My Monthlong Coma Taught Me How To Handle Trump’s Election
My lack of memories during that time is a luxury we won’t have over the next four years.
I processed the result of the presidential election on November 8 the way I imagine a lot of people did: I immediately thought about how it would affect me. I am fortunate to possess a near-royal flush of privilege. I am cis-gendered, straight, white and male, so I can’t even begin to imagine the full extent of the direct ways in which a Donald Trump presidency will affect the lives of my non-male, non-white, non-straight, non-binary and trans friends and fellow Americans.
And yet, the privilege-imposed limitations on my imagination didn’t stop me from feeling a numb sort of dismay, and my thoughts turned to the weak card in my poker hand of privilege: As a diabetic, I am not able-bodied. I am a type 1 (not type 2) diabetic. In my case, that means I’ve had diabetes since I was a child; it is not the result of eating too much sugar; and no amount of diet or exercise will correct or reverse it. My pancreas is as broken as our democracy.
I couldn’t get frozen yogurt after my coma until I re-learned to walk?—?and we can’t heal as a nation from the pain of electing an unqualified, oppressive and despicable demagogue to be our president until we feel that pain fully, so we can know exactly the wounds we need to heal.
My pancreas is so broken, in fact, that during this time two years ago?—?from October 22 to November 17, 2014?—?I was in a diabetic coma. As an active addict at that time, I had been neglecting my diabetes management and general health for years, which resulted in diabetic ketoacidosis (read: hella high blood sugar) and my admission, comatose, to a hospital where doctors told my family I was “the sickest man in Chicago.” That is a direct quote. I was not in a soap opera. Fully-licensed medical professionals said those words to my family in real life.
I consider that my lost month, and I revisit it every year during this time, reflecting on how far I’ve come from the brink of death: My kidneys are fully functional after being near enough to failure for my condition to be coded “end-stage renal failure” by the insurance company; I’m sober and have never been more productive as a writer and comedian; and I can walk, run and climb stairs after initially waking up to find my legs shriveled down to their shins (there’s a “Garden State” joke in there somewhere).
I got to thinking about my coma in a new way on November 8. I started wondering which is worse: being unconscious in a coma or being awake, aware and alive in a Trump presidency? If I had to choose, given my experience, which would I pick?
There are more similarities between the two states than you might think. For one, waking up to discover I had been comatose and reckoning with the fact that Donald Trump actually will become president both felt utterly surreal.
I consider my lack of memories while in the coma a luxury. It’s a luxury we won’t have when it comes to the next four years.
After I emerged from the coma, there was a hazy initial period during which reality started to settle in. I woke up in the hospital after nearly a month of complete lights-out: no memories, no out-of-body experiences, no dreams even. It was as if I had woken up from a month-long nap, only I was 40 pounds lighter and the seasons had changed.
I saw my hospital bed and thought I was in rehab for drug and alcohol abuse. I proposed to my family a trip to get frozen yogurt before I could even stand upright, much less walk. I was told I had been in a coma and for how long, and it took several weeks to fully wrap my mind around what that meant.
Trump’s election had a similar “David After Dentist” feeling of “Is this real life?” To be honest, I’m still in shock from it. I realize this may just be evidence of my privilege as a city-dwelling, politically progressive person whose friends are mostly struggling artists, but that doesn’t change the fact of this hurt.
When I was a sweet little evangelical Christian boy who won my elementary school’s first-ever award for good manners, I never imagined 30-year-old me would have to tell people I was an addict. This wasn’t how I imagined my life would turn out. The same is true for the life of our country under Donald Trump. At least half of us didn’t expect things to turn out this way, and the disconnect between expectations and reality is so often a cause of much suffering.
The choice between being in a coma versus living under Trump is not just a choice between being unconscious and being awake. It’s a choice between oblivion and awareness, between death and life.
There are already people on both sides of the political aisle telling those of us who are still in shock to “get over it.” Those people could learn something from the friends, family and caretakers who told me post-coma, “Take your time; go easy on yourself; this is a lot to process; you are stronger than you realize; you will get through this in time.” Of course, that didn’t stop my brain from judging my recovery progress against an imagined standard of perfection. According to the asshole in my head, I should always be further along than I am, and no amount of work (in physical recovery, sobriety, my creative life or my personal life) is ever enough.
That’s why I think the people telling us to “get over” Trump’s election are wrong, even the well-meaning ones who are concerned about taking the right actions to limit his destruction. Denial is the first stage in the Kübler-Ross model of grief because it’s a necessary phase we need to move through. I couldn’t get frozen yogurt with my family after my coma until I re-learned to walk—and we can’t heal as a nation from the pain of electing an unqualified, oppressive and despicable demagogue to be our president until we feel that pain fully, so we can know exactly the wounds we need to heal.
I consider my lack of memories while in the coma a luxury. It’s a luxury we won’t have when it comes to the next four years. Good. Let’s remember everything. The choice between being in a coma versus living under Trump is not just a choice between being unconscious and being awake. It’s a choice between oblivion and awareness, between death and life. The gift of a Trump presidency is the gift of the struggle. It’s a painful gift that almost doesn’t deserve the “gift” label at all, but the struggle does offer unique opportunities for us to know ourselves, to know each other and to heal in more than superficial ways.
So live with your eyes wide open. It’s the choice I’m making, unless Trump’s presidency results in my healthcare coverage being revoked, in which case I may have another coma to look forward to.