This Guy Named Ted
There was this guy that lived in the neighborhood I grew up in. I don't want to tell you his real name. So, for the sake of this article, I will call him Ted. I did not know him personally. I mean, I met him a few times. But I didn't know him other than through the words of others.
I listened and learned
I was that asthmatic kid. Sometimes I'd hang out inside while the other kids played and I'd sit with the adults. I didn't say much. I just listened to their stories and listened as the ladies gossiped and the guys bantered.
I learned that Ted was a hard worker. He worked in a factory eight hours a day. After work, he'd hang out at a bar in town. He'd have a couple of drinks with the guys to relax and then he'd go home to spend the rest of the evening with his family.
Building and fixing
In his spare time, he built things and fixed things. Yet I learned that he rarely finished the projects he started. Or when he did finish them, it would be a long time after he started them.
For instance, he built his house. On the outside of the house, he put what looked to me like black tar paper and his house was black like that for several years. Finally, he finished the job one year. He did a great job. The house looked great when he was done.
Later on, he made an addition to the house and he got everything done except for the flooring. For years there the new room was left empty this way. Finally, he put the carpet down and he did a great job. His wife bought furniture and decorated it real nice.
"Ted takes forever to get things done." someone said once. "Ted seems to be lazy. He starts jobs and then takes forever to finish them. He's a procrastinator."
I never had an opinion. I was just a kid who was a listener.
Then several years went by. I grew up. I left for college. I got a degree. I decided to go on and get a second degree. A few years later I earned a Bachelor's Degree and I worked that job for a while and decided to go back to school. A few years later I was a respiratory therapist.
It was when I was in respiratory therapy school that Ted passed away.
Clubbing of the fingers
Things I learned in RT school got me thinking about Ted. I learned that some lung diseases cause chronic hypoxia and people with these diseases develop clubbing of the fingers. This is a condition where the tips of the fingers become larger than normal and the nail appears curved. The nails appear club-like, hence the name clubbing.
I remember Ted coming over for dinner once and I remember I couldn't stop looking at his fingers. I was amazed at how big they were. In retrospect, I realized that he had clubbing of the fingers. It is a symptom of lung diseases like cystic fibrosis or pulmonary fibrosis. It is also caused by some heart conditions. No one knows the exact cause, but it is thought to develop over a period of years due to low oxygen levels.
When was the last time you felt judged for something related to your COPD?
Several years later, I went to a picnic on the beach. Ted was there with his wife and they sat next to me. This time I noticed that Ted had a nasal cannula on his face and he had an oxygen tank with him. I talked to him about it and he told me he had to take the oxygen with him wherever he went.
Sometimes after Ted was gone, I was sitting around a fire pit in my parent's backyard. Ted's wife came over. At one point it was just me and her. And when the opening appeared, I asked a question: "Did Ted have pulmonary fibrosis?"
She said, "Yes. How did you know?"
I explained about the clubbing. She said she was impressed with my guess.
Chronic lung disease
Ted did not talk about his chronic lung disease. Other than his wife and kids, probably no one knew he had it until he had to wear oxygen all the time, and even then he didn't talk much about it.
Still, I have a lung disease and I know that I have to pace myself. There are jobs around my house that don't get done and there are other jobs that take a long time for me to finish. For example, raking leaves this spring took me a month to finish. I do this so I don't have breathing issues.
Thinking about how I pace myself got me thinking about Ted. I realized that he wasn't lazy. He wasn't a procrastinator. He was just doing what any good chronic lunger would do and was pacing himself.
Lung diseases are invisible diseases. Until Ted started wearing oxygen, no one thought he might have a lung disease. It was his desire to control the lung disease that had him pacing himself to get his work done. Because, as those of us in this community know, pacing yourself is a necessary strategy for coping with lung disease.
Ted didn't deserve to be judged. And neither do we.
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