Zen and the Art of Being Sick

So…last week was a fun week.

“Fun” as in root canal with no anesthesia. “Fun” as in 1 sick husband, 2 sick kids and 3 long days of feverish whining, barking coughs, wet sneezes, middle of the night vomiting and hourly marathons of running from room to room dispensing medicine, cold juice, hot tea, smiles, kisses on foreheads and cold compresses.

What struck me as I peeled veggies for my World (by “World”, I really just mean my house) Famous Chicken Soup (in all modesty it really does deserve an all cap title) was just how differently each person deals with being sick. My husband lies in bed prostrate, legs splayed out and pillow carefully covering his eyes and forehead. To my inquiries about his health, he loudly mutters “fine, just fine. don't worry about me. I'm fine , just fine. maybe I should go back to work. I'm just laying here but I'm fine, just fine.” Two seconds later his guilt and protestations are laid to rest as he falls into a deep and troubled slumber. Even sick, he can't just relax into the moment and let his body heal. He spins stories about his guilt and all his work obligations. He mutters and protests and denies his aching bones throughout the entire illness.

My teen age daughter lies curled up in a fetal ball, moaning gently and practicing her “calf to slaughter” eyes. No calf, in the history of calves going to slaughter, has ever or can ever best those large, sad, brown, self-pitying eyes. She feels bad for herself but self-dignity prevails. She is stoic and brave. All bodily fluids are “nasty” and she considers her body as being in full blown mutiny as she sniffs her own body odors in disgust. She is so caught up in the drama of it all that she becomes incensed when a friend on Facebook dares to suggests that at 104-degree fever he is slightly sicker than my teenager. She counters back with a record 5 vomits in 24 hours. Can he beat that? Fortunately, he cannot beat that awesome yet “nasty” record.  A war erupts as all of my sick ones' friends square off into Camp 104 degrees with only one throw up session or Camp102.7 degrees with 5 throw ups. What do you think? I actually found myself weighing the merits. I remain firmly undecided. In a strange way her illness anchored her into the moment. She was totally present in her moment, feeling everything clearly, acknowledging and accepting the situation (a bit too happily) with equanimity and calm. 


Then we have my 11 year old son who has absolutely no problem loudly proclaiming how sick he really, really, really is. Truth be told, he is the least sick of them all. According to Facebook standards, he only threw up 3 times in a 24 hour period AND never had a real fever. In his own neurotic, “the world is falling apart”,” my life is over”, “I will never feel better” world, his little body feels as though it is being torn apart by a pack of starving wolves (his words not mine). His throat is as parched as the surface of Mars (again his words). I, of course, know exactly what is going on. What really, really, really pains him is that his sister is missing an entire week of school and he only missed 3 days. The injustice tugs at his soul and he is sick with jealousy and envy. (my words, not his). He was not in the moment, simply being sick, but rather he was firmly in his "story" of injustice, self-pity and Eeyore like misery. The one time that he really, really, really threw up was at 1:22 a.m. As I was collecting the soiled sheets and mopping the floors, my daughter poked her head into the room and commented on her way back to bed “ oh yeah, Ma, by the way Happy Birthday”. Oh Yes, I forgot to mention, in the midst of last week's fun my Birthday and Mother's Day rolled through.

This week my husband went back to work, the kids are back at school and I am in bed with a 103 fever and countless throw ups under my belt. You might think that I am resentful, livid, miserable. You would be wrong. I must confess that I am pretty much enjoying it (between rumbles in the tummy and runs to the porcelain throne). My bedroom is quiet (my husband refuses to sleep in the bed. he doesn't want to get sick). I have my big comfy bed all to myself. The shades are drawn and it is dark and cool (usually I have to fight for cooler temps, my husband likes it warmer, but I am sick so…). I have the television all to myself. My husband and kids knock before they enter and tiptoe in as I gently moan, bat my large brown eyes and proclaim that I am really, really, really sick. They cluck over me and kiss my forehead and bring me hot, sweet tea. I am in the moment and loving every single second of it. No cooking, cleaning, homework-ing, driving. Ah, this is the life… it's like my Birthday and Mother's Day all rolled into one.