Learning from Illness (1)

First of all, apologies to regular readers of this blog for the absence of a post for almost two weeks. It wasn’t my choice, I can assure you.

The reason I haven’t been posting is that I have been ill, and while I’m not going to go into the specific details of that right now, trust me, you are going to get to know all about it in the coming weeks, if you keep up with the blog.

When one discovers that one is ill, and realizes that surgery will be required, it is tempting fate a little to write about such a subject in advance. I must admit, given my love of the absurd, I was tempted. It would have satisfied my sense of humor to say: “Well, off to the hospital now, if you don’t hear from me again, take it that they have killed me!”

Funny perhaps, but not very satisfying for the reader. Half of an interesting story, perhaps, but ultimately a sentence without a period, a tale without conclusion.

So I put off my story until I had some idea about the end and how it would ultimately turn out. (I didn’t die, Doh! – as you must have guessed)

Now I have the start, middle and end of what this particular illness meant to me, what I learned from it,  and, perhaps,  what other people may be able learn from it too. It could be a useful experience for my readers, many of whom are interested in health and medicine, but also for anyone interested in this game of life we all try to play, and the looming event we all dread to go through,  even though we all do it just the once.

But, you might say, there were many health issues which arose during the last two weeks Terence! Why not contribute something on those subjects? The HSE launched a Service Plan, for example. Surely you could have made a few comments on that?

And I will answer with the first thing I learned from being ill. Your own illness trumps everything else and everyone else. If it is serious enough, if it brings you to the brink, it occupies all your thoughts and energies and there is not much room for anything else.

We all try to be empathetic and understanding of the suffering of others, and some are much better than others, but eventually, our own health dictates how we live, and our attitude to life – despite the inane and annoying evocations to positivity on Facebook and Twitter. You can’t run from the limitations of your own body.

And it’s really when you are ill that you realise those limitations. You realise that you are flesh and blood that will eventually wear out. Of course, at some deep level in the back of your mind you knew that, it’s just that now it’s at the front of your brain and occupying some premium real estate. And you realise…

Your work will go on without you. Your family will go on without you. Your social life will go on without you, (He was a great guy, pass the peanuts) and even as you realise this, you still don’t want it to end. You might be meaningless to many, but you are still something to yourself. The Bible is wrong on many things – including the ‘three score and ten’ years we are allotted, but still, most of us are banking on at least that. What if we are dealt a hand that gives us, say, 20 years short of that total? And for my younger readers, how about 40 years shorter? And what if we just got that news today?

As we get older, we tend to push out that check-out time in our heads. At 20, we don’t even think of the end. At 40, we can (and need sometimes) to estimate it. After 50, it’s closer than birth, and most of life has been lived. But illness brings it right into the here and now, the present,  and there’s nothing quite like the prospect of imminent death to focus the mind.

But, of course we don’t know that it’s necessarily death, and we don’t know it’s imminent. We hope, always with the hope. We don’t know that this illness (or this bus, “I could be knocked down by a bus tomorrow”) would be the one that would carry off all our hopes and dreams and end us right here and right now. While we are healthy, we can indulge ourselves in life while death sits outside the door, an unwelcome stranger.

When I started to write this blog I gave the reason here and I even believed it.

But now that you and I know what happened subsequently, isn’t there a tendency to say that maybe it was something more than a mere tummy upset that was bothering me that night? That’s one of the problems with illness – we tend to forget the past and the worries and fears it inspired. They’re gone now. We focus on the next thing.

At the time, the pain wasn’t enough to make me worried. It was only getting started. Or maybe it was something else, unrelated.

It occurred to me when I got sick that it was an ideal opportunity for me to go undercover – to go deep into my own soul and try to examine what makes illness bearable or unbearable. For that reason, I can’t get into the specific details of my illness yet, because I want to share with you all how it felt, and how the knowledge felt as I received it. We know I survived, sure, but still that doesn’t tell all the story. And you can’t start a story at the end.

But I hope you’ll stay with me for this journey. If it gets to be too much, just change your subscription to the weekly one and just read the bits you want (so I’m not bothering you every day). I hope you learn something good from it.


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