Everyone handles sickness in their own ways. Some people lock themselves in a room until they feel better. Others mope around and make sure the world knows they don’t feel well. Others still pretend they’re fine when clearly they are under the weather. We all have our own ways to deal with being sick. Both of us got most likely get our ways from our parents.
She Says: You Big Baby
I am my mother’s daughter when it comes to dealing with sickness.
She had six children, the youngest of which was 13 pounds at birth. Naturally, the strain of bringing such a child into the world caused her to “have a stroke right there on the table,” as she says when casually telling the story.
She also had ovarian cancer as a teenager and breast cancer in her mid forties. You can only imagine her disposition about having something as simple as a cold.
In fact, I distinctly remember when I came down with a vicious case of the chicken pox as a child. Over the course of a week or so, each morning, my Mother would whip into the bedroom where she had quarantined me. I’d quickly be stripped out of my footie pajamas and wildly dotted with ice cold calamine. Following this procedure, she’d toss me clean pajamas as she tore the sheets from my bed. As I climbed into fresh clothes, she’d dress the bed with new linens, crack the window wider for fresh air, set a glass of 7-up on the dresser, and promptly leave the room.
Of course, she’d check every few hours to make sure I was still alive. Maybe she’d bring in a cup of Campbell’s chicken soup for lunch. But for the most part, I’d remain mostly undisturbed. Not a lot of cuddling, or coaxing, or conversation. I think this standard treatment was probably a good thing, all considering I could have been my sister Erin.
You see, Erin couldn’t swallow pills as a child. This made for a very messy situation whenever she was sick. Eventually, pills would be crushed in a spoon and the powder mixed with water so they went down easier. But for years, my Mother would hand her a Tylenol with a glass of water and a stern, “Here, take this.” As hard as she tried, the girl would constantly gag and sputter trying to consume her medication. The scene always ended with my Mother rolling her eyes and saying something like, “You’re such a baby!”
And I think it only got more intense as my Mother had more children. Proof lies in the instance when my youngest brother Jonathan, a toddler at the time, woke up in the middle of the night screaming bloody murder. When my Mother went to check on him, he cried he’d had a dream where my sister Lindsey had pushed him off the backyard deck. Sure enough, it wasn’t a dream. Not only had he been pushed, but the four foot fall left him with a broken arm that he’d been sporting since that morning. I can only imagine my Mother quipping, “You’re just fine, now go play,” when Jonathan had approached her earlier that day with a dangling limb.
Growing up witnessing such care, I realize I’ve adopted my Mother’s mentality about sickness and injury. And though I do sometimes whine when I’m feeling under the weather, I basically hole up in a room until I’m well, not expecting any form of help in the meantime.
Unfortunately, I expect the same thing from my husband when he is under the weather. In fact, I pulled a move identical to one my Mother might have when he became horribly sick one afternoon at work. He’d felt so crappy, he actually decided to head home from the office early, to which I simply shook my head and muttered, “Baby.”
Upon arriving home later that night myself, I went into our bedroom to check on him briefly just to make sure he was still alive. He was. So I left and went about the rest of my evening.
Now when it’s been two days and your significant other has not removed themselves from the bedroom due to illness, most think, “My word, what is the matter?” Not me. I thought, “Good boy.”
Eventually, and much to my dismay, I finally decided on day three to go to the drug store to get cold meds and a thermometer. Thank goodness I did, because upon taking his temperature, I found it to be 105 degrees. Yet he was ice cold. “I guess we should finally get you to a doctor,” I lamented.
So we went. And he had a brutal case of Swine Flu.
Think what you will. I look on the bright side and say that him being ignored in a bedroom for 72 hours kept me from getting that flu. And it gave him plenty of time to catch up on his sleep. Or reading. Or whatever it was he was doing in there with no food, no light, and no human interaction.
And so since he survived, as did my siblings and I throughout all those years of tough love during cold season–or just throughout life I suppose, I will continue on with my stellar care-taking skills.
In the end, they’ve made me strong enough to withstand the tonsillitis that hits most every winter, carpel tunnel, asthma, and worse yet, the Brazilian bikini wax. So thanks Mom.
He Says: Just A Little
The CEO at my company calls me the Iron Man. No, this is not a reference to the Tony Stark alter-ego. And, yes, in case you are wondering, I am bragging. I have missed work due to illness only twice in over three years there. The first time was due to a 105 degree temperature caused by swine flu. The other time was due to a head on car accident. Both those times resulted in a total of three sick days used. Hence the nickname. I take pride in this. Clearly. Maybe too much pride. A few years ago my sister-in-law asked a weird question over dinner one night. “What’s the one thing you are most proud of that no one knows about?” I couldn’t think of a single thing. I had nothing. A few days later, I thought of it. I texted my brother: “I think I have a high tolerance for pain. I take pride in that.” I think he texted me back a smiley emoticon or something. I have worked hard to keep on living when pain or sickness strikes. I’m not talking about devastating injury or disease here, but that’s what it will need to be to keep me from participating in any given day. Again, yes, I’m bragging. (Trust me. I’m going somewhere with this. I think.)
