08 May, 2013

Talisman, Talisman

tal·is·man \ˈta-ləs-mən\

An object held to act as a charm to avert evil or produce miraculous effects.

It was just a simple piece of plastic. Expensive, but simple. I had kept it as an afterthought on my way out of the hospital in March of 2009. I no longer needed it when my tracheostomy tube was removed - so I just placed it in my eyeglass case. Intentionally placed it in my case, I think. I found it months later having completely forgotten about it. I obviously sensed it was important at some level but did not fully appreciate how much.

In one of those spur of the moment actions, last May I showed it to a close friend at work and asked if she knew what it was. Of course not - but once I explained, she immediately seized upon its significance and dubbed it a talisman, a favorite word for both of us. It remains on my desk as a reminder of challenges overcome, but I did not understand how powerful a talisman it was until last August.

My friend's sister had been ill with a variety of difficulties, one of which ultimately led to her receiving the same procedure I had undergone. It
represents the best of times and the worst of times - a welcome but trying experience. One is happy to breathe more easily but frustrated with other aspects of the tracheostomy. The one that has prompted this reflection is that you cannot speak without a special valve inserted in the opening. That valve is today one of my talismans.

It has power. It reminds me of much that could have led to despair but did not. I do, of course, recall waking and thinking I was never to speak again; that misconception, however, was easily corrected. Although there are a number of unpleasant memories of that time, there are happy ones too.

I remember the speech therapist placing his finger over the opening in my neck and presto - speech! He then taught my wife how to do that - at least for very short periods since you can't breathe. My mother was finally able to hear her son talk again. I had been silent and in drug-induced la la land for weeks.

I remember the exuberance I felt upon receiving the valve, but I also remember the feeling of helplessness when it had to be removed each night during sleep, not to be reinserted until someone did it for me the next morning. I did not and do not like that feeling.

Helplessness is an enemy, and for almost four decades I have fought instinctively whenever it has tried to gain a foothold. Unlike my own, it is an unwanted voice. Nothing good ever comes from helplessness, and I hope that everyone has those experiences in life that help preclude or at least diminish any potential helplessness or its shadow, hopelessness. I also hope that if it ever should occur, it evaporates as quickly as the morning mist.

As for me, there was a decade beginning in the late-60s when helplessness grew modestly, slowly, and unnoticed, but I am a lucky man. From a reservoir previously untapped I found what was needed to silence its paralytic message, and it won't be back. Not even a whisper.

Nevertheless, my talisman is a faithful reminder, and it encourages me. Look around. I am sure there are similar items in your life. Find them. Let them help you remember lessons that have sometimes been learned at far too high a cost, and those are the ones we do not wish and can rarely afford to repeat.