I love coffee. It’s a life-giving substance that makes mornings survivable. No seriously, all those memes with people and animals looking like surprised zombies who stuck their finger in a wall plug accurately describes the first hour of my days. This all started when I was a child with a beautiful plastic tea set. It had flowers on it. My dad would put watered-down coffee in the cups during “tea time.” I sometimes wonder how smart it was to give a 4-year-old coffee, but it lead me to this brown elixir of life, so I’m not going to question it.
I keep trying to quit buying Starbucks. My wallet hates that place. Alas, I am only human, so I found myself in line at a Starbucks not too long ago. The woman in front of me was on her phone when the barista called her up to the counter. She didn’t respond. The barista tried again. Still nothing. Did this woman actually want coffee? I tried to hide my annoyance when I leaned in to tell her she was next. Still no response. Time for a shoulder tap, which produced excellent results. She apologetically explained she was deaf, leaving me feeling rather sheepish about my frustration.
I wasn’t the only frustrated party, it seems. This woman started her conversation with the barista by explaining that she is deaf in one ear and has a cochlear implant in the other. She needed direct eye contact from the barista and for him to speak slowly and clearly. He mumbled what was obviously not understanding while looking down at the register. I stepped up, looked her directly in the face, and asked if she needed some help with educating this barista. She smirked the whole time I ordered her drink for her.
While we were waiting for drinks, with direct eye contact and slow, clear speech, a feat that isn’t even close to difficult, I told her how impressed I was with her ability to advocate for herself and state her needs. She told me how her invisible illness forced her to be candid with every person she interacted with in order to survive in this world. Apparently that didn’t always work. She said her doctor’s office still doesn’t remember her limitations, despite explaining them six times. Well doesn’t that just fill you with confidence? It takes 2 minutes to skim a chart and special needs like that are usually highlighted. Trust me, I’m a nurse.
After we got our drinks and wished each other well, my brain went down a long, winding rabbit hole. Invisible illness is something I’ve dealt with personally, including the ignorance of others, and it can be isolating. I wanted to elaborate in this blog post, but the issue is too complicated. It would cheapen the experience to try to break it down. I truly believe this is one of the most important conversations I’ve covered in this blog.
*For one example of a truly ignorant person, see my blog post “The time I was frozen” from November 2018.