I would be remiss if I did not attribute my ability to weather pain and sickness to my parents in equal parts. To my father, the strength to carry pain and injury with dignity. My old man has a famous saying he would recite regularly to his five boys—“Walk it off.” As in, “Hey 7-year old son, I know your 11-year old brother just took you out at the knees while your 12-year old brother knocked the wind out of you. Walk it off.” Or, “Yea, I know it hurts. I can see your femur. Walk it off. Walk it off.” My dad taught us that only horrific injury could keep us from walking it off. Rarely was pain too great to walk it off. It was a lesson I learned well over the years, although the cussing part of his lessons I am still working on. I think I have heard my dad swear maybe twice in my life. He just never swears. When I would see him smash his thumb with a hammer and watch his face get red and eyes bulge out, I of course learned as a child that smashing your thumb with a hammer makes your head explode if you do it hard enough. As an adult, I have learned the easiest way to relieve that pressure and keep your head from exploding are the magic words F*$& and SH@%. But my father, he never swears. He handles pain gracefully. Thanks, Dad, for making me tough.
To my mother, the strength to face each day even when sick. As a child, my siblings and I did not miss school. We just never took sick days. This was for two simple reasons. First, missing school meant no sports. If there was a game or practice that evening in which you were participating, tough. If you’re too sick to go to school, then you’re too sick to play sports. For gym rats like us, this was a huge blow to staying home sick. Second, missing school meant laying in bed sick with your school books. Just because you can’t sit in a desk at school doesn’t mean you can’t lie in a bed with your text book. You can still go over the materials the other students are learning that day. These two things made the question, “Are you sick?” a much more serious question. At least at school there were friends and sports and goofing off, even if it was more difficult because of the illness. At home? No TV, no video games, no friends. As you might have guessed, we rarely stayed home from school. I can count on one hand the number of times I decided that I was too sick to go to school. I can still see little me laying on the floor of my bedroom in misery, text book sprawled open on my chest, clutching a family size plastic Kemp’s ice cream bucket used as a vomit-receptacle, wondering, “Why didn’t I go to school?!!? At least I would hear laughter!” Thanks, Mom, for making me tough.
(A quick aside: You should know that Kemp’s ice cream buckets were nearly as resourceful as duct tape in my house growing up. In addition to vomit-receptacles, they were used for…Holding cleaning liquids to scrub toilets, floors, walls, ceilings or tables….Organizing nuts, bolts, screws, or nails…Wearing on one’s head as an army helmet…Storing large quantities of leftover chili or soup, because Tupperware was for the rich folk… In fact, they were used for storing rags, G.I. Joe’s, Legos, pens, pencils, art supplies, or really anything small enough to be stored in an ice cream bucket…And last but not least, using aforementioned duct tape to fasten two buckets on opposite ends of hallway walls and cutting the bottom of the buckets out to make a full-court basketball game with a Wilson Stuff ball. You can thank me later for introducing you to the ingenuity my parents saw in the Kemp’s ice cream bucket.)
Which brings us to present day. My father has diligently taught me how to handle pain and injury. My mother caringly taught me how to me be tough in the face of sickness. My CEO calls me the Iron Man. I take pride in my ability to take on sickness and pain. I mean, I’ve just written hundreds of words about it. Clearly I take pride in it. So why in the name of all things good and holy, on the inordinately small amount of times I actually admit defeat to sickness or injury, does my wife act like she needs to toughen me up?!!? (I told you I was going somewhere with this.) I don’t ask for much. I don’t need to be babied. I hardly ever am so sick that I need help. But just a little care on those rare instances would be nice. Right?
When I return from the hospital with a broken collarbone, rather than staring at me sternly as I painstakingly try to remove my shirt, maybe give me a hand. I’m not learning how to live with paraplegia here. I don’t need tough love.
When I’m laying in room with a 105-degree temperature due to swine flu and I’m praying God takes me in my sleep, rather than grimly shoving a bowl of soup in my face with the words, “You need to eat.” Maybe rub my back. I’m not a delusional invalid in prison. We’re not pioneers on the open planes fighting off dysentery and you’re trying to keep me alive.
A little care is all I ask. That’s not too much is it? Is it?!!?
(Note: If I am not back blogging in a few weeks, please alert the authorities. If Buris On the Couch becomes Buri On the Couch, tell them to look under the floor boards first.)
You both made me laugh. Thanks!
Great blog and insights into why I am the way I am. And why my husband’s tough-guy phrase “shake it off” really gets on my nerves. Although, I am proud to say my kids are not babies. So, I guess it worked!
Thanks for the laugh and just when I thought laughter and humour had desserted me.
I’m sitting at home on a saturday night alone. I broke up with my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years last weekend and I’ve got the flu. Now I don’t have a 105 degree temperature and I haven’t been holed up in my bedroom but I have been feeling a bit on the miserable side and I have refused to go out of my home. Of course I blame this on my mother who fussed over me no end when I was ill as a child. (I still can’t ride a bicycle – not safe) If it wasn’t for her I could stoically take my fate on the chin and not bother to mention it. Instead I find myself writing. It seems misery loves company.
Still after reading your prose I find myself rather proud of myself too. I didn’t pass this namby-pamby infliction onto my children. I too did the no TV and school books thing before they grew up. Amazing the effect on illness this has. If more people knew about it GP’s could find themselves underemployed, perhaps apple sales would even decline! My young adult kids still don’t appreciate my efforts to toughen them up though. They still joke about it not realising it’s great value – but you both have given me hope that one day they will. Thank you!!!
Sorry, Dan, but I’m with Sara 🙂