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Best We Can Do

By Martha Iachetta

I share space with the school nurse at the high school where I work in western Rhode Island. She is perfect for the job in many ways, offering just the right dose of pragmatic sympathy to the sick and weary who walk through the door. Home sickHer gift is to normalize their sore throats and sniffles as typical “winter” or “fall” or “you-fill-in-the-blank” colds that should be muddled through and simply accepted as part of life. And she practices what she preaches. She’ll come in with a red nose and insist that she’s fine, and I really think she is. I, however, identify with the students who remain unsatisfied with her diagnosis and insist they need to lie down, want to whine a few extra minutes, or, horrors, just want to go home.

For those of us who are lack the iron clad mettle possessed by my school’s nurse, I truly believe there is a part of us that does not want to muddle through at all. All we really want is the impossible: to be chicken souped, ginger ale-d, TV’ed, and napped, preferably without one moment more of actual discomfort. We want that elusive day off, without consequence or worry, assured of our health’s return and comforted by knowing the world can go on without us.

Remember the sick days of youth? By the time I was in fourth grade, my mother worked full time, so I stayed home alone when I felt under the weather, complete with free reign of the house. I’d play records and sing at the top of my lungs, oddly enjoying the irritation to my throat and the sexy voice that followed. Sometimes one of my three siblings would be sick on the same day and, depending on which one, we’d either resent the intrusion or keep each other company–television watching, book reading, and ice cream eating our way through the day. In elementary school, I loved morning cartoons and was bored by the afternoon soaps. By junior high it was exactly the reverse. Once high school hit, being sick was accompanied by the worry of catching up on school work. Since then, the free pass for a day out has never really been the same.

When my husband is sick, he does that open-mouthed, uncovered, misery cough that epitomizes the woe of his suffering and the small comfort found in an audience. He abhors nurturing but refuses to suffer in silence. When I am sick, I want to be waited on hand and foot. The only place I feel half okay is lying horizontal in bed. Rue the day when we are sick at the same time, or worse yet, sick when our son is sick too.

When my six-year-old is sick, he is either a feverish angel, unnervingly pleasant and easy to be around, or he is a demanding crank. Generally I do not mind caring for him, especially if his illness is mild and falls on a convenient day. I am grateful to have sick time off from work, guiltily allow him hours of television, and catch up on reading and sleep myself. But, if it falls on an inconvenient day, meaning neither my husband nor I can easily get out of our work commitments, it is marked by stress and irritation over juggling his care between the two of us.

I think, all in all, sickness is better when it isn’t really sickness–when it is just enough discomfort to warrant a day out, but not too much that it can’t be both timed to coincide with planning and convenience and actually enjoyed. My work offers a sick bank, allