Attraction to Illness (subtitle: the mind – duh – body connection)

25 Sep

I am incubating hypochondriacs.  Abbey, my dog, has been favoring one paw lately.  I inspected it, and found a pad that was raw and reddish.  She’s been doing self-care, and I’ve been watching to see if she can heal thyself and I can avoid an astronomic vet bill.  So far, it hasn’t seemed to be working.  The first night I noticed it, I cleaned it and put on some Neosporin, wrapped it in a bandage and immediately took her out for a walk so she might associate the bandage with something cool and fun.  She seemed to do okay, and the walk distracted her enough that she humored me for awhile and didn’t rip off the bandage till I was full asleep.  By breakfast, the remains of my amateur doctoring were strewn in dirty crumples dotting the back deck.  For the last week, I’ve abandoned my attempts to treat her and have offered just pity and petting instead.  She gives me the pitiful but appreciative look that tells me I have responded as she hoped, and don’t have to shell out for Dr. Chen just yet.  In light of the injury, I’ve been favoring backyard play to her usual walks but broke the routine tonight and took her out.  Despite her dramatic limping around the house all day, she took to the streets like a 13-year old first time out after curfew, strutting and giddy, and limp?  What limp?

Conversations with coworkers these days are regularly about recent illnesses, mine, theirs, others’.  It’s like Corporate America has become the flower-patterned cotton covered couch in my grandma’s living room.  “How are you doing, Grandma?”  “Oh, sit down, Katy girl and let me tell ya….”

My 22 (and 1/2) year old came over to watch my 2 (and 1/2) year old Saturday night while the hubby and I were off making our ice cream and oat bars, getting ready for our little food company’s debut at a big street fair on Sunday.   Although the little one, Z, was perfectly happy in the afternoon to wave us good-bye and be rid of the ‘rents, by nightfall she was insisting, “I need my mommy and my daddy.”  The older one, A, who’s a budding psychologist and has been since she was about Z’s age, talked her through what she was feeling.  Z, to A’s surprise, announced, “I need to see a doctor.”  When A said, “You do?  Why?,”  Z responded, matter-of-factly, “I’m sick.”  A then asked her, “what feels sick?”  Z paused, then turned to A with a look of contemplation — as if she’s been told she’s sick and that she has to see a doctor but no one yet has asked her what she felt — and she said, with more revelation than relief, “Nothing.  Nothing feels sick.”

I remember the first time I tasted jam, or at least the first time I was aware of tasting it.  I’d started at a new school.  I was five years old.  My parents were separating, my older sisters were busy adjusting, my mother was working, and I was in the nurse’s office at our new school named Newark out in the country.  Both the principal and the nurse, who was also the recess monitor and lunch lady and some other jobs I’m guessing, were in the room.  They were very nice to me, and set me up on a cot with a pillow and blanket (it felt like lots of pillow and lots of blankets).  Sunlight poured through the window in a way that it didn’t in the classroom.  They spoke in their adult voices, and made an important phone call that resulted in the mother of one of our new neighbors — one of the mothers who stayed home all day with no one but the cat — came and picked me up.  Before she did, the ladies, who seemed like the kindest people on earth, gave me white bread with jam.  I wonder now if it was the same old jelly they put on the school lunches.  It didn’t seem like it.   It was magical and tangy, sweet with seeds.  The neighbor lady who had stiff hair and a square jaw but warm eyes took me home in her station wagon, and set me up on the sofa in their den.  Another pillow and blanket, and while she tended to her various household chores and gardening, I watched “That Girl,” with the heavy curtains shading out the light and no one to fight me over what channel to watch.  When she would pick me up, I’d tell Mom about the jam, and the school nurse being the recess lady.  But that moment it was just me and That Girl, and I was the luckiest girl alive.  Oh, and I was sick.

I’m friends with an ex on Facebook.  Although we don’t talk and I only know what’s the latest in his life by occasional and random posts, every so often his dutiful (but by all appearances, high maintenance — or maybe just high volume) girlfriend will announce that he’s sick , been coughing for days, and she’s chugging chicken soup down his throat by the barrel, and capturing every moment to slap it up on FB for all the world to see.  I know then that he’s just fine.  Life has him stressed out, and he turned to his medicine.  Getting sick has always been one of his crutches, whether or not there’s been someone there to care for him .. and it’s not a bad drug to have.  Could be much worse – and it used to be.  But that’s someone else’s tale to tell, or bury, or find in the anals of Facebook.

As for me, I’ve been nursing a cold/flu/whatever for the past five days or so.  Although I couldn’t drag myself out of bed to get to the Brooklyn Book Festival, which I was going to attend with a writer friend (and dear person), Silver Krieger (Million Dollar View – McNally Jackson books), at one point on Sunday I was able to stand long enough to get out to the garden and check on my tomatoes, which are highly sensitive lately, and yielding fewer and more bruisable and already-been-gnawed fruit in these final days of the season.  I caught myself in the garden about twenty minutes later feeling, to my shock, okay.  Based on how I’d woken up feeling, chances were slim to none that I’d get on both feet at any point in the day, let alone nearly forget that I was sick.  But there I was, fully immersed in examining each brown or bitten leaf, and unraveling all the dogged morning glory vines that seemed to laugh out loud at my summers’ long efforts to grow anything worth putting on plates and in mouths.   In that moment, with the sun beaming down through the rugged fence and hungry vines, I caught myself feeling … nothing.  Out there in the green, in the light, away from the dark room darkened to protect me from anything and everything, I found that, like Izzy had suddenly realized, “nothing felt sick.”  I still went back in, and took it easy anyway, which I definitely am not known or prone to do.  Without having been sick, though, I’m sure I would have found enough things to do to drag my health right back under, until it resisted and insist I rest.

Sometimes being sick — if not in the serious, scary way — is the best medicine.


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