Sunday, January 30, 2005

On Being 'Sick'

When I was first diagnosed, I couldn't think of myself as 'sick.' Sick means, well, sick. You know, like the flu, or a cold. I felt fine. It seemed...inappropriate to describe myself as sick when there were real sick people wandering around who had symptoms and felt under the weather. I didn't have a term for what I was. Presick, maybe. Secretly sick. Fine but doomed without treatment. All right, the last is true but a little over the top. I could say I was scared. But it was like being a cancer survivor. I couldn't be a survivor because I hadn't survived anything. And I wasn't sick because I didn't feel...sick. The first chemo treatment didn't do it either because that was induced. Maybe it was all just denial.

Today, I made some comment about 'being sick' and I realized I am quite capable of thinking of myself that way now. There's no real border between when I was diagnosed and when I decided that it qualified as being ill. But I have made all the changes that really happen. Hypervigilance (does that really hurt or am I just expecting it to hurt.) Self-absorption. A narrowing of the world. After Susan Sontag died there was a bit about her in The New Yorker describing how she was so alive, so involved in the world. I'm planning. I've got travel plans for the summer and stuff to write and all sorts of stuff going on, but I have to tell you. Sometimes, I'm just sick.

Last night, for example. I've had bouts of insomnia for years and last night I woke up at 3:00 in the morning and ended up watching The Secret Childhood of Michael Jackson. Bad television is the childhood experience of being sick. I lay there, waiting for my body to settle down. I'm in chemically induced menopause which, since I am 45 will not reverse when chemo is over, (although it does in someone younger.) Sometimes, my experience of the temperature in a room will swing wildly, but I have found out that a hairless head and a hat in a warm bed and cool house are pretty amazing regulators. What is it they were always telling us when we were kids? You lose 25% of your body heat through your head? Well you do when it's bald. I wasn't unhappy, particularly, although not very thrilled with the television show, but it was that or infomercials. I took off my hat, put on my hat, took off my hat cooling and warming and feeling a little queasy when I was too warm. The miniature dachshund grumbled because I was disturbing her. Allegations were slung at the Jackson family. It was quiet and still and odd the way it is when you are living in direct opposition to everyone else's circadian rhythms. It wasn't actually an experience I would describe as ill but I had the sense of myself as a bit of an invalid. I was intensely focused on my own physical sensations, trying to game them a little to reduce a bit of discomfort, the way when I have a headache I might work to relax the muscles of my head and face, or the way, when I have a sore throat, I try to breath so it doesn't acerbate it. I was rather engrossed in it, actually, because my symptoms--over-heated, a little nauseated, tired--had become part of the furniture of the room.

It's not like pain. Pain is inescapable. Pain fills the room and spills out. This was forgettable for awhile, and then insistently came back to my attention. Finally, Michael Jackson was explained by the trauma of his childhood, the dachshund was sound asleep, and I could go to sleep myself. I am a little out of sorts again today, not in any serious way, just fatigued and nothing quite tastes right and things don't settle, but perfectly happy to read and watch TV. A little vigilant about taking anti-inflammatories so things don't get out of hand. The world is small.

I am sick.

18 Comments:

Blogger socalheather said...

Maureen,
Again, I can't express to you how your writing touches me! You speak about what I'm (we're) going through in ways that I never could. I love your writing, it makes me feel like I'm watching a movie of my own experience. Does that make sense?

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