“One exaggerates, imagines, anticipates affliction. Do not let us build a second story to our sorrow by being sorry for our sorrow.” – Marcus Aurelius.
Twenty-six days. That’s when it all began. A spontaneous trip to an indoor pool we were not familiar with, which we thoroughly enjoyed for fourteen minutes until, unbeknownst to us, we were called out for not having a proper reservation. We left quickly, without showering. At the time, we thought this to be a minor detail as we bathed the moment we arrived home, but in hindsight, this is the one thing we could have done differently that may have changed our outcome.
My husband and I felt ill the next day, although we excused the symptoms of exhaustion. Our children presented slight cold or allergy symptoms the day following, which we quickly explained away. A few days later, I rushed our three-year-old daughter to the hospital while she screamed in pain with a severe UTI. A week later, I would make the same trip to the hospital for the same reason.
In twenty-six days, we have had five doctor visits, three nurse calls, two hospital visits, and six prescriptions as a collective family unit. With no definitive diagnosis other than “a virus that was not Covid,” we hunkered down as a family and tried our best to care for one another and regain our health.
The first ten days, we seemingly took turns being sick. One day, I’d feel worse while my husband felt better. One child was excited to go to school, while the other suddenly had a fever. The coughing was the worst part for me; I’d cough so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath. There are few sensations as unpleasant as a deep, sporadic cough. But then, the next day, I’d feel fine, and my fierce cough became more of a whimper. And then, the day following, the cough would return with a vengeance.
Besides the bi-polar health, our household was having other problems as well. The anxiety that is provoked in children when one or both parents are unwell—the resentment between spouses when both neglect domestic duties. And then, of course, there was Diesel.
Diesel is our rescue puppy who, before coming to us, has known struggles that I cannot imagine. In the height of our chaos and illness, Diesel was neutered and given a cone to wear around his head to ensure proper healing to prevent him from messing with the stitches. However, no one told Diesel that.
Diesel will not move with the cone on him. The vet, our friends, and the internet assure us that he will eventually move once he is “used” to the cone, but from what we’ve seen in the last week, we doubt that to be true.
Yet, when we remove the cone, he tries to pull out his stitches, so he will have to deal with it.
It is clear that Diesel’s condition is not permanent and that the cone is meant to protect him from himself. Because we know that it is temporary, we smile as he stands frozen by his food dish, unable to move closer to the food he desperately wants, waiting for us to remove his cone. We speak encouraging words to get him to move with the cone on, knowing that one day, the cone will be in the trash, and he will be free.
We diligently give him pain meds, antibiotics, treats, and affection. We translate his whines into action as he wouldn’t be whining if he didn’t have a need not being met. We empathize with his condition but do not remove the cone prematurely because we know it is in his best interest.
In a world of our own making, my husband and I struggle when illness hits our house. Chaos, exhaustion, resentment, self-doubt, and, most notably, failure to empathize with each other. With all our resources directed at our children, it often feels as if nothing is left to offer each other in the way of kindness. Except that’s not true; the love and compassion we both freely give to Diesel proves it so.
When illness is in a household, time moves slowly. Compassion fatigue replaces the small efforts one makes to comfort another. How can one care for someone else when they are ill? I don’t have an answer. Logic dictates that we cannot give away something we do not have. However, my experience has shown me repeatedly that when my efforts are placed outside of myself in helping others, serenity is more achievable.
Although we know that illness isn’t permanent, nothing in life is, but we often act as if it is. We are like Diesel, frozen by our self-imposed limitations.
At some point during the last twenty-six days, we could have mitigated the severity of our illnesses had we spent more time resting, hydrating, and relaxing. Instead, the misguided notion that our lives are too busy and too important to place a halt to focus on self-care dominated us and left us in a vulnerable position that resulted in an extended illness.
Today, I will remember that nothing in this life is permanent. That illness is fleeting in the grand scheme of it all and that the how and why of it all doesn’t matter as much as the here and now. I will strive to take myself where I am and be kind to all, starting with myself.