Monday, March 12, 2018

Rebaselining (or, how to have a low-budget spa day)

We now refer to it as our "summer of if." It was the summer a large cancer tumor was discovered in Dan's brain, and all our sentences began with "if." "If" the MRI shows no issues; "if" the scan is clear; "if" it hasn't spread; "if" there are no surgical complications; "if" the radiation treatment gets it all; "if" it doesn't recur, etc etc. That first day, we literally worried about if he'd live out the next 72 hours until they could perform surgery. Then the worries shifted, to wondering if critical parts of higher brain function and personality would be impacted. The great worry of physical death was past, but we refocused on whether the parts of personality that make Dan, Dan would survive. Then when we learned they pretty much did, the worry was about how far the cancer might have spread and how much time we had left. A month or so later, when he was getting daily radiation treatments, the worries shifted. By this time we knew that the cancer had not spread and the surgery had not damaged critical areas of the brain, and he was upset about his hair falling out (in weird patches that looked like a scary punk fashion statement, no less!) How bizarre and ungrateful that seemed, to be worried about something as trivial as hair when just a few weeks earlier we were worried about survival! My friend Cathy taught me a new word, or rather a new application for an existing word,  rebaselining. In business or project management, when a significant portion of the project has been replanned or a fundamental re-orientation of project scope occurred, a whole new datum must be chosen to be used as the basis for calculation or for comparison. In ordinary life, humans adapt quickly to a "new normal." As soon as we knew the cancer wasn't terminal, we quickly adapted to that new normal, and could proceed, without hypocrisy or ingratitude, to be dismayed over hair loss.

Happily, rebaselining works in the opposite direction as well. After 15 years taking infrequent water-sparing Navy showers (sometimes without hot water!) aboard in the cramped head, that's my baseline. An ordinary land-based shower, with nearly limitless space and hot water, feels a lot like a visit to a spa. My friend Jorge was once excitedly telling me about his planned vacation. "I'm going to live aboard a catamaran in the Caribbean," he said. "And if I want to go snorkeling or diving, I just step off the back of the boat!"  "But Jorge," I explained, "You've just described my everyday life! When I go on vacation, I want the opposite; I want the traditional American everyday life, but with a beach. I want to live in an apartment on land, and have a car. Lots of space, and things stay where you put them and never roll off if hit by a wave." And I want a shower. A big one. With unlimited hot water.

I get that this may not look like a luxury spa to you, if you live on land. But to me, by my rebaselined definition, it's more than all I need! Low-buck, too, for a bonus!