When you feel properly sick everything seems bleak. You lay there consumed by an ailment you have little control of. Physically it’s uncomfortable at best. There are times when you’re almost in a vegetative state: no more than a body, wracked by illness. At times though the curtain lifts. The mind focuses. You become aware of your predicament. Allow it to follow its own natural course and a mix of self-pity and helplessness become the prevailing emotions. Everything seems dark. You’re in the middle of something you feel sure will pass at some point, but in the midst of it you view things with a stark pessimism.
Being sick is democracy in action. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, where you live or what job you have, sickness is the ultimate leveler. Good intentions count for nothing. Wealth may buy you a better class of medico, and it might give you nicer surroundings to recuperate in, but in the end that’s secondary to your condition: Rupert Murdoch suffers no less from a head cold than one of his minions working at the printing press. You can see a doctor, take your medicine, but we all have to wait it out.
It’s in that condition that your mind drifts. The stories of your life, the narrative, seem exposed as hollow and empty. Reduced to a state of laying on the couch unable to do anything – unable, even, to think straight – your plans for the future seem futile. Everything is stripped back, perhaps ridiculously so, and you feel yourself no more than a speck in the universe. Subject to an illness that wracks your body and which you have little control over you realise how abject we are really, atoms that collide and spin off into random directions. Free will exists, but it’s subject to greater forces much beyond your control.
Or so you think.
I’ve exaggerated for effect perhaps, but I’m sure everyone in the misery of some fierce ailment has felt at least some of that. I felt pretty sick the last few days. Not so sick that I couldn’t move around, or think, but sick enough that I didn’t want to; sick enough that I felt my world close in upon me, this house, that TV screen, the world beyond suddenly a mystery I didn’t want to face. I ached, and was wracked by coughing fits that came upon me suddenly and which went on and on, leaving me exhausted and raw and contemplating a time when my immune system might not be so strong. I would fall back to where I lay, the plans I had seemingly a thousand miles away, and plainly ridiculous. Even my problems – the rent unpaid, another lot of money mistakenly taken from my bank account – seemed distant and strange. I lay there using up time, not wanting to think, watching movies – the original Poltergeist, Fahrenheit 451 – and the day pass into night, and again.
It sounds quite depressing. I felt that at one stage. Exhausted by my cold and gripped by the existential reality of it the plans I’d made seemed foolish and unfeasible. Who am I kidding? I thought in one of those moments. The crushing weight of my situation and all it entails sat upon me without relief. I hardly thought, except to think, I’m not going to get out of this.
But the things change. There are phases when you don’t feel so bad. You sense a subtle improvement in your condition. And despite the seeming stasis of the world while you’re ill, you are made to realise that it goes on without you. And sometimes the cogs turn your way.
It’s Sunday and I’m not right yet, but a lot better than I was. I’m still coughing, but much of the congestion has passed. My voice sounds human again. I’ll probably be at work tomorrow, though I’m wary with my cough of the peril I present to my workmates. Mentally I feel fine.
A few things happened out of the blue at the end of last week that give cause for optimism – one of them seemingly miraculous.
At a time I need it most a writing gig fell into my lap. This one is reasonably good money too, a former client looking to refresh his web content. Jobs like this come along every so often, but generally only for pocket change. I write web copy, advertising spiels, scripts for on-hold messages, and so on. The job is not hard and I plan to get it done today, and at the end of it the cash I receive will pay some bills and put some food in the pantry. I live to fight another day.
On Friday I rang the ATO to sort out some things. We’ve had a torrid relationship. Eventually I ended up with a sympathetic listener who out of the blue proposed I do something that may clear my debt with them. I was surprised, but leapt upon the opportunity. I’m not a believer, but that would be a godsend.
Finally, and strangely, I noticed as I undressed for bed on Friday night that the swelling in my left leg had subsided. My left calf was operated on 2 years ago to clear the effects of a DVT. It was unsuccessful. Since then, as before, my left calf was about twice the size of my right. Removing my socks each night would expose to view the deep depression in the yielding flesh were the elastic of my sock had bitten into.
I’m vain about these things. Through summer I’m embarrassed to go around in shorts, though most people probably don’t notice. It seemed a terrible physical flaw that in some indefinable way diminished me as a man.
A little while ago I had to see a podiatrist. She asked me to step up on a stool, first one leg, then the other. We started with my right leg, and she exclaimed at how well-defined my muscles were in my calf. I was flattered, chuffed even – she was a pretty girl – but then commented, “wait until you see the other one”.
I stepped up with my left leg and she agreed, “I see what you mean.” My left calf was like an overweight grandmothers. I used to walk behind people like that and the thought always came to mind that their legs were full of custard. I had cankles – well, a cankle anyway.
Now I don’t. My left leg is not as fine as my right, and probably never will be. What’s it’s not anymore though is that pudgy, custard filled thing. It looks more like a muscular calf now. I can live with this. How it has suddenly happened I have no idea. Perhaps, magically, a blockage suddenly cleared. In any case I feel somewhat human again, and in a strange way take it as a good sign for the future.