A (Not-So) Tiny Sacrifice

I had IVIG treatment today. For the next couple days I will feel fuzzy and foggy — a small sacrifice to endure for a treatment that has given me my life back (and will continue to for years to come because I’ve been doing this for fours years, every four weeks, and there is no foreseeable end). Four hours of lying in a bed with an IV stuck in my arm is a tiny sacrifice to endure to live again.

How did it come to be known that IVIG (Intravenous Immunoglobulin) would help immune deficient patients battle whatever disease is attacking their body? This therapy has taken the body that has fallen off a couch, too weak to lift itself up off the floor, the body that has fallen down stairs, legs not strong enough to reach the top, and has transformed that body into one that can walk, do yoga, and swallow with no fear of choking.

I’m so grateful, but today, I lay in that hospital bed and wondered about the animals, chimpanzees, in particular.

I volunteer at an animal shelter. I feel empathy for neglected, abandoned, and abused animals. I want to take them all home with me and show them what love feels like. I want them to know hands that comfort, and not hurt. I want the dog who has lived its life tied to a tree to know the feeling of the warmth of a bed with soft blankets. I want the dog who almost died from thirst to know there’s a bowl of fresh water, in the same place, anytime he wants it.

I want all these things because I hate suffering. I participate in protests against puppy mills, and those pet stores who by from those horrible places (which is most pet stores) because I hate suffering. I changed my eating habits to a (mostly) compassionate diet because I hate suffering. I research companies who test on animals and buy a different brand because I hate suffering. I do all of this because I hate the idea of contributing to the suffering of another living being, and yet, I don’t know if the treatment I go for every month has been tested on animals.

A chimpanzee has a 98% genetic similarity to humans. If the therapy I get was tested on an animal to see if it would benefit patients with my disease, (I haven’t yet checked because I don’t want to know. I’m not ready to know. I’m a coward like that) it most likely would have been a chimpanzee. Ironically, my most beloved animal growing up. Stuffed monkeys crowded my room as a kid. My favorite was one where the hands velcroed together so you can sling the arms around your neck and pretend like the monkey was clinging to you. I carried this chimp around my hip all the time.

So how fitting would it be if the suffering of a chimpanzee is the reason I feel better?

Not fitting at all because the only way a company could test if IVIG would work for my disease (and any disease) is to take a species with a similar functioning healthy immune system and make it sick. Yes, make a healthy and vibrant animal sick for the benefit of a human life — my life — possibly.

I don’t believe that animals are here for humans to do with them what they will. Maybe the Bible states Man’s dominion over animals, but I don’t believe everything in the Bible anyway, so I’m comfortable disagreeing. They are not our trophies in a one-player sport, or our entertainment performing a display of tricks while enduring cruel treatment, and, some argue, they aren’t even here to be our food.

They are living creatures who know pain and fear, and experience joy and sadness.

I’ve heard the heart-wrenching screams of a mother cow as she watches her calf being dragged away only seconds after birth. I’ve watched terror take over a pig when it knows it’s about to be killed in a brutal way — thumping — the industry calls it. I’ve seen cows and Beagles, who have spent their entire lives in cages inside factories, without ever once feeling the sun on their skin, frolic joyfully in the grass for the first time. And when given an option to lay on the floor or a bed piled with pillows, my dog will always choose the bed. Why? Because it’s more comfortable, and animals, even farm animals, recognize comfort over discomfort.

Which one do you think they prefer?

Today, I lay in a comfortable hospital bed while receiving the fluid that will help my body function as normally as it can, but what conditions were the chimpanzees living in when they were (are) experimented on? I imagine they were forced into small cages, in a bland and cold room, locked up like a prisoner, frightened and sick, not knowing why they are there because they’ve done nothing wrong — except to have the unfortunate luck in sharing enough DNA similarity to perhaps the greediest, self-entitled, and morally inept race alive today.

And cowardly, too. That’s my race. That’s me. And maybe some day I’ll be brave enough to know how much suffering (sacrifice) a living being endured so I can have my life back.

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Michael Myers Versus the Needle.

I have a condition that requires infusion treatments called IVIG (Intravenous immunogobulin) treatments. No big deal. I sit in a chair for four hours with an IV stuck in my arm as a clear, gunky-like liquid substance slowly drips from a bag, through a tube and into my body. And for the next four weeks I get my life back (thanks to the healthy individuals who donate their plasma so people like me can enjoy some semblance of their old life).

Developing a life-changing illness (and there are many) can happen so quickly you feel you were teleported into this new life of constant blood work, invasive medical examinations, tests, doctor appointments, surgeries, hospital stays, pills (lots of pills), because you can’t remember how you got here. “Wasn’t it just yesterday that I hadn’t been to a doctor in over five years.” Um. No. Those days are over. And it doesn’t matter how young you are. If your body no longer works the way it’s supposed to, you see a doctor and you see them often.

Being diagnosed with a disease (any disease) takes you to a scary and lonely place.  I was never alone, but I was often lonely even though I had no shortage of family and friends calling me and offering their help, support, their love and their time. But still I felt a profound disconnect to the healthy people around me when I was the only sick person in the room.

A person with health can only empathize so much. Though my family makes me feel safe when I am at my sickest, they can’t look in my eyes and know, really know, how I feel the way another sick person can. The condition may not be the same, but the doubts and fears are.

I had no idea how much I would rely on other sick people to make me feel better because the first time I walked into the Infusion center I almost cried. It was a room set up in the back of a doctor’s office. There wasn’t anything spectacular about this room. It was a slightly-larger than regular sized room – emphasis on “slightly.” About eight or nine reclining chairs lined the walls in a circle. We sat next to each other with just enough space between us for a small table and maybe a handbag. There was no privacy. I could see each person and they could see me.

I almost cried and not just because of the lack of private space, but because the room was filled with sick people. Though I’d been sick for a while, denial allowed me to believe I was really a healthy person suffering from temporary set-backs. But I was there that day because my condition was getting worse, and yet I was still lying to myself. “What am I doing in the same place with all these sick people? I don’t belong here.”

But I did, and soon I realized how much I needed that place. Needed those (sick) people. After almost four years I have developed close relationships with my nurses and other patients who have become familiar faces with names and shared stories.

That place makes me laugh even when I want to cry. Like the time a woman (now known between my nurses and me as “The Screamer”) walked in. I barely noticed her… until she started to scream. Whatever her condition is, it doesn’t affect her lungs. That woman can scream. I couldn’t see her face because two nurses were sitting on either side of her, holding her down, but her feet were flailing. And those screams.

I turned to my nurse. “What are they doing to her?”

My nurse sighed deeply and said, “The same thing we do to you. They’re starting an IV.”

An IV? A simple needle? But those were “Michael Myers is in my room and he’s trying to kill me!” screams.

From then on whenever my nurse says to me, “Hey Alicia, ‘The Screamer’s’ coming in today.” I smile because no matter how sick I may feel, there’s always something to look forward to. More screams, please.

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Photos courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net