Don’t Make Me Sick


There are many who believe that illness is all in your head, and many who believe illness is all in your body. I’m somewhere in the middle. Sometimes I do believe, to paraphrase Freud, a cigar is just a cigar. We get exposed to a germ and we get sick. We unwittingly eat undercooked meat, or food left out too long and we get food poisoning. It sucks and we get sick and then we get better. And sometimes, our bodies reflect a different image. Something is breaking down inside us emotionally and our only outlet is through illness. Or, and this brings me to the point, sometimes we get sick because shit happens, but the being sick allows a release of emotion, an erosion of barriers—because frankly we just don’t have the energy—and we feel broken and scared. While we may feel as if we are trying to outrace thin ice as it cracks beneath our feet, there is opportunity. We have a chance to nurture ourselves, to see what we’ve been hiding or missing or looking for.

This summer while on vacation in Cape May, New Jersey, I fell ill. Very ill. I developed a double ear infection with access to only mediocre health care. I was poorly treated and the infection raged in my body. The vacation went on for my family—my husband, sons, sister and her family, mother and stepfather. For me, it was awful. I cannot recall ever having been that sick. The pain was unbearable. And to top it off, we had to check out of our rental home fewer than 24 hours after I finally got the right antibiotic. The pain was so intense; I took pain killers, something I never do. Now I know why. I suffer horrible side effects from these drugs, and did so while in the car with two whining kids on the Garden State Parkway in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And no, I was not driving.
After three days of vacation enjoyment and three days of misery, I was unable to fly home and had to stay behind in Philadelphia for five days while I recovered and saw a specialist. Fortunately, my older son stayed with me and kept my mother at bay while I holed up in her guest room. I was so sick, I didn’t even feel sorry for myself, I just existed and waited for time to pass and for the antibiotics to kill the evil in my body.

Today, almost three weeks later, I am still on antibiotics and am still not completely recovered. But I’m home. Being sick like that is no fun. Being sick while on vacation, far from home, and then stuck in a house—not my childhood home, thankfully, the dysfunction there permeated the walls—with my mother and her husband for five days, was taxing not just physically but emotionally. For the first time in many years, I was forced to have my mother care for me and when I was incapacitated, she helped. As I started to improve however, I remembered why it was so hard growing up under her roof. I was reminded of how alternately chaotic, smothering, unreliable and inconsistent her parenting was. I know she loved me, she still does. But, when she was my primary caregiver, she was barely able to take care of herself. And it showed. I developed a fierce need to be alone and to take care of myself. I don’t like to ask for help, perhaps because I fear I won’t get what I need. I didn’t growing up, even when asking wasn’t the issue. As a child, part of your role is to be taken care of. As a parent, you do the caretaking. I learned as a child that when I was sick, I could be alone and nurture myself. But, I don’t need to get sick to do that now. I’m an adult and if I need time to myself, I create it.

I learned something about my older son that week too and perhaps about how I may be breaking our family’s caretaking mold. He was an amazing help to me. For him, those extra five days were a treat beyond compare. With no little brother or younger cousin to compete with, he seemed to mature several years. He was delightful. He brought me tea and cuddled with me in the evenings sharing news of his day. One evening he really missed home, there had been too many transitions from vacation to the limbo state we were in at my mother’s house. I got it. He climbed in to bed with me for an hour. My mother tried to interfere, “help,” manage us somehow, but I shooed her away. My son just needed his mom. Otherwise, he spent time with his grandparents, one of whom is a retired teacher, the other a retired scientist, an endless supply of books, science experiments and even a pet snake to hold, feed and watch over. He had a blast, and his being there nurtured me because it linked me not to my past and the disappointments of my childhood but to my present and the nurturing world I live in today.


  1. heartwriter says:

    What a lovely reflection. Well done.


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