Antoinette Lattouf: A Story About My Neck Went Viral, But It Wasn't Actually About My Neck
I was in scrubs being wheeled into the operating room when the anesthetist looked at the entourage trailing me and asked: “Do you always have a camera crew follow you around?”
The medical specialist, who I later learnt had worked in hospitals all over the world, was puzzled as to why my case was getting so much attention and media coverage around the globe.
I understand why his face was a mixture of skepticism and confusion. I’m not a reality TV star, nor is my case a medical anomaly.
Yet there was something about my thyroid that was far more remarkable and powerful than I can take credit for.
Late last year, an unlikely friendship formed between a baby boomer living in rural Australia, and me, a millennial city slicker.
When Wendy McCoy contacted 10 daily via our Facebook page after seeing me on air -- her message demonstrated much more than just concern about a suspect lump on a stranger’s throat.
And while, admittedly, her tip-off did lead to multiple diagnoses and required surgery, there are doctors performing far more innovative, life-saving operations than the relatively routine one I was about to have. Similarly, there are patients struggling with much more dire health prognoses than the one I have.
Wendy’s actions, and the millions of people who reacted to her selfless gesture, speaks to a connectedness I believe is rapidly being lost in modern times.
The two minutes Wendy took out of her day to send me a message because she thought it would be of benefit, was told by dozens of news outlets in several different languages.
Perhaps it was a whiff of what many people are hungry to devour, in our hyper-connected lives that can work to make you feel emptier, the more you consume. There is copious amounts of evidence to show this tech-led, so-called connectivity only serves to divide us, hamper our mental health and increase our loneliness.
Aussies spend an average of just over five hours online every day, and loneliness is a growing concern globally because of its impact on health and well-being. In Australia, one in four people live alone, more than a quarter of the population feels lonely at least three days a week, and more than one-third feels like they have no-one to turn to.
Suicide remains the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 44 and there has been some debate about whether ‘Facebook Depression’ should be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
And should you dare look up from your phone, the evidence of climate change and devastating bushfires cloaks our nation. Irrespective of one’s proximity to the fire line -- falling ash, the smell of smoke and wild weather conditions cannot be ignored.
Politically, people are more divided and polarised than ever, and we’ve lost faith in the leaders and institutions we once trusted inherently -- such as banks and the church. Nearly a third of Australians reported in the 2016 Census that they had no religion.
While I won’t deny there have been been things gained from social media, such as influencers using their reach to raise millions for important causes, and the plethora of online communities sharing things from recipes to parenting tips, the opportunity cost, in my opinion, is just too great. Especially when there is a trust vortex, faith exodus and loneliness epidemic.
It is this widening hole Australians are eager to fill, but are unsure how. We want to belong. We want to believe. We want to benefit.
Let’s go back to the television audience member who, rather than troll me, virtually tapped me on the shoulder, imploring me to see a doctor.
It’s against this backdrop of doomsday news cycles and real-world loneliness that Wendy’s gesture reminded us what humanity has to gain from true kindness and mindfulness. (But not the sort that is a photo opp for social media, at a homeless shelter for validation in the number of likes received.)
So, as the anesthetist prepared to put me to sleep, I said to him: “This story isn’t really about me. It’s about you and everybody else in this room.”
At that point he probably thought I was both mad and narcissistic.
I began to fall asleep, but what I wanted to say to him was that the value of this news story (from where I lay) was actually about the sort of world we’re losing, but can still get back if we just take the camera off selfie-mode, raise our eye line, make eye contact -- like real eye contact -- and take notice of those around us.
That is the remarkable thing Wendy did. Relative to that, my thyroid and health journey is really quite unremarkable.
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