Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Do I really want to be the canary in the coal mine? Here’s the deal.
Yesterday I had my annual physical, which included all the usual things plus a pneumonia vaccine injection. I passed the physical with flying colors, except for the cholesterol issue. (I saw that one coming since I was non-compliant on my previous prescription of statin drugs to lower my cholesterol. It’s a family problem—I’m not alone on this one. My drug refusal was because I read something somewhere, reliable of course, that said statin drugs are dangerous.) Today I went back to the doctor because my upper arm where I had the pneumonia vaccine injection was red, hot, and swollen. It is not a one-sided highly developed deltoid muscle, but my left upper arm looks bigger than the right arm. My doctor said my reaction was a little extreme, on the high end of normal, and I need to watch it in case it gets worse.

She suggested I take Benadryl—nope, can’t do that because Benadryl makes me crazy. I have a paradoxical reaction, meaning a drug that makes most people drowsy can keep me up all night. I learned this the hard way. I’m also allergic to numerous other drugs, including antibiotics and pain killers. She chuckled, remembering that just yesterday we had a discussion of my high sensitivity to things that don’t bother normal people. It’s the canary thing. The only thing I can do is apply cold compresses to my arm.

Just a couple of weeks ago a friend remarked that I am one of those canary people because I was (and still am) profoundly moved by the refugee situation in the Middle East and Europe. That photo of the rescue worker carrying the body of the Syrian child that had washed up on the beach of the Mediterranean Sea was beyond heart-wrenching. I will never get that image out of my head. And I read a book about poverty and horrible living conditions in Haiti so now I am worried about the little Haitian girl that I "adopted" through Compassion International. There's just too much trouble in the world for me to cope like a sane person.

The canary metaphor refers to the canary in the coal mine. In times past, mine workers would keep caged canaries in the mines to alert them to deadly gasses. Apparently canaries are ultra-sensitive to toxic gasses. If the unfortunate sacrificial canary died, the miners would know that the toxic gas levels were becoming dangerous even before the miners were aware of them.
That metaphor of the canary in the coal mine has been extended to refer to highly sensitive people who react strongly to physical, environmental, and societal issues. I found an explanation in an article by Amy Scholten, MPH, entitled Making Sense of High Sensitivity. (Found at Scholten writes:
Are you more easily overwhelmed than most people? Does it seem that you feel and sense things more acutely than others? Do you need frequent time alone to recharge? Have you felt "different" from most people and out of step with the furious pace of modern life? (Yes, yes, yes, and yes I respond.)
"You're too sensitive," you've been told. Perhaps you sense that somehow you're a "misfit." The prickly implication here is that there's something wrong with you. But according to psychologist Elaine Aron, Ph.D, sensitivity isn't a weakness; it's simply an inborn trait. And in its healthiest form, sensitivity is a rare gift!
Oh, wow—isn’t that special? I love these people who can turn my prickliness—my rashes, my racing heart, and my uber reaction to the woes of the world into a rare gift. I’m still not sure I want to embrace this canary role. It could turn deadly—you know what happened to the canaries in the coal mines. Do you think I look yellow? Do you see any feathers emerging from my rashy skin? Don’t take me into a coal mine. Please.

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