Silly question, isn’t it? I’m not speaking in terms of will your life story fit into one book. I mean this literally. Can you put your physical body in a book, and put it on a bookshelf? Of course not! Even the tiniest of newborns would be very uncomfortable between paper/cardboard covers. So, why is it we put our illnesses in a book? I know – you all think I have finally snapped, have finally lost my mind. Follow along – it will all make sense.
Lets start our journey at the beginning. You aren’t feeling too hot. Maybe you have truly definable symptoms – a headache, backache, fever, leg pain, dizziness, whatever. Or you may have found that spot that you know looks “off”. Or you can’t sleep at night. Or there is that knot on your elbow that really hurts when you touch it. Whatever it is, you break down and make the appointment. You try your best to be nonchalant – but you are truly worried, or you wouldn’t have made that appointment. The big day arrives. You sit in the waiting area, with the lady busily reading, the deaf old gentleman telling everyone for 3 buildings about his ingrown toenail, and the young mother who swears “just one more time, young man, and you are going to get IT!” The nurse opens the door to the inner sanctum, and calls your name. You have to make the obligatory stop at the scale so you can no longer lie to yourself that you still weigh what you did 10 years ago, and you are ushered into an exam room. She rolls in the innocuous machine – bp/temp combo – and as she asks you what’s going on with you today, she places the plastic covered thermometer in your mouth, and puts the cuff on your arm. Once your numbers are written down, you tell her why you are there – whatever your reason. She assures you the doctor will “be with you shortly” and closes you in the small cubicle, with its unisex exam table, rack of tips for the otoscope, sanitizing hand soap, sink, paper towel dispenser, trash can, one or two small chairs, and a rolling stool. In my doctor’s office, there is even a desktop computer in each exam room. But I swear, in 50 years on this earth, the tile company and paint company that do medical offices have made a killing – they haven’t changed a thing in at least 5 decades.
So you wait. That itch in exactly the center of your back, that you cannot reach, gets worse and worse – and there are no door jambs to help you out in this room. You finally turn awkwardly to use the plastic chair back, and of course, the door opens and in walks your physician. If you are lucky (and I am), he LISTENS to what you say. But there are still those out there who have the personality of the tan walls they work in every day. Even worse are the ones who were head of their class in arrogance. Come on, you have met this doctor. The one who, either in word or action, clearly tells you that you know less than nothing, because HE went to medical school and you didn’t. Then there are the select few who, when faced with a series of symptoms that don’t compute in their mental bank, determine it is “all in your head” or “stress”. Now, I know there are viable mental illnesses, and that some of them manifest themselves in physical symptoms. I also know that stress can literally kill you. But this doctor only uses these maladies when faced with something that isn’t the common cold. They don’t usually last long – but some last long enough to do some serious damage. But you don’t have that doctor for my story. You have a great doctor, who listens to you, uses the answers you provide to work with you to eliminate what it isn’t, and to determine the proper way to proceed. Next step in your case – blood work. Again, I’m lucky enough to have a lab in the doctor’s office – and I hope you are too. I have, in the past, had to drive across town to have blood work done, and its a royal pain in the tush. But you get a great phlebotomist, and the blood work is completed with minimal pain and bruising. You may even have to have a xray or two, depending on what your exact complaint is. So you go back to work, or go home, to wait. To roll around in your mind just what could be found when your cells and the microscope have their date. If you are a pessimist, by the time you get the call or letter or email from the doctor about your results, you have convinced yourself you won’t see the first of next month. So anything they tell you is really good news – unless they confirm you won’t see the first of next month.
You get “the call”. Here comes the tie in to the title. How many times – be it for something as simple as strep throat or an ear infection, or something as life changing as cancer or arthritis or diabetes – have you been told what is wrong with you by the doctor reading out of a book? Me – NEVER. Because each of us is an individual. So my ear infection can be treated with penicillin, which for you would cause a severe allergic reaction and threaten your life. The medical texts and websites are guides – but they have to flex to consider the individual. My pain threshold may be minimal – what would be what I consider severe pain may seem like a mild ache to you. I may have other problems going on, or medications I take, that mean that the drug that works for you is one that I can’t take at all. So – even two patients with the exact same illness can be totally different. Which answers the title question with a resounding NO. You do not fit in a book – you would not fit in a book.
So, why do we, when faced with a friend or family member who has been diagnosed with cancer, arthritis, lupus, diabetes, heck, even a common cold or ear infection, immediately try to put that person in our book? Why do we automatically remember Joe’s sister’s husband’s sister’s daughter, who had a hangnail that gave her skin cancer – so you must have had a hangnail since you have cervical cancer. Yes – reread that last sentence, and stop laughing. There are people who have this thought process. They are the same ones who wrongfully accuse someone with a life threatening or life changing illness of “faking” simply because they have a good day. You know, if you are sick, good days aren’t allowed. You have to be sick 24/7/365. Well, I’m here to tell ya, some days truly ARE better than others. Some days, I fall back on every single trick learned in high school drama. Yep – I FAKE IT! I pretend I feel good – because I’m not going to feel any worse or better by laying in the bed moaning about how rotten I feel. Besides, I have other people in my life – people who are affected by how I feel, and if I can give them a good day with me in it – I can be sick anytime! Personally, I am about to start college. At age 50, I know I will have at least the one professor who expects a tad more out of someone of my “life experience”. So I’ll have to do it just that one step better. If my back decides to act up – tough cookies. It can act up on weekends, or holidays, but on school days I will be my normal sparkling self, with no sign of the arthritis or stenosis at all. Anyone looking at the outside will see a mother of 3, grandmother of 2 who is getting a bit of a late start on a career she truly believes in and loves. That is how it will have to be. So when you see me on Saturday, and I am literally barely moving – back up and think twice before you accuse me of faking it. I couldn’t fake an illness if I wanted to – but I’m really very good at faking wellness. I know I am – because if I wasn’t, you wouldn’t think I was faking my illness, would you?
This blog is about a very serious subject – judging. I’ve tried to look at it in a lighthearted way, but it’s not really a lighthearted subject. People’s feelings are hurt daily by this. So I ask you this – are you guilty? There is a cure you know. Its called compassion. Its called friendship. Its called human kindness. Exercise some – the people around you won’t be the biggest benefactors; you will.
Thanks for your time in reading this – if you feel the need to, please do not hesitate to share.