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The Trouble With Looking Healthy

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I look healthy. Healthy enough, anyway.

No one looks at me and quietly ponders with pity: 'How does he live like that? How does he sleep/eat/pee?' And as someone with a number of disabilities and significant health issues, I know how very, very fortunate I am to be able to say that.

But here are some things you cannot see: you cannot see that both my feet are acutely deformed with snooker ball-sized bony lumps, so much so I could probably borrow the Elephant Man's shoes; you cannot see the transplant scars - it looks like Zorro carved his mark and then tried to scribble his initial out; you cannot see the bullet-like wounds where various tubes have been stuck in for months on end or the mysterious hernia-looking bump which I have no clue about, but it doesn't worry the doctors so it doesn't worry me. You cannot see my wheelchair that I dread I will bound by again - it's currently on loan to a family friend who probably dreaded they'd ever need it in the first place. You cannot see any of that, but then I cannot see you either, at least I cannot see you very well - on top of all that, I'm a bit blind.

But I look healthy. Healthy enough, anyway. And that's just great, but here's the thing.

For the better part, my outward appearance comes with a sense of 'got away with it', and how very empowering that can feel. But the physical disabilities lurking beneath the scars and lumps are never far from the surface: walk too far and my snooker-balled feet are screaming for help using the agonising medium of neuropathic pain, entering a dimly-lit shop or restaurant is akin to being in the furthest reaches of a cave with a broken torch and if I see an oncoming flailing-limbed infant I instinctively and subtly shield myself in fear that a stray fist to the kidney will put me back onto the least desirable of waiting lists. On top of that, I'm permanently weakened by my once shredded stomach muscles - when I help friends move house I'm on 'holding doors open' and lampshade carrying duties only.

And it is when those physical ailments expose themselves that my fraudulent healthy exterior comes crashing down and is transformed into a curse, of sorts.

How do you judge the empty handed man casually strolling home on a Saturday afternoon while his wife adopts the role of pit pony and lugs two bags of grocery shopping in each hand by his side? What about the seemingly able bodied passenger who makes a beeline for the last available seat on the bus - a seat reserved for the elderly or disabled? And what about the 40-something who collapses in a heap after miscalculating the steps while exiting a bar at midnight?

Eyes roll, mutters are breathed and disapproving or mocking glances are fired from every angle. By blending in with the 'healthy', I have to blend in with those who display acts of selfishness, laziness, social ineptness and drunkenness.

But putting the 'oh woe is me-ism' aside, transplant forums are littered with such frustrations, and I'm sure the issue of perceived good health extends well beyond those living off recycled body parts - grateful though that I am sure we all are.

And it is not just the cynical judging strangers; while our nearests and dearests are still painfully aware of our limitations, it is the extended circles of friends with their: 'blimey, last time I saw you you were in a wheelchair', comments, followed by their: 'wanna trek around Australia for an extreme sports tour?' suggestions that prompt us to reluctantly reel off lingering symptoms and medication side effects.

Once you're off your drip, your dialysis, your chemo, your...whatever it was that has kept you alive long enough for successful treatment to be delivered and the colour has returned to your cheeks, you're perceived once again as a fully-functioning adult. Sadly, the reality for many of us is that what has not killed us has made us weaker; the ghosts of past ailments and conditions can still haunt us.

But we walk among you, blending in - we're some of the ones who are tripping over, sitting on the benches, walking into lamp posts and trying not to fall asleep on the bus.

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