Thursday, March 15, 2012

About Face

I'm on my way to New Hampshire, chugging north from Maryland on the Vermonter (train #56 if you're scoring at home). This train is part of Amtrak's northeast regional fleet that has recently been upgraded to onboard satellite wi-fi. That means I'll have connectivity all day. Woohoo! (Among other things, that means I'll be able to track all the opening day action of March madness, as 16 first round basketball games will be contested today—it'll be a blizzard of hoops frenzy.)

I finished my reports from last weekend's facilitation training at Liberty Village about 1 am this morning, clearing my In Box before arriving today in Peterborough, where I'll be immersed in weekend consulting with Nubanusit, a relatively new cohousing community that's asked me to do some focused work with their facilitation team. Chugging north through Philly, New York, and Springfield today, I'll observe the novelty of a vernal reversal, as blossoms regress to swollen buds, followed by buds shriveling back into dormancy. It's springtime in the northeast!

• • •
Last night I had a bizarre experience in the course of my final dinner at Liberty Village, which was a community potluck. About 30 minutes into the normal exchange of people sharing the minor ebbs and flows of their diurnal experience, Vince casually mentioned that Ma'ikwe sure seemed to have enjoyed her echocardiogram. What?!

Ma'ikwe is going through health struggles right now as she suffers through a recurring bout with Lyme disease. While the main symptoms have been been achy joints (her arms and legs have been in pain nearly constantly the past month) and low energy, there is concern that she may have sustained heart damage (a relatively common occurrence with chronic Lyme patients) and she's wearing a monitor for 30 days to collect data about the electrical signals to her heart when she suffers an episode of dizziness or tachycardia. In recent days her pain and nausea have increased to the point where she was unable to accompany me on my current East Coast business trip [see my March 8 entry, Wife Down, for more on that].

Yesterday she was scheduled to have an echocardiogram done, as part of the testing sequence recommended by the heart specialist she's working with. Naturally, I'm concerned about her health—all the more so as she's struggling and not yet getting better—and we had talked briefly in the morning, via Skype. I caught her just as she was getting up (she had opened her laptop before making her first cup of tea) and we didn't talk long, but I could tell she'd not had a good night and I was worried about her.

Working on reports throughout the day, I had been regularly monitoring email to see if there was word from Ma'ikwe about how the testing had gone. Though nothing had come in by 4 pm (at which point I left my laptop to help my host prepare a dish for the community meal), I wasn't that concerned. There are many things that can delay communication and it's common for Ma'ikwe to be exhausted by a trip to town and need to simply rest afterwards. I figured I'd hear in due course and wasn't dwelling on it when I went to dinner.

Imagine my surprise then when I accidentally learned about Ma'ikwe's echocardiogram from someone who happened to be sitting at the same table with me. I had casually been explaining to Betsy, sitting next to me, that my partner had intended to come to Liberty Village as well, but had to cancel at the last minute due to ill health. Overhearing that, Vince (sitting at the end of the table) chimed in with news about how much Ma'ikwe had enjoyed her test today.

At first I thought I had misheard (how could Vince, who had only met her twice, possibly know more about what was happening with her than I did?). But then Facebook occurred to me. My wife participates in that alternate reality and I don't. [See my entry, Massaging the Medium, for more about that.] It only took me about 10 seconds to imagine what must have happened. Ma'ikwe had posted something about her experience on Facebook shortly after getting home and Vince had picked it up.

Simultaneous with my confusion (how could he know that?) I was eager for the news. The posting was brief, and I got to see it on Vince's smart phone:
OK, I know I'm not supposed to be enjoying this, but I have to say getting an echocardiagram done is one of the most frickin' cool things I've done in a while.

Reading between the lines, Ma'ikwe's upbeat tone meant that the news couldn't have been bad. Whew. So far, so good. Reflecting further though, she didn't actually say anything about the test results. Maybe they hadn't been interpreted yet (racking my brains, it seemed to me that the heart specialist only visits our county on Thursdays and the test had been done on Wednesday).

After savoring the news that she was in good spirits, I started to have a reaction to my getting a health update about my wife from a casual dinner companion. But then I paused. Maybe there was an email waiting for me that I hadn't seen yet. At that point it had been perhaps three hours since I'd last checked email, so I hit the pause button on the storm brewing in my stomach. In fact, I started chiding myself for being so reactive. It's a good thing that Ma'ikwe is willing to share her story and there was no reason to think I had been left out. Relax, I told myself.

Then I went back to my room.

When I checked email, there was no message from Ma'ikwe. Ufda. Rather than pout, I tried reaching her via Skype. No answer. Hmm.

I figure the phenomenon I was going through is the observe of the German term, freudenschade, which means pleasure derived from other people's misery. In my case, it was latent misery that emerged in the context of receiving good news. What did it mean that my wife had energy to share information about her echocardiogram with 900 of her "closest friends" on Facebook but didn't have the energy to tell her husband about it? I wasn't doing well with this line of thinking.

This morning, however, I'm doing better. I wrote Ma'ikwe about my confusion and frustration as the last thing before going to bed and there was a good response waiting for me when I boarded the train at BWI Airport. She'd been up at 4:40 am (not good) and we've started a dialog about how she protects herself from letting people in too close (even me) and about how it's far easier to jot off a breezy one-sentence Facebook post than it is to unpack the complex anxieties and despair that she must navigate as she attempts to face her health challenges.

Ma'ikwe is a brave woman, and I'm am both amazed and profoundly appreciative of her willingness to tackle the hard questions whenever one of us raises them. The last thing she needs to attend to right now is her husband's bruised ego.

No comments: