I’ve a had a sort of out of body experience the last couple of weeks.
For two separate reasons, in two separate weeks, I couldn’t speak for a couple of days, and my hearing wasn’t that good. Thankfully, neither of the issues were permanent (I hope, I still can’t hear very well) but they were incredibly enlightening.
It started a couple of weeks ago when I had to have some stitches in my mouth. Yes it was painful and no I didn’t anticipate how painful it would be.
In fact even after the procedure I wasn’t aware.
Until the anesthetic wore off.
Then I was incredibly aware. It happened suddenly like the flip of a light switch.
It was eye-crossingly, body convulsiningly intense.
My doctor would ask me later if I had “reasonable pain management.” I kindly reminded him that he had suggested I take Tylenol, so I took that, and left out that the only thing “reasonable” would have been if he had given me a gallon of morphine juice to drink from every hour, on the hour for the next three days until the first of my dissolvable stitches dissolved.
The pain went from excruciating to tolerable with two very obvious side effects.
The first was that I couldn’t swallow without a sharp pain, also, due to the nature of the procedure, I couldn’t keep my mouth from watering. This meant that I was drooling pretty much non-stop for three days. And the only way to manage that was to keep a drool cup with me wherever I was.
Since taking a drool cup out in public seems to be frowned upon, I would just do a half spit half sneeze when I was walking outside.
Anybody walking behind me must have thought me troglodytic.
The other side effect was that talking was also extremely painful. It was possible, but only really slowly and at a very soft tone.
It wasn’t until my first interaction at a pharmacy that I realized how out of character this new voice felt for me.
I’m a big personality, full of life, gregarious even, and specifically so with strangers whom I think it’s fun to interact with. So when I got up to that counter and carefully cobbled together my sentence, the employee treated me almost… gingerly for lack of a better word.
I myself tend to mirror energy. If you are extroverted and playful and fun, I will usually be the same. If you are quiet and reserved, I will tone it down to match what you are putting out.
I’ve used to, well, terrifying people with my approach. I get it. It can be overwhelming. But it was extremely strange to be treated sweetly, tenderly.
I didn’t put myself in the position to have many conversations over those few days. Mainly because preventing drool while also forming sentences proved nearly impossible. And I’m quite aware how different the gentleman with the soft voice and the drooling gentleman with the soft voice are.
I was not out to make anybody feel uncomfortable.
It felt almost like playing a role. Like I was using somebody else’s body, or personality for a day. Stranger still was the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to instantly snap out of it, that this was my mantle until my mouth healed.
That person I was for those days almost seemed a bit easier to ingest for some. Less intimidating maybe? Not that I am some great planetary force, still, I can understand how introverts might feel safer than extroverts in one way or another.
Which is a perfect segue into the cold I’ve had for the last week.
I’ve been congested. It feels like I have a bag of tiny marshmallows stuck in my nose and lungs.
Everybody knows the feeling of being congested and feeling like your head weighs twice or three times as much as usual. What has amplified that feeling tremendously was the flights I took this weekend.
I went with my girlfriend’s family to a wedding.
The flight was easy, 2 hours with no bumps. Takeoff was fine, however the landing felt like this horrible pressure experiment on my ears. That feeling of sweet relief we get when our ears popped was replaced by this ever increasing pressure that was simultaneously painful and kind of muting.
It felt like I was wearing a crappy pair of noise canceling headphones.
I could still hear what everybody was saying. But I had to concentrate really hard to get it all.
It’s amazing how much we take for granted.
Like how we can be completely immersed in a task and carry on a conversation at the same time. Now, I’m sure nobody would say you are getting the full benefit of either, but still, it’s possible.
It was challenging. I could peruse a magazine and chat at the same time. I couldn’t gaze out the window and listen to the conversation at the same time. Listening, something I pride myself on, became kind of exhausting. It required so much attention.
I love being a part of the conversation, listening for opportunities to state my opinion or give a fact or crack a joke. That became less possible as I had to listen to closely that I wasn’t entirely sure I heard the correct sentence in the first place.
Being taller than most people didn’t help. Being at a wedding with a live band didn’t help either. It was another feeling of strangeness, out of body, like playing pretend.
It made me frustrated more often than not. And it wasn’t until the plane ride back that I started to equate my several days spent not speaking and hearing well.
It made me think of my friends whose day-to-day lives are like these. It made me think of how it continues to surprise me how much I miss the things I’ve never had to think about until they go away.
I always think about swallowing that way. Whenever I have a sore throat that goes away I try to focus on how amazing it feels to swallow without pain. And once in a while I will think of that and try to spend a couple of seconds appreciating that simple pleasure, as silly as it may sound.
So what’s the point? Who knows, beyond simple observations.
However, I think it speaks something to us being the sum of our parts not being a static thing, that just as who we are changes as we age, so do our senses, which continue to inform the person we want or can only be, for better or for worse.