One of my favorite things about being a freelance copywriter is the diversity of projects I get to work on. In the space of several weeks, I might be writing website content for a bank, coming up with catchy headlines for a clothing retailer, or editing a brochure for a medical device company. So, I have to quickly learn enough to be dangerous in a huge variety of specialized businesses and industries and master a variety of different “voices.” Which I really like.
Being here in the Boston area, a lot of the clients I work with are healthcare / pharmaceutical / biotech companies. And I guess there’s a part of me that secretly wishes I’d gone to medical school, because I really dig these projects. They also have the favorable side effect (ha ha) of making me feel extremely appreciative of my and my family’s health.
One of the big projects I’m working on right now is a website for people with LVADs. What’s an LVAD, you ask? It’s a Left Ventricular Assistive Device — an artificial pump for people with heart failure (many of them waiting for a transplant) that helps the heart do its job. The pump itself goes inside the body, but it connects to a controller and power source outside the body. So you’ve got a tube that runs from inside your body out through your abdomen — an open wound that’s there for as long as you wear the pump. (Yeesh.) Dick Cheney has an LVAD, actually.
I spent a day down in DC last week interviewing LVAD patients and their spouses. It was incredible — and in some cases, very difficult — hearing about their experiences. Some didn’t have any heart issues prior to getting their LVAD, or even a family history of heart disease; they contracted viruses that attacked their hearts. Others had more typical cases of congestive heart failure. For all of them, having an LVAD is a huge life change: They have to carry backup batteries wherever they go; they can’t sleep on their stomachs or swim or take baths (some are allowed to shower); they have to rigorously monitor their diet, take tons of medications, and change dressings where the tube leaves their body twice a week.
All of this, and there’s still the chance they won’t make it.
I may have my mental health challenges, and they are very real, and they truly suck. But they pale in comparison to the difficulties faced by the people I met last week. And in comparison to the challenges faced by a co-worker of mine, who recently lost his wife to ovarian cancer. And in comparison to the strife and pain suffered by any family with a seriously ill child — like writer Aleksander Hemon’s nine-month-old baby, who had a rare brain tumor. (He wrote an essay in a recent New Yorker about this that’s harrowing to read, but will remind you to cherish as many moments as possible with your kids.)
We are basically healthy — our nuclear family, and both Alastair’s and my parents, too. Our lives are not hindered or our day-to-day shaped by medical concerns.We don’t live on the edge of life and death. (Well, not any more than any other basically healthy people do.)
And I feel fortunate that, through my livelihood, I’m frequently reminded of just how lucky we are.
Check out my novel, EDEN LAKE