Run-flat tires seemed like a good idea at the time. The automatic tire pressure sensor that came with the car also seemed like a good idea. Until winter hit. Sudden drops in air temperature led to minor reductions in air pressure. That led to stupid false alarms on stupid cold days. And that led to ignoring the alarms. After all, they were run-flat tires.
Recently, when it was stupid cold and icy, the sensor suggested the tire pressure was low. Because the car felt like it was floating, somewhat erratically, on the busy city streets, I pulled into a gas station. Did I mention that it was cold? And icy? There was nothing graceful about me getting low enough to check the tires, or fitting the hose to increase the pressure by 3 psi in each tire. The pressures were at the low end of okay, but they were all the same. I was probably over-compensating, but I didn’t want to have to do this again in a few days. So there! The tires were now at the high end of okay.
Until my wife and I drove together a few days later. Yes, I had over-filled the tires. No, it’s wasn’t ideal for these road conditions. Did I mention that clearing the roads in my new home territory is optional, and generally left to the combined effects of traffic and sunshine? There I was, a few days later checking the tires again.
I went merrily on my way, feeling confident that the tire pressures were good and bolstered by the rediscovery of a magic button marked ‘DCS’. In a rare moment of pragmatic lucidity, I let go of the need to know what the acronym represented and the theory behind the button. Push the button, get better traction. Noted.
What I had not noticed, and didn’t understand for about a week, is that some time during my merry wonderings, I ran over a sharp piece of metal. As Soren Kierkegaard noted "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." It seems so unfair at times.
Again, on a day that was stupid cold and icy, the sensor suggested the tire pressure was low. Because the car felt like it was floating, somewhat erratically, on the busy city streets, I pulled into a gas station. Did I mention that it was cold? And icy? And I was not becoming any more graceful with practice. At least this time it was worth it. I had a reading of 0 psi. Or, I had a broken gauge. I checked again. Then I went back to another tire. The gauge was good; the tire was flat. Strange. I filled it and went merrily on my way.
Next day, the low-tire indicator comes on again. By now, I am simply annoyed with the whole thing. They were run flat tires, and I was running late, so I ran it flat.
Then I filled it again.
It occurred to me that this was not a good metaphor for self-care. But it is a perfect analogy for my approach to self-care. First, I want to finish what I am doing; then I will rest, or get a drink of water, or see a doctor.
So, I stopped at the tire place on the way home. Twenty dollars later, the tire is fixed, good as new. And I had the satisfaction of taking care of business before it became a three-hundred-dollar problem. Go me!
So, I went to the doctor too. I could feel that my recent sinus infection had not resolved with antibiotics. I knew that no amount of at-home self-care would fix it. And I was starting to feel pretty funky.
What I had not noted properly was that all my visiting with recently-sick people might include visiting with people in a highly infectious pre-sick stage. I mean the kind of infectious stage that frequent hand washing can’t fix. Lived forward, understood backward, so unfair.
The next forty-eight hours were a blur of nausea, fitful sleeping and an irresistible feeling of being fully grounded in my body. Mortifying.
How can I be a good soldier if I keep getting sick? We need to keep pace; not let the team down. In my head, I know this is a ridiculous work ethic. Who are we trying to keep pace with? Automatons? Human frailty is a thing. For sure and certain, we are all human and we all have limitations.
It’s great when we can accept and prepare for the consequences of those limitations – like having run-flat tires and pressure sensors. After all the world is a dangerous and capricious place. For instance, my wife took wonderful care of me when I was sick. Now, as if to prove that no good deed goes unpunished, she’s about 18 hours into that blur of nausea, fitful sleeping and undeniable embodiment. Dangerous and capricious.
But – at least I am now well enough to take care of her. The only thing worse than attending to self-care and succumbing to human frailty, is not attending to one’s own needs and becoming unable to care for others.