“Got any spoons in the drawer today?”
“1 or 2”, Adam sipped his Chinese Tea, his chubby face forcing a smile. “I need to be careful that I don’t use them all today.”
“Gotcha.” It was a familiar conversation between him and me. Once a month we’d get together at the Asian buffet and catch up over lunch. Each time I saw him I hoped that he would look better, but it was not to be.
Spoons? you ask? I am speaking of the “Spoon Theory”, the metaphor chronically ill people use to discuss their energy level.
- A person has roughly the same amount of energy each day.
- Each unit of energy is represented by a spoon.
- Healthy people have more spoons (energy) than those with an illness that causes chronic fatigue.
- Some activities cost more spoons than others.
To my friends with a chronic illness, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then I hope you never do. Adam was all about the Spoons. If there ever was a guy that needed more, it was him.
I first saw Adam at a Masonic District meeting. He was sitting in the back corner of the room, listening intently. I was taken back by his appearance. He was very overweight, his clothes were too tight. His pantleg barely covered his absurdly swollen ankles. I was 90% sure that it was due to medications, likely steroids. I inquired about him to a fellow brother and he confirmed my suspicions.
There was a cocktail hour after the meeting and I waited patiently for a chance to introduce myself. He had a constant flow of people coming over to him and talk but I found my opening and went over to his table. sat down and said hi.
He would become one of my best friends.
Adam lived at home. 2 streets over from me. He lived with his parents after a series of heartbreaks rocked his world. A Cancer diagnosis at age 30. A recovery against a survival rate of 15% two years later. A divorce that cost him his house because his wife couldn’t handle him being sick. Visitation with his son every other weekend, which was tough for him because he hated his young son seeing how sick he was.
But he pushed on, despite the lack of spoons. He always had that smile.
In the time that I knew Adam, I learned volumes about the value of not complaining. Often, people make the mistake of greeting someone with a “how are you?”. Some people feel inclined to actually tell you, not recognizing it as a mere formality. Adam would always smile and say “good”. Even when we all knew he wasn’t. In the course of the 6 years that I knew him, he had 2 near-fatal infections, a stroke, a pacemaker installed, 2 new knees and a hip. Not to mention 2 other lengthy stays in the hospital for fatigue, one of which almost killed him. It was exhausting to be his friend because we worried about him so often. But it’s a labor I will never write off as unworthy, for he was as good a friend as any, and his ability to ask how everyone else is doing when he was clearly suffering just exemplified his kind and selfless nature. Truth be told, he didn’t like to talk about his health. Not unlike most Chronically ill people, he hated being the “sick guy” and wanted to be treated as “normal”. I’ve been there, I often longed for someone to greet me just once without saying “how are you feeling?”.
That’s why we limited most of our conversations about our respective help to spoon talk. It became our thing.
Adam never truly recovered from the Cancer. In medicine, for every action there is a reaction. For every cure, there is a side effect and a new set of symptoms. And another pill. The treatments are what ultimately killed him.
10 years after he was “cured”, he was dead. Out of spoons at 40 years young.
I miss my good friend. I miss his kindness. His self-deprecating jokes. His drive to do something, anything, every day just to feel normal inspires me. His memory serves to make me a better man, one that thinks of others before self. See, therein lies the secret and once you learn it you can’t unlearn it.
When you are thinking and acting on someone else’s needs, your own problems disappear. Even if for only a moment.
I wonder if he knows that every time I go to the drawer for a spoon, I think of him.