For my Creative Nonfiction Workshop class, I had to read a recent memoir called Lightning Flowers by Kati Standefer. The title is derived from the pretty designs that get burned into people's skin when they're struck by lightning, and is an allusion to the implantable cardioverter defibrillator she has implanted in her chest. The story is about her literal and figurative journey that commenced when she discovered she had a hereditary heart defect that could prove fatal if she exercised too hard or was startled by a sudden noise. I won't try to describe it in all its complicated medical detail. It's called long QT syndrome, in reference to the interval between the Q wave and the T wave of the heartbeat being too long. Naturally, being in her early twenties and reasonably expecting to have decent health, she felt a bit of depression and anger. But this problem was compounded many times over by the additional, and far more preventable, problem of trying to get treatment for it in the United States of America without health insurance. This, as you may already be aware, is a special kind of hell.
So that's one major thread of the story, and interesting enough in its own right, but then there's another she weaves in. She was very thoughtful and angsty about this lump of machinery inside of her, and she asked herself whether saving her life - which it actually hasn't yet at any time, although it did shock her a couple times when she wasn't supposed to, and break inside of her and create a few more problems, and the question was raised about whether such an extreme measure was necessary for her situation in the first place, but in fairness, her sister also had one and it did save her sister's life - but anyway, in theory, whether saving her life justified the impact on other people's lives and the environment caused by the device being created. So she visited the factory and the team of specialists that designed it, and she visited the sort of mines in Rwanda and Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the component minerals had their origin. And what she found, as you may imagine, wasn't the most feel-good stuff ever.
The second week of class, Kati came and spoke to us because Jennifer knows her personally somehow, and we asked questions, or rather my classmates asked questions. I didn't know how to articulate my question in a tactful way. I wanted to know if she thinks her suffering has been "worth it" after this whole journey of discovery and writing this memoir, if she has a philosophical perspective on life that makes it tolerable. I'm thinking of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl's idea that life is about finding personal meaning rather than avoiding suffering. He was right, of course, and certainly he of all people had a right to say so. I don't feel I'm in a position to tell anyone to have a positive attitude about their suffering. We talk in church all the time about how suffering is a necessary part of God's plan, and how it's for our own benefit and will all be made right in the end, but those teachings are so much less convincing when I'm in the midst of substantial suffering of my own, or when I read a book like this and see the hell that someone else has had to endure. I couldn't do it. I would have opted to just live with my heart defect and let it kill me if it came to that. In the book, she expresses sometimes feeling the same way.
Afterward, as a class we had an informal "Book Club" discussion on Canvas. It gave me the opportunity to share my true feelings about the American health care industry - and I didn't think to call it that, but I should have, because it is an industry. It's entirely driven by profit. Building your health care infrastructure on a foundation of capitalism is about as brilliant as adopting wolves to guard your sheep and refusing to feed them. I was going to just summarize rather than share my entire post with its colorful language that I typically try to avoid on my blog, but then I thought - nah. Kati's experience in the American health care industry, though far worse than my own by every measure, was somewhat triggering for me. That doesn't make me regret reading the book, which I recommend to literally everyone, but it is a thing I have to deal with and I won't apologize for that.
You know, usually when I tell the story of the worst day of my life, Logan Regional Hospital's shitty staff are almost an afterthought, because the actual abuse from the Logan Police Department was the reason I was forced into their shitty excuse for a service in the first place, so it's nice to have opportunities like this to make sure those details don't get overlooked altogether. But in hindsight, I'm rather embarrassed by this outburst, for an obvious reason - I spelled Kati Standefer's name wrong. I literally could have just looked at the cover of the book or pretended we're close friends and called her Katherine. Fortunately my professor and classmates were willing to overlook that.
In summary, I hate this country.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.