Last week was a hard one. First there was my travel saga…not to make too much of that…it ended well. But the long trip home set me up for a rough couple of days. I was exhausted from the cross-country flying, and probably picked up a bug in the friendly skies…all the close quarters and shared air. By the time I got back to Ketchikan, all I really wanted to do was crawl in bed and sleep for a week. By the time I’d been there a couple of hours, I was feeling chilled and sick. Not a good homecoming at all.
On Wednesday I tried to get up three times. Finally I forced myself to be upright long enough to see off our friends who had stayed in the house while we were gone for the holidays. If they hadn’t been retiring and moving out of state, I’m not sure I would have made the effort to rouse myself. But in the circumstances, it seemed right that I crawl out of the covers for a formal goodbye. I kept a safe distance…didn’t want to share a parting gift of germs with them…and as soon as they left, I dragged myself back to bed. I knew I had a few hours yet I could be horizontal. For the moment, it was my life goal: To. Be. Horizontal.
Rob was scheduled to get home that evening, so I set an alarm to make sure I’d wake up in time to pick him up. I revived enough to do that, but didn’t last long after we got home from the airport.
On Thursday I was supposed to go to Metlakatla. My alarm went off at 5:00 AM and I started playing the game. I reset it for 5:30, then 6:00. Then I finally turned it off. I couldn’t have gotten myself out the door if the house was on fire. I’ve rarely felt like every cell in my body was drained, but that was how I felt that morning.
I never sleep in, but after a couple of mid-morning attempts to get up, I gave up. I finally surfaced between noon and 1:00, and we ran a few errands. We had to make it over to Metlakatla Friday morning since Rob was covering call for the clinic over the weekend, and I needed to connect with some staff on Friday. So Thursday afternoon was my chance to pull myself together and get ready to be there for a few days. I managed it, but barely.
By Friday morning I was almost back to normal. And good thing too. I could not have walked out the door a day earlier. Maybe I just needed some time for my body to catch up with all the bouncing around I’d done in the past few weeks.
I mention all of this to say…wow!…what a hard thing it is to be sick. I’m so rarely under the weather that I’m sometimes guilty of forgetting that not everyone is so fortunate. It’s easy to take good health and energy for granted when that’s mostly all you’ve known.
I remember when my dad was going through chemo and radiation treatments. Even when he was not visibly ill, he was fatigued. He rarely had much energy, and he couldn’t eat normally. And of course so many things work as part of a vicious cycle for cancer patients. I would visit and try to encourage him to eat a little more. Or to be interested in something going on, or going for a ride, or anything. There were days that he could participate in life, and days he couldn’t.
It was frustrating, for someone filled with energy, to try to infuse someone else with life, with interest, with desire to do something, to do anything. Last week, lying in bed feeling like the world could disappear and I wouldn’t care, feeling like talking and even listening required more energy than I could muster, I thought about my dad. I remembered some of the times I tried to share my energy through encouragement, through optimism, through my hope for him.
It’s humbling to realize…I didn’t have cancer, or some other debilitating disease. I’m sure I just had a virus, and ibuprofen and some extra sleep were sufficient to get me back on my feet. But for people who have serious illness, or depression, or some life-crippling condition….a little sleep and a few over-the-counter pills are not going to cut it.
Last week was a reminder that I need to appreciate my own good health. But I also need to be understanding and patient with people who are struggling. I would never criticize anyone battling illness. But I’ll confess that it is sometimes frustrating to feel like you’re trying so hard for them. And they just don’t pick up the cues and perk up. It’s disheartening, when you have energy to burn, and you can’t ignite a spark.
Thinking about my dad, I know he understood that I was just trying to help, and that I was so longing for him to feel better, if only I could have done it for him. But I couldn’t grasp how much he was doing, just by sitting in his chair, by being dressed, by eating a little bit, by talking a little bit. I couldn’t grasp how that little effort was taking all the energy he could find, and all he could spare.
Well, I’ve been sick a few times in my life. Not for long, and never very seriously. But in recent years, when I’ve had days that knocked me flat, I’m reminded, again, that I need to be respectful of the boundaries. That I need to understand…when you don’t feel well, no one can feel well for you. No one can hope you into energy and strength and wellness.
I suppose this is on my mind because I was just flattened, and reminded. And because Rob was on call and saw a lot of sick elderly folks. Most of them probably had flu, and will likely recover. I hope so. But my 53-year-old self has bounced back, and recovery will likely be slower for the older ones.
I am pausing to reflect on this now, and to store it away for “some-day,” when I’m on the elderly side of life, or ill…I’ll be the one needing patience then, and kindness, and understanding that just wanting isn’t always enough.
It’s perspective, isn’t it?