Ill health is tremendously distracting: whether it’s a cold or cancer. And sickness is consuming and distracting in an insidious way, you don’t even realize you are distracted until you realize you are not adding to your novel rather you’ve spent the last hour on webmd.
I was ramped up for the whole week before a purportedly painful procedure. I did not sleep well, I couldn’t focus. The day of the procedure was lost. Then I was ramped up waiting for the results. I wasted a week anticipating the worst and researching all the possible outcomes. And through this all, I could help acknowledging that my situation was no big deal. What if I were in the throes of something serious? What if my whole day was devoted to doctor appointments, clinic visits, trips to the pharmacy, remembering pills, remember a special diet? What is it like to organize your day around something you don’t want to do in the first place?
I spent two months focusing on my body – monitoring everything about it, about worrying about it, worrying about getting to the doctor, waiting for the appointments, waiting for the results. And I resented every second. I got nothing done.
My mother in law died of lung cancer. While she was home in between hospital stays, I took the opportunity to take her to lunch figuring it would be a break from the routine of pills and shots and waiting, waiting for the inevitable. I helped her into the car and inquired how are you feeling? It is something we automatically ask, and her response was “I am feeling bored! I’m so bored with all this. I’m bored with the pills, the timing of the pills, the measuring of the medicine, the doctor visits. Let’s discuss something else.”
So we did.
She passed away a few weeks later.
I am bored is probably the most honest response to illness I’ve heard. And I’m glad I heard it, because that’s how I feel about ill health. It’s boring. And I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about me and I certainly don’t want to listen to you.
And yet that casual, narrative based information about health as boring as it can be, is simultaneously important. So while I’d rather stab myself with the toothpick from my martini than listen to someone rattle off the details of their latest surgery, I was fascinated when my friend revealed that her gall bladder was extracted leaving only four tiny scars. While I dreaded learning about drains and incisions and bandages after my mother’s breast cancer surgery, I was hugely grateful to the three members of my book club who displayed their mastectomy scars, so we could see that it wasn’t that bad. Their honesty alleviated some of my own fears.
Thank you to the women who had experienced the same procedure that I faced and gave me advice, sympathy and handfuls of 800 mg tablets of Motrin from their medicine cabinets. Perhaps the balance between boring and critical comes in brevity and conveying only information that is needed, rather than details thrust upon us. And of course, knowing that it will be okay, is the best information of all.