I knew coming into this trip that jet lag was going to be an experience. I thought to myself that it’d be hard, but it wouldn’t be so bad. I thought I’d be tired, but functional. After all, I’ve worked night shifts that lasted 12 hours. I’ve even traveled internationally before. Fatigue is no stranger to me. After a combined total of 17 hours in flight, I knew this was not a normal kind of fatigue. I knew it was going to be a bit tricky, but I didn’t realize how much I’d be affected by it.
Fuzzy. That was the word I initially thought to use when describing my jet lag experience. The strange thing was that there were times where I wasn’t thinking as much as I was going through the motions. I would get lost in a mind fog and then snap back when I realized someone was saying something to either the group or (more embarrassingly) to me alone. As previously mentioned, I’ve worked long hours on a project before. I understand what it’s like to get lost in thought. The difference between then and now was how quickly I could snap back into reality. I sometimes felt like I was a part of the group but I was not fully present in the group because my reaction timing was slightly off, I found it difficult to come up with responses, and I found myself spacing off several times. This would be a very frustrating occurrence if it happened often and ultimately, I believe it would affect my social health.
My ability to concentrate was shaken. After our second plane from Abu Dhabi into India we had to fill out forms that indicated where we’d be staying, telephone numbers, and our passport numbers. Ann hinted that we might want to take a picture and get our answers in order before we left the plane, so I did. I pulled up a screenshot that I’d taken hours ago but I found that I couldn’t focus on the numbers correctly the first time I wrote them down. It took me two tries to fully get down what I needed to get down, and I actually had someone else from our group to ensure accuracy. I didn’t fully trust that I had done it correctly. I can imagine that someone who had difficulty concentrating on important documents daily would lead stressful lives. Those who undergo chemo may spend a lot of time filling out documents (both medical and legal) so I believe I now have a better understanding about just how difficult that may be to do.
The hardest day for me by far was day two. I woke feeling well rested, excited, and then looked over at my phone and realized it was two am. I rolled away from my phone and closed my eyes, but I couldn’t fall back asleep until five am, when the church bells conveniently woke me up again. My sleep pattern was completely off. By the end of the day I was utterly exhausted, but I knew I couldn’t go to sleep. I didn’t want to. We had a beautiful banquet spread courtesy of lovely people of CET. A wedding reception was concluding next to our table, music accompaniment was playing in the background, and there was a buffet provided. But other than that, I have almost no memory of what happened. I’m not sure that I really talked that much to people. I was focused solely on eating and staying awake. That is the kind of extreme fatigue I was under, and a kind of fatigue I’ve never experienced before. I imagine this may be similar to what chemo patients go through. I’ve read that patients receiving chemotherapy experience great amounts of fatigue. I can imagine that if a patient were to attend a gathering such as a wedding with this fatigue they might be a little sad. While you are supposed to be enjoying the company of others, all you can focus on is your physical needs.
I’ve never undergone chemotherapy or seen anyone in the process of receiving it. As such, I did not have any outstanding biases of my own. I do believe that I had a lack of knowledge, however. It is one thing to read that jet lag is similar to chemotherapy, and another to experience it. Suffice to say, I would hate to experience a year-long jet lag. I feel like it would ultimately affect my emotional, social, and my physical health. In Dr. Raj’s lecture he emphasized the importance of wellness in the form of a Venn diagram. He emphasized that a person should have their emotional, spiritual, social, and physical needs met. In two days I experienced a slight deterioration in my emotional health. A year long experience would truly be awful, and may very well affect all areas of wellness.
This made me think more about how a patient must feel. Let’s not forget, I am a healthy student who was experiencing a temporary state. A cancer patient is not just dealing with tiredness. They may be in significant pain, experiencing other side effects from chemotherapy, having emotional crises, financial crises, etc. I feel like I can better understand a patient now that I’ve experienced one portion of their experience. One stereotype is that cancer patients are extremely fatigued, and perhaps this holds some truth. However, it is difficult to describe how much of myself was affected by a 12 hour time difference. In the future I will use what I’ve learned through this experience to explain the depth of what exhaustion can do to a person using my own experiences.