The anatomy of normal

    Dig inside all of us and you’ll find weird health problems and irrational fears. Photo by gruntzooki on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

    My name is Daniel Camponovo and I am a normal, run-of-the-mill Weinberg junior. I have green eyes, I get a lot of nosebleeds and I used to have long hair but got tired and cut it off one day in November. I’m twenty years old, my birthday was July 18, 1990 and on Dec. 22, 2010, I had an iron count of 120. My dad and I had thought I might be anemic so he ordered some bloodwork done over break to prove I’m not (normal iron count is between 42-182). My white bloodcell count was 7.28, my hemoglobin was 15.5 and my platelet was 248 — all safely within the healthy norms.

    Which, frankly, boggles my mind. I’m vegetarian, gluten-intolerant and on June 18, 2009, had a gastric band put on my stomach that severely restricts the amount of food I can eat in any one setting. My physician recommended I keep a daily food diary, keeping track of the calories, fat (both total and saturated) and fiber of everything I eat, which says I consume around 600-800 calories a day, using this last week as evidence. I’ve lost seventy pounds in the last twelve months and there’s a probe under my skin leftover from the surgery I like to play with when I’m bored in class, and I need to somehow cram a full day’s worth of vitamins, nutrients and protein into two-to-three cups worth of gluten-free, meat-less food per day.

    It’s not hard to feel like everybody here is just better than you at something, or everything.

    And somehow, in spite of all of this working against me, my iron binding capacity is a healthy 385, my iron saturation is a respectable 31 percent, and my hematocrit, whatever the hell that is, is middle-of-the-pack 46.1 percent. The nutritionist I saw last week said I had perhaps the healthiest working diet of any of her current clients, and that I needn’t return for a second session, which, frankly, confused the both of us. On paper, I’m the paradigm of a standard adult. In practice, I’m anything but.

    I’ve been called a fair conversationalist before. My advisor said she could see me going into advertising after college if my writing and linguistics degrees fail to nab me a job, as I fully expect them to. All of which, again, boggles my mind, because I’ve had a stutter for 16 years, getting worse because I’m out of regular speech therapy for the first time since high school. After ten years of public-school-provided therapy, we had figured I was “good enough” to go out into the real world, but, like my Spanish, physics and calculus, I’m forgetting the techniques and exercises we used to do to help me get over the problem from lack of practice.

    When I got accepted to Northwestern three years ago, my mom jokingly asked me if I applied as a Hispanic. I remember being hurt, and still am, a bit, but it’s a fair question. I am Hispanic, as Hispanic as I am white, at least, and this was the reach-i-est of my reach schools. I was not an exceptional student in high school and to this day I still harbor existential inferiority-complex feelings of one kind or another. I can see how she might have thought I would have checked any possible box to increase my admission chances — and in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t remember whether or not I did. My tour guide from 2008 was a Fulbright scholar and one of my friends who graduated last year had skipped a year of high school and entered college at 17. It’s not hard to feel like everybody here is just better than you at something, or everything.

    I say “used to” as if this were pubescent high school angst, as easy to write off as the rebellion that comes with a first driver’s license.

    That friend, though, who graduated early? She hated parts of this school, too. I thought I was young for my grade, with a July birthday, but she had a full year on me (with a September birthday, to boot). She came into college with something like 6 AP credits and was expected to take (and excel in) Orgo with only a passing remembrance of 10th grade high school chemistry under her belt. She told me a few months ago that she, too, felt like everybody at this school was better and smarter than she was, and I decided not to tell her I used to think she was one of them, one of those people in my life, too.

    I have a friend in the School of Communication, in the theatre department, who also has a stutter. She told me once she got into musical theater in high school because she liked to pretend she could be someone different, someone without a stutter, because, as anybody who’s seen The King’s Speech can tell you, most stutters go away when you sing (which, surprisingly, is true, and something I practiced in my therapy, too). My friend Ryan back home was born with situs inversus, a congenital condition where all of his internal organs are on the opposite side of his body. As far as he knows, there are few (if any) negative or dangerous health problems, and it becomes just another personal, slightly embarrassing thing to tell people after crossing a certain threshold in a relationship.

    I used to really want to be “normal.” I say “used to” as if this were pubescent high school angst, as easy to write off as the rebellion that comes with a first driver’s license. In reality it was as recent as just last week, and in a way, I still harbor a pipe dream of one day, some day, tasting “normalcy.” I’ve begun noticing, though, that almost everybody I meet has some health quirk or their own personal demon (be it a stutter or a tick or a compulsion or any other abnormality) or some sociological complex from their past, which have got to be a dime-a-dozen at this school. Nobody here is really “normal,” we are all of us freaks and weirdos, and in that respect, at least, we’ve leveled the playing fields. I’m having trouble thinking of someone at this school inherently “normal,” if such a person exists, what that person would look like, how much that person would weigh, how that person would walk, talk, what they would sound like and how they would differ from me in any way — hemoglobin and iron counts be damned.


    blog comments powered by Disqus
    Please read our Comment Policy.