My love affair with my lungs began just over twenty-six years ago. November 1981, to be exact about the whole thing. Like so many other relationships, this one started out nearly perfect. Oh sure, there were the usual getting to know you bumps in the road—the awkward first few moments as a couple when neither of us knew exactly what to do with ourselves—but then I opened my mouth for that all-important first wail and the honeymoon began. From then on, my lungs and I were, quite literally, inseparable.
As often happens, though, I think my parents knew there were going to be problems down the road long before I did. My love of my lungs and the life they gave me was too all-consuming to allow for any doubts or questions. And so, even after the pneumonia that led to my diagnosis with cystic fibrosis at six weeks of age, I remained deeply and utterly committed to making things work with my lungs. Of course, there were bad moments. Moments when I sat on the floor of my bedroom, the nebulizer mask on my face smothering me with its salty mist, and thought wistfully of what it might be like to have lungs that weren’t quite so demanding—that showed some interest in the activities I so much enjoyed, like hiking, horseback riding, or downhill skiing—but I never seriously considered ending the relationship. How could I? After all, my lungs and I were a pair. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health.
And so, year after year, I shouldered the burden of meeting my lungs’ increasingly controlling and manipulative cries for attention. I spent countless dollars on expensive machines to make them happy, soothed them with special medicines and salt water therapies that left the rest of my body screaming in indignation, consulted some of the best minds in the country for advice on how to put the spark back into our relationship, and spent more than a few sleepless nights tearfully begging them to put in just a little more effort. And then, sometime around the twenty-fifth year, the truth finally dawned on me:
I was in an abusive relationship.
So it came that, a year later, I am finally ready to begin the process of getting out of what has clearly become a bad situation. I’ve already negotiated the terms of the divorce for myself in a way that only a lawyer could. I’ll keep my metaport and my ineffective pancreas if my lungs are willing to take the mucus and the scarred airways. I’d like to keep my doctor but am only too happy to relinquish all custody rights to the pseudomonas (although I worry that those little critters might insist on some form of visitation). For all I care my old lungs can take all the fancy medicines and machines I bought for them when they leave. And, yes, my lungs will be moving out. This whole living together thing isn’t really working so well anymore.
Of course, I have my doubts. I worry that I might never be able to find another pair of lungs that I can love like these. That I might leave one bad relationship only to find myself struggling against an even worse one somewhere down the line. I worry that I’m not strong enough, that my neediness after the separation from my lungs will become a burden for my friends and family, or that I might not be up for the challenge in some crucial way. Most of all, like all newly single girls starting over yet again, I fear the overwhelming possibility of rejection.
But ultimately, I know that this is something I at least have to try. I have to trust the advice of all those people who love me well and who insist that I can do better. I have to trust myself that this is right and that I deserve a chance at life with new lungs. In short, I have to go back to believing in fairy tales…or at the very least in happy endings.
So here I am. Twenty-six years old and just starting out on what is likely to be a very long journey to free myself from the lungs I once loved. And still love, to be honest. Despite all the fights and the power struggles and the petty revenge, my lungs and I have always been there for each other. That sort of bond doesn’t break easily. I know I will be sad to lose them, but I will not be sad to see them go.
Breaking up really is hard to do.