December 9, 2013

Blowing out tunnel vision

Pulmonary Rehab Day 43. 

One of the CO2 buildup problems I experience when exercising now is tunnel vision.  Maybe this isn't tunnel vision as other people have experienced it.  Certainly not like movies and television depict it.  Actually, I still see everything my eyes take in; but my brain ceases to process the more peripheral signals meaningfully.  It's as if the translation part between sensing and understanding has been shut off.  This "narrows" my perception of the world to only what is directly in front of me: either the water fountain across from Bike 2, or the green cork of the track ahead of me.  Everything outside of a very central focus starts to lose meaning and can even become unsynced from reality; the picture at the edges is about a half-second behind the picture in the center, and blurs somewhat when I move my head.  My other senses are unaffected as of yet, and they verify that my sight is not synced up.  It has led to some terrifically awful moments where I thought I was seeing something other than what I was actually seeing.

So how do I get rid of this?  I stop.  I sit.  I breathe, concentrating on pursed-lip breathing.  In a couple minutes, the tunnel vision gets blown out, though there are other CO2 effects that take 20 to 30 minutes to be relieved of.

It strikes me that this physical sensation during exercise is analogous to my overall experience here at Duke.  Of what I can see or be told, my perception of it all may in fact be skewed, with only a small part being in perfect comprehension. Furthermore, I'm also aware that I'm losing emotive connection with the rest of my life.  The import I previously assigned to house, home, job, friends, pets, New York.... it is all becoming like a dream.  Like a life I read about on somebody's blog.  I've only been here two months and already the meaning of the on-hold portion of my life is becoming warped and suppressed, leaving me to focus ever-more on what's in front of me.

Blowing out *this* form of tunnel vision means asking questions, weighing the answers, comparing patients' stories.  It means staying in touch with old friends in New York and planning for a real future after transplant.  It means continuing to make new acquaintances here with people whose own stories put mine in perspective; for they blow out the central focus and bring clarity to more of what's around me.

Today, I was running late and missed my usual morning floor class.  So I returned to rehab to attend the 4:30 floor class. There, I made the acquaintance of three sweet old ladies. Other than the instructor, it was just me and them in the building by the end of class.  Now, I'd seen them before, but hadn't had a chance to even introduce myself, much less socialize.  It turns out these three have been here a long, long time.  They each have high antibodies, so their waits for lungs are so far anywhere from 5 months to 18 months.  This is long, in Duke terms.  They are also three of the most patient, cheerful women I've met in rehab.  And like Macbeth asking for knowledge of the three witches, I asked how they can stand it - seeing patient after patient come and go while they wait.  They pointed out that they get to know people and are genuinely happy to see them transplanted and move on.  They mentioned every day they can go to rehab is a good day, really; but that they've kind of stopped believing their phone will ever ring.  I explained my 10-month wait in NY and feeling the same way.

They assured me as I was leaving that I'd be Thane of Cawdor.  No!  They said "you'll get transplanted soon!"  And I walked out into the drizzly cold with an expanded awareness of the state of things.  My world somewhat redefined, made clearer; my own place in it more firmly located and sized.

Tonight, I was reminded that I suffer tunnel vision only by my own doing, and that I have the power to blow that out.  By sitting. By breathing. And by talking to new friends.

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