Stepping Back, Looking Closer:
by K. S. Volcjak
There's nothing like a good illness to put things in perspective. Some of my fondest memories are rooted in times of sickness. Weird, I know.
The first incidence occurred when I was in high school. Mono was going around my circle of friends and I got it. Considering the mythology that surrounds mono in high school, that was something of an accomplishment for someone who hadn't had a real date until that fall.
But heartbreak goes along with first dates. Regular school attendance requires you to see the object and cause of that heartbreak on a daily basis. Mono got me out of that for six weeks.
For six weeks, I stayed home. My parents' business was run out of our house, which allowed my mom to give just the right amount of attention to a sick teenager. We kept each other company. I slept, read, and kept up with my homework on an "as you feel up to it" basis. As I began to mend, my mom and I did things together: cooking, sewing, running errands. It was winter, and I remember sitting next to the fire in the quiet, snow-brightened sunshine of our living room. No worries. It was wonderful.
Then there was the time I was in college. I was working, pledging a service fraternity, getting into real engineering courses, had a term paper to finish. I came down with bronchitis. I couldn't stay in our apartment because I couldn't breathe there: my roommate had a dog and the house was covered in dog hair. I ended up in the old Clark Infirmary at N.C. State. They told me school would have to wait and put me to bed. With the doctor's official permission, the anxieties collapsed and I slept for three days. When I did wake, there was a nice nurse to give me medicine with ginger ale or Coca Cola, just like my mother did when I was little. All that was missing was the sweet aroma of paregoric.
I wasn't sick when I went to the hospital to have my children, but they were both C-sections, so I wasn't rushed in and rushed out. It was restful because the boundaries were clear: my job was to take care of myself and my baby. The bright, uncluttered room allowed me a vacation from the million tasks waiting for me at home.
That is not to say all illnesses are like this: There was the time I got the chicken pox. I was five and it was the weekend my parents were hosting a big party. It was quite an event, for my parents never had big parties. So, while my brother got to run around with friends and eat potato chips and dip to his heart's content, I had to stay at my grandmother's. She treated me like a princess, but it still wasn't fair.
A few weeks ago, our life was interupted by another time of healing. This time, it was my daughter who was in the hospital (and who got to do the actual resting). Nothing tragic, or even particularly scary (thanks to an observant grandmother who picked up on the symptoms early). We are all well. But we were brought up short, detoured from our normal worries.
A life full of people you love, worthy responsibilities, engrossing interests, and enough drudgery to keep you grounded is a good thing. But there is never enough time for all of it and so choices must be made. I usually feel I could have done better if I had just tried harder.
For me, there is something restful in having those choices taken away. All the foolish fault-finding is burned away in the glaring truth "Nothing else matters right now."
What mattered was reading aloud from a favorite book and making up silly tongue-twisters with my daughter while waiting in the ER. What was important was snuggling together and watching movies, knitting our scarves and cooking omelets. What could wait until she was better were the day to day things, like school work. The body healed and the soul did, too.
It rained a lot that week, but I hope my daughter remembers those days as warm and bright and peaceful.