Re: Sick

“I’m sick and tired of this mess.” My mom used to moan before collapsing into our chromed kitchen dinette set. She was referring to her very existence, I came to learn, as she asked me to sit beside her while she smoked cigarettes and figured things out. From a very young age I got the idea that sickness has an emotional component.

Sick seems worse than ill; it’s more violent at least. There’s often vomit involved. We remember, vividly, all the times when we have been really sick. On a return flight from Europe my wife and I were served a rice dish that seemed a bit off. Within an hour of eating, my tummy was a gyro of gurgles. Then I got seriously nauseous, taking several runs to the tiny airplane bathroom, then retching in my home airport after disembarking, only to continue vomiting after the long taxi ride to my house. Somewhere in that mix diarrhea was involved. For a long time after that I was sickened by the thought of rice. The slightest inkling of a sickening feeling sent me running for an antacid.

Cleaning up after another person who spews is the highest calling. Contents of one’s stomach should never be seen. Puke is disgusting. Bile is worse. I watched a film recently where a character was breaking off their relationship to their friend saying, “You sicken me.” She acted as though she was throwing up as she was delivering her line. I got the point and so did the boyfriend. 

One of the quickest ways to stop feeling sorry for yourself is to consider the spectrum of health. We’re not always able to label our illness but we sure can tell a story of someone who was sicker. We judge sickness. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard to call into the office saying we can’t come in because we don’t want someone else second guessing our self diagnosis. There may be whispers of shirking one’s duty to the company. Long Term Covid may change attitudes regarding the sincerity and necessity of health care needs.

My first experience with health trauma occurred when I was fourteen. My sister was riding a bicycle and was struck by a car. She was rushed to Sick Children’s Hospital where she was treated for multiple injuries. She was in a cast for a long time and she had some long term issues that affected life for the whole family. Watching her recovery from the accident gave me a new perspective on priorities. I think the incident made me less likely to complain about the little aches and pains of life. It stiffened my resolve to see the other person’s situation clearly before forming an opinion.

My mom would regularly declare that she was sick to death of a situation or a person. Time after time she pulled herself out of her funk: Not really a complainer, yet always a bitch. I wonder if repetitive negative emotion does us in eventually. Let’s call it ‘Death by Crankiness’. What a way to go!

Re: Heart

My heart skipped a beat the other day. In fact it skipped several beats, enough to make me wonder what was going on. My son-in-law just happened to be stopping by for lunch so I asked him to take me to the hospital instead.

It was the prudent thing to do. Heart disease claims more lives in Canada than any other illness. I had been having heart palpitations (what I called kittens chasing each other in my chest) with some regularity for the past several months. My wife and I had agreed that, ‘the next incident’ would be the one where I would go to emerg. I considered my father, who died while on holiday in Portugal due to his heart health issues. He was only seven years older than I am right now. Memento mori.

My son is thirty years younger than I am. He and his wife have just bought their first house. After the move they enjoyed reporting a heartfelt sense of permanence, saying the decision was a “coup de coeur” experience. News of their combined joy pulled at my heart strings as though a song of love and longing had just arrived after a commercial break. A song such as this favourite of mine by Tony Bennett. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6DUwMnDxEs

There are many songs written from the heart. Some popped into my head as I waited for a doctor upon entering the hospital’s emergency department. It was a large open area room akin to a Costco warehouse. Direction arrows were taped to the concrete floor, clerks stood at their posts. Instead of food samples or coupons I answered questions and was directed to a succession of stations where I was tested and questioned further. I got labelled then someone came with a wheelchair to take me through the final portal. Here, in a small room, I was told to lay on a bed around which gathered no fewer than seven medics. They stopped my heart twice in an attempt to reset it from a high of 185BPM. I felt well attended to, so I wasn’t frightened.

While being monitored and tested further, I listened to the busy sounds of the ER setting. I contemplated the news cycle since late 2019 of Covid calls to action in hospitals around the world. Many unrelated deaths occurred because folks like me were resisting going for medical attention for other ailments, like the atrial fibrillation which became my diagnosis on this day. Surprisingly my heart beat returned to normal as quickly as it had raced to my attention. Latest incident over, I have appropriate medication to forestall a similar occurrence and an appointment for a follow-up consultation with a cardiologist.

I felt gratitude that I had avoided a stroke which I was told was a potential with my condition. I was heartened to see our health care system work so well on my behalf. I’m happily feeling the beat of a consistent rhythm, giving me hope for what my future may hold.

Re: Heel

I like to keep one step ahead of things. This makes it hard on me when situations require that I heel, while others take the lead. I’m not saying I need a leash, but recent events surrounding Covid19 restrictions mean I have to hold back my urge to take charge. I like to be ahead of the pack, or at least off to the side minding my own business. These days I’m feeling I have to wait for my dinner, whine for a walk or watch expectantly by the front door. When I die, I’m not coming back as a dog.

Perhaps coincidentally, cracked heels run in my family. My nan’s chiropodist used to remove the callused skin on her heels with a device like a potato peeler. My mom would forecast, “So if you don’t wear socks more often, you’re going to end up just like her.” I was given many cautionary tales as a kid and sometimes I’d have to decipher the meanings. My mom would frequently bring me to heel. “Robert, come sit and talk with me.” She’d pronounce like a summons, while tempting me with a loaf of fresh baked bread. Our kitchen table was one of those chromed things with a stained formica top. Mom smoked while she talked, her monologues might last only one cigarette but sometimes she’d chain smoke, punctuating sentences by butting out into a perpetually dirty glass ashtray. I remember a story of a guy she used to work with being described as, ‘such a heel’. That’s the only part I remember; that he was a heel. The fun visual stuck, sort of like the image of a dickhead, with roughly the same connotation.

I’ve learned that heels can come in all shapes and sizes. Evangelical tent preachers can sometimes be heels, taking advantage of trusting people, as depicted in the great Burt Lancaster film Elmer Gantry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z73HAUbQNp4

My dad liked imitating a crazed religious healer we occasionally saw on Sunday morning television. He would playfully slap the heels of his hands on my forehead or both sides of my head while crying out, “Now! Rise and be Healed!”

I’m married to a legitimate healer. She practised nursing and complementary medicine in her working years. Now she brings this experience to our friends and family. Besides reminding me to put cream on my rough heels, my wife has provided her healing arts to all manner of damage I have done to myself; from falling out of trees, to stubbing toes, to traffic accidents, to convalescence after minor surgery.

Once, a friend of mine tried to show me the healing art of bread making. He demonstrated the correct way to knead the dough using the heels of his hands. Later, kitchen filled with intoxicating aroma, bread warm from the oven, I would ask for the heel of the loaf, just as I had enjoyed as a boy. I’d slice hard butter on it, then add a daub of peanut butter. Comfort food for a weary pilgrim.