It’s another dark and windy morning, and returning from giving big daughter a lift to the school bus stop, through the window I can see small daughter cosily wrapped up in her dressing gown and snuggled up with my husband. Small daughter isn’t very well today and won’t be going to school so you might think that she’d be better off tucked up back into bed, but she’s one of those people who needs to be cuddled when she’s not well – which is the reason why I’ve sat up half the night with a small girl who sounds as if she’s got a lifelong fifty-a-day habit. It’s as if her self-assurance tank is empty and she needs it to be refilled before she can comfortably allow herself to be wrapped up in her duvet and go back to sleep.
Many of us are exactly the same when we’re feeling under the weather. Our sense of invulnerability has been shaken and only the affection and attention of someone looking after us can restore it. It reminds us that we’re not invincible and we don’t like it.
“I hope I don’t get it,” big daughter says later that day, as small daughter starts coughing again.
“Me too,” I agree, “I’m too busy to be poorly.”
And so is everybody else. We battle on even when all we want to do is lie down in a darkened room and sleep until the illness has gone away. We stuff ourselves with medicines to keep ourselves going because we are the only ones who can possibly do the job we are doing. Being poorly reminds us that we are not indispensible and we like that feeling even less.
My Dad belongs to the other camp of those who cope with illness. Often you find out that he has been feeling unwell only after he has recovered. He doesn’t want any fuss, has no intention of staying in bed during daylight hours and any help that he accepts is very definitely on his terms. I have to be careful not to smother him with attention as that often has the exact opposite effect of the one I was intending. My best friend’s husband, diagnosed last year with testicular cancer, is exactly the same. For him, it is as if accepting any emotional help is admitting that there is something wrong which might seem strange as he is, without question, accepting the help of the medical profession. Fortunately, his consultant’s prognosis of a complete recovery has been absolutely right and in time, my friend’s husband will probably choose to talk about his experiences as an anecdote in the past in a way that he never would whilst his treatment was ongoing.
How we all deal with illness is, ultimately, very personal. Small daughter, after a day of resting at home, will be back at school tomorrow. Illness is our bodies’ way of telling us to rest but when you’re five, however necessary it is, resting is boring!