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5 Ways People React to My Port-a-Cath

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Evidently when you’re out and you’re extremely sick, and you have a giant bandage on your chest with a tube sticking out of the end of it, people assume you are in fact extremely sick. However, the reactions usually fall into a five categories.

1.The Infected: Grabs their children (or wives, girlfriends, etc.) and “discreetly” covers their own mouth in a dapping fashion as they walk slowly away.

Me to me, “Thank you, I’m not contagious. Resist the urge to cough. You are the only one that will find it hilarious. Na, do it anyways you deserve a laugh. Which I usually do end up laughing and coughing.”

2. The Toucher: For no reason known this stranger finds the need and a way to touch you. Repeatedly. It’s always in a reassuring way or some sweet old lady offering comfort…by touching you.

Me to me, “Thank you, it’s not like I’m not obviously already fighting off enough disease – let’s add whatever you had on your hands, arms, body….again thank you dear…Stranger. Let’s not make this awkward or anything.”

3.The Puppy Pity Eyes: This one is simple, a glance downward to the port a glance back up to make brief wide-eye contact and usually coupled with the occasional closed mouth half grin or a half a shoulder shrug.

Me to me, “Man, don’t to that. I’ll cry so fast. Just please…don’t. Or the opposite on angry days, Yeah, so what…I’m still rocking it with a needle in my chest! Now what!?!”

4. The Witness: This happens the most often because I live in the south, but regardless of where we go we run into the, “Have you heard of ‘Jeeessssuus?’” person. You must say this like a Southern Baptist Preacher, with extra emphasis on the “Gee” and “Zus.” Or the I’m going to pray for your healing right now individual!

Me to me, “Wow, I never in all my 33 years of being a believer thought about asking God to help or heal me…thanks, but I’ve known Him my whole life. We are homies.”

5. The Interrogator: Asks a million questions about what “that” is, what is it for. Then of course they have always heard of someone who did something to cure themselves. This one can be very rude. And one of the hardest to deal with or can be when I find someone with common struggle.

Now, this has become a joke between my family and I when I have to go out in public with my port accessed. I’ll say, “Are you ready for the awkward, confused stares and the, “Have you heard of Jeeessssuuss speeches? OK, let’s do this.”

I know what you’re thinking, that there is no way this is real. Why then darling, let me tell you a little tale…

A picture of the writer adjusting her Port-a-Cath.

The Case of the Toucher

One time in a doctor’s office a sweet, little old lady came across the room. I don’t know why, but I knew she was a “Toucher.” I mumbled to my Mom through my closed lips,”Mom…MOM, she’s coming over here…save me…oh no, oh no, oh no.”

Usually older generations recognizes what the port is and know that it’s serious. So here she comes straight for me as I’m nervously trying to not make eye contact too much because I don’t want to encourage too much interaction.

But again, I live in the South where everyone else’s Grandma is your Grandma too. And just to warn you, it doesn’t matter if you believe this ideology or not because the southern grandmas, they do. There’s absolutely no point in fighting it.

With her gentle kind voice she said, “You look so sad, it’s going to be OK,” over and over as she rubbed my cheek  with her hand.

Now, you may be thinking, “Aww that’s so sweet. She just wanted to offer comfort.” And you know what, I agree.

But she was coming out of a freaking doctor’s office…obviously not somewhere healthy people go! The entire germ center of my brain is screaming and I think to myself, “I wonder if they will tell me what you were here for so I can get a shot for that too.” Followed immediately by, “That woman had the softest hands I’ve ever felt, I should have asked her what skin care she uses.” In all honesty, I’m pretty sure I mumbled both to my mom. Then like a broken record stuck on repeat kept saying, “She touched my face, she touched my face.” Adding emphasis on a different word each time.

She. Touched. My. Face.

Slowly turning, looking back at the door she left out of and added, “She had the softest hands I’ve ever felt in my life. I should have asked skin care she uses.” All of this out loud. In public. Which I realize as they call my name, so I stand up to go into the exam room still looking over my shoulder hoping she’d come in and in fact tell me what skin care she uses. She never did. I did however use half a bottle of hand sanitizer on my face, neck, shoulders and arms…just in case.

Need further evidence you say? Well how about this one…

The Case of the Witness

Sister-in-love (we don’t say “in-laws”) and I are in the middle of nowhere town in the parking lot of Fred’s containing all of maybe four other vehicles, including ours. I make the usual joke, “Are you ready for the awkward confused stares and the, ‘Have you heard of Jeeessssuuss speeches?’” she laughs it off saying there is no one here and she doubts we will have to worry about it.

Bless her heart.

We get inside, gather a few things and make it to the check out line with just a few confused stares so we actually both start to think we are in the clear this time.

Uh, nope.

An elderly man starts to wobble over to me and my first thought is, “Oh no! He is lost, needs help or something!” He was wearing a baseball cap and his face was all crinkly with wrinkles as he smiled at me. I smiled back and he starts talking.

“Have you heard about Jesus?” He’s the kind of old man that chews on his words. And he asks me again with more enthusiasm as he hands me a pamphlet from his flannel button down shirt.

“Yes sir, and thank you for this. You be careful in this heat. God bless you.”

I grab my bags quickly and try to get out as he is still talking and I’m only understanding about every other word he is chewing out. Then I see him turn towards my sister-in-love.

Now I have a choice to make. Do I go back and try to save her, or do I just leave her to hear the whole spill like I did?

Ugh, I had to go back.

Just as I’m walking up he is handing her a pamphlet too. I laughed and told him she was with me.

That’s when he gave her two! As he motioned his head towards me, and said, “to share with a friend.” I’m not kidding! He gave her another one! Just because I was with her! Before you start and say it, I know I’m too nice. I can’t help it. It takes a lot for me to snap and even more for me to be rude to someone. We both laughed and thanked him.

As soon as the store door closed behind us, I mockingly say, “Oh I’m sure we have nothing to worry about…Thanks sis.”

This is a shorter example but one experience less than a year after my Port-a-Cath was put in, that will stay with me forever.

The Case of the Interrogator

I had a doctor’s appointment and stopped by my bank’s branch closest to his office to deposit a check. The teller was kind and went through the whole process.

Then she pointed to my chest where my port is. It was accessed (needle in with dressing) at the time, and asks, “What’s that?”

I looked down, “Oh, that’s my Port-a-Cath. I get medicine for Lyme disease through it.”

She leaned back in her chair, “Where do you get one of those? Seems like everyone is getting one lately.”

I could feel my blood being to boil and steam start shooting from my ears. But I swallowed that rage down, reminded myself she’s just ignorant and doesn’t know better. In my best Southern Belle charm replied, “Yes ma’am, it’s astonishing that 300,000 people are diagnosed each year and people still don’t know about what’s happening to people in their own community. It’s an absolute shame.”

With that I turned around and walked away.

My Granny always taught me a true Southern Belle could curse you out without ever saying a single foul word. I understand that more and more as I grow older and deal with ignorant people.

Originally published: August 14, 2018
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