up the boxes amid my stammering explanation of  why I hadn't grabbed a basket.  Then he pushed another guys stuff further up the belt and dumped his own stuff out of his basket onto the belt so I could unload my arms into his basket.  I was shocked.  Strangers just aren't usually this nice.  Could this have just been coincidence?

Well, I don't think so because I can stack that up against similar observations about a decidedly uncourteous group: smokers.  Now, I don't want to get into a long discussion of what's courteous or not where smoking is concerned.  Suffice it to say that my standards (and other non-smokers') differ greatly from smokers' standards on what is common courtesy.

But now I'm seeing it happen where a smoker hanging out on the sidewalk, who would otherwise not give the first care about anybody else sharing that sidewalk, when seeing my cannula on my face, has clearly altered his behaviour.  Some hold their breath in until I've passed; some have turned 180 degrees to blow their smoke directly away from me or out of my path; some have stepped around a corner or off the sidewalk completely.  Not everybody, mind you, but some.

And if I need any last, definitive proof that my oxygen changes other people's behaviour for the better, there is this short incident:  I was walking near NYU and was trying to cross caty-corner.  I started to cross the streets in one direction, but the light changed and as I turned to start across in the other direction, a group of young men and women strolling up from behind me sort of blocked my path, so I went to step around them and pass in front of them as they, too, waited to cross the first street.  One tall kid didn't see me approaching from his right and crossing in front of him, I guess, and blew out a lungful of smoke right in my face.  I got two reactions.  First was a prompt, automatic, and almost sullen "sorry".  You know - the kind you give to a stranger you've bumped. No harm, no foul territory, right?  But the second reaction came an instant later, after he'd registered my oxygen cannula.  "I'm sorry!" he said again, but the tone was much different - completely honest and maybe a little embarrassed with himself.  I just nodded and kept going; I hope he understood that I understood his apology was genuine.

And THAT never would have happened without the oxygen.

We city-mice very much embody a "just deal with it" attitude about all things.  We enjoy the little trials that would drive our country cousins bonkers.  But even under the gruff and unsympathetic exteriors, there are human beings who understand when the rules of courtesy must be bent for the better. 

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