for the past 36 hours or so i've been not feeling too well. anything i eat makes me feel worse. like the toast i just ate to try to curb my hungry stomach is now churning about in an uncomfortable way. i've also had more bloody noses than normal and now my head aches a bit. faced with these symptoms i am drinking tea, taking baths and naps.
treating illness is fascinating to me. the many different ways we all handle it. the random bits of old country advice- whatever country your ancestors come from- handed out with hopes of healing another. for example, as a kid when i was sick i remember three main treatments. first, there was vicks vapor rub. my mom still swears by this despite some evidence that it can be dangerous for kids. but this was in the seventies and maybe it wasn't so dangerous then? she would slather us up with this stuff and try a bandanna around our necks.
the other remedy was flat ginger ale. i have never understood this. i think part of it was that we were rarely allowed soda as kids- so it was a treat of sorts. beyond that i cannot quite figure out how this was supposed to physically help us. i should ask her.
the other...shutter....was milk toast. yes, the name is the recipe. make toast, butter it and pour warm milk over the top. this was something my grandmother gave to my mom and my mom loved it. she still does. again, the mysterious healing powers of it are beyond me. i haven't had it in years but i do remember eating it. because when your a sick kid you do almost whatever the adult that loves you tells you to do. you honestly believe that they can make you better.
maybe in a way they did make me better because it was about comforting to me. to have my mom, a single mom who usually was at work, stay home and bring me things that i never otherwise ate or drank. to have her sit next to me and read me stories until i slipped into sleep.
i cannot remember at time when i was sick or hurting, physically or emotionally, that i didn't feel better after a little bit of comfort. someone bringing me hot tea or cold water. a back rub or a cool washcloth. sometimes just having someone sit next to you and do nothing at all has made me feel protected. even when i was in labor having someone's hand in mine helped me to feel supported.
sometimes i slip and let myself think erroneous ideas. for example, i used to think that if i did "the right thing" i would be happy. i have now since come to realize that being happy is a choice and that sometimes i choose not to be happy- and i'm ok with that. in that same vein, i sometimes think i would never be ill if i just did "the right thing." most of this is in hind sight, of course, but there are some choices i could make in my life that would no doubt increase my health. when i get sick, like now, i start to berate myself a bit about this.
but then i stop and think about the purpose of being ill. yes, it does strengthen our immune system. yes, we can learn much about ourselves. and yes, sometimes being ill is the only way to get a person to slow down and rest. beyond that i think that illness or dis-ease offers an opportunity for bonding. for making connection. for showing affection. for providing comfort.
this summer both boys had chicken pox. seren, being 8, understood what was happening and although he was uncomfortable at times he wasn't upset by his illness. cyrus, being 2, did not go so gently into that goodnight. there was a moment when he was just miserable, so i got into the warm oatmeal bath with him. i just held him, his pock covered body so weak that it felt like he was asleep but his brown eyes were wide open. we lay there for a long time- now and then i would add more hot water by turning on the tap with my foot. i was all he wanted and in that moment i could give all he wanted to him. which is a gift for the giver and the reciever.
right then i was thankful for the chicken pox because it offered an opportunity to bond with my boys by being able to provide them comfort. they were able to rely on me for small bits of relief. then the function of illness to a family, to a society, changed for me. i thought about what it would be like if a child never got sick, never got upset, never was anything but happy and healthy. would that really be the ideal?
yes, we can all do our best to stay healthy. but when we do get sick we can allow ourselves to be comforted. and when we care for someone who is sick we are healing more than their physical bodies.