Thursday, January 18, 2007

In sickness, and in health

I have always been a nurterer. My mother tells the story that as an infant, I hated the playpen and refused to sit inside of it, even for a moment (my daughter has inherited this same hatred of mesh walls). Except for the time that my mom was desperately sick with the flu and she put me down in the aptly named pen, and I sat quietly, staring at her as she writhed in the bed. She claims I just "knew".

I know how to help when loved ones are sick. I am good at the head petting, the water with lemon, the hot compresses or cold compresses. Vomit does not scare me (though it is not my favorite). I can read a mercury thermometer. I understand the importance of fresh sheets, new toothbrushes, dry toast and backrubs.

In moments of more dire illness, I am able to escape my generally terrified personality and buck up for what needs to happen. I have scheduled MRIs, pestered doctors for test results, demanded second opinions and abused Google. When my grandmother was slowly dying from a massive stroke, I chatted with her at her bedside as if nothing was wrong. I smoothed her blankets and hair. My doctor brother regarded me incredulously. "You should have been a nurse", he said, in a moment of uncharacteristic compliment. I took my sister and her two day old son to the emergency room when he needed bloodwork and held my hands over his little body while he was poked with needles and screamed. My sister, who was barely vertical after giving birth mere days before, still laughs at the way that I scooped him up and held him to my chest when it was all over, forgetting to hand him to her.

This is just the way that I am.

Much of this comes from my own mother, who, while terrified of illness, is an amazing caregiver. Being a sick kid in my house meant fruit punch and coloring books and the little television dragged into your room. When she told me she would check on me at night, I believed her and always felt her hand on my head. I have known a few pretty serious illness in my own life, and she has always been the one to manage my care.

My husband, who is the most loving and caring man on the planet, is not the best at the sick thing. I do not think he had good role models. His intentions are good, but he tends to miss the fact that a sick person wants attention and sympathy and bowls of ice cream. Instead he tends to look at me worriedly, pat me awkwardly and ask what I want instead of just knowing. I want company and bad TV and lots of indulgence. But he is great with Chloe, when she is vomiting in his lap, so the Daddy part is fully functional. I should add that he is also a difficult patient, who has little to no appreciation for my overtures and would rather moan about his impending death and be left alone to suffer.

Maybe its a guy thing.

In college, I was at my sickest one week of Sophomore year. It came over my dorm like a plague, instantaneous and merciless. My salvation was the double bed in my friend J's room, where we both languished for days. When I mustered the strength to to go to the bathroom, she would count backwards from 100, telling me that she would come and find me if I had not returned when she reached number one. We lay beneath sweaty sheets, wasting away from malnutrition and fever, but still finding time to laugh (largely at J who insisted on smoking a cigarette and nearly stopped breathing).

It was then that I realized that misery -- above all else, above chicken soup and Vicks Vapo Rub -- loves company.


At 3:20 PM PST, Blogger thethinker said...

That was great, especially the last line.


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