things that suck

Some time back, a roommate of mine came out of his bedroom early one morning, went into the bathroom and soon exited holding a wad of tissue paper to his mouth.  He hadn’t yet shaved for the day, so it wasn’t a razor nick.  Had he bitten his tongue in his sleep?  I inquired.

He wasn’t sure what had happened.  He said his lip had just started bleeding out of nowhere, somewhere in the night.  He divulged that the same odd phenomenon had occurred the previous night.

Odd indeed.

Suddenly bleeding noses, I’ve heard of.  In fact, I was plagued with them for quite a while growing up.  But lips?  They didn’t appear chapped.  It was all very strange.  But I shrugged it off.

I was up unusually late the following night when my roommate emerged from his room – once again holding tissue paper to his mouth.  Only this time, he had the wide-eyed look of comprehension.

And horror.

While I hadn’t given the first two incidents much more thought, my roommate had, the mouth in question being his own.  He was a heavy sleeper, but that night, he had been determined to sleep lightly and figure out what was prompting the freak lip leaking.  As he lay there, fighting the urge to completely doze off, he became aware of a slight tickling sensation on his face.  Almost a numbness setting in.  Instinctively, he swatted and then dove for the lights.  Scanning in the direction of the swipe, he saw something moving on the floor.  An  insect of some kind flailed dazedly – a large insect that he did not recognize.

I squirmed and twisted as he related the tale to me.  There in his hand was Exhibit A, having been pressed between folds of paper towel.  It appeared to be dead, though it’s body was not crushed.  I could not identify it either, though it was about the size of a large boll weevil.  But a weevil it was not.

We each separately searched the Internet, narrowing down by characteristics, until we found a match for the intruder.  Moreover, we both had arrived at the same conclusion independently, deeming it more than coincidence.  The insect in question was a “kissing bug,” also called an “assassin bug.”

This specimen hails from the southwestern United States and South America.  It apparently maps onto one vertebrate’s breath somehow.  Then it nests nearby until nightfall.  When the host’s breathing reaches a certain rate or saturation, the kissing bug homes in on the breath, inserting a long needle of a proboscis into a lip and feeding on the victim’s blood.

I know.  You thought this was a family show.

It’s nearly impossible not to start quirking your mouth at this story.  I found myself running my hand across my lips frequently for the next few days.  My only consolation was to find that this insect was not a hive or swarm insect, rather more of a loner.  And the odds of the critter making it to the Northeast were slim.  The best we could figure, it must have come up in luggage from a neighbor who had traveled south, or who had just recently moved in.  Still, we had exterminators sent up.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

You see, it appears that this lip-sucker also has the potential to carry a parasite that can be “dropped off” during feeding, and which causes some rare illness called Chagas disease.

My roommate had insurance, but had not yet chosen a primary care doctor.  I called friends of mine, a husband and wife team of general practitioners.  I spoke with the wife.  As I told her about the incident, she interrupted me no fewer than five times:

“Stop it!”

“You’re playing a joke on me, aren’t you?”

“Tell the truth!”

But it was no joke.  She jumped on the Internet herself while I was on the line.  I could hear her punctuated blurts:

“No way!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“Eeeyew!”

Coming from a doctor, this said something.

Well, suffice it to say that they saw him right away and started him on a regimen of anti-parasitic medication forthwith.

For what cruel reason have I subjected you to this horrific tale?  Well, I suppose I am given to a bit of sensationalistic shock from time to time.  But I actually do have a point in this particular case.

There are a lot of things in life that “suck.”  But for the vast majority of them – however intense, overwhelming or terrifying they may be – they pass.  Even those that seem like they will not pass, they pass just the same.

Realizing this, I’ve taken to asking myself a simple question when sucky things pop up in life:  “Will this matter to me in a year?”

If the answer to that question is no, then with some practice and discipline, I just refuse to give it any more thought (beyond making it an outrageous party story, if the opportunity presents itself).

If the answer to that question is yes, then I set into another set of questions.

First, I ask myself, “Is there anything I can do about this right now?”  If the answer is yes, I do it.  Right then.  In the case of my roommate’s nasty visitation, what he could do is find the number of a doctor to call as soon as the business day started.  I provided that.

If I determine that there is nothing I can do about the sucky thing immediately, I then ask myself, “Is there something I can do about it later?”  If there is, I write down what I can next do about it, and when I can do it.  Taking this step to write down my next move works wonders in getting the niggling thought out of my head.  Whenever it comes up again, I just remind myself that I’ve got that slip of paper and I don’t need to think about it anymore until that time.  In my roommate’s case, the revelation came in the middle of the night.  He could not immediately see the doctor.   Had I been him then, I might have jotted down “Call Dr. Smith at 9:00AM” along with his number.  I might also have written the name and number for an exterminator and for the leasing office of my properties, along with their hours of operation.  And that’s it.  There is no more I can do (perhaps thoroughly searching my room with a flashlight, just to be sure!).

If I find that I cannot do anything immediately or at a later time – then there is nothing I can do.  Being miserable, depressed or fearful serves no purpose other than to prolong the suckiness of the incident.  Again, by practice and discipline, I remind myself of the steps I took and that there is no longer anything I can do.  If the thought resurfaces, I know that I’ve already done all I can do and I actively choose to put it out of my mind.

In doing this consistently and rigorously, I’ve actually managed not to worry or brood much in life anymore.  I believe anyone who knows me well would attest to this.  Yet it was not always so!  It took being consistent and following the “formula.”  But it didn’t take forever.  Now, it’s a normal part of life.

One note.  I understand that grief from significant loss, death or trauma are in a different category.  However, the same principles apply, even here.  Perhaps what you can do right now is seek some help in processing the loss.  Maybe a next step when certain thoughts come is to call a confidante, or visit a graveside and talk out loud.  Grieving is a process and should not be rushed.  Nor should thoughts of a lost loved one be denied.  But positive choices can still be made that keep grief from becoming paralyzing as it takes its course.  Remember, we can’t always choose our circumstances, but we can always choose our next step.

I wish you good night.  I trust you will sleep tight.  I definitely hope the kissing bugs don’t bite.  But even if they do, give these new  strategies a try.  See if they can lessen the time spent in worry, and increase the time spent enjoying the many wonderful things that life is presenting in the moment.

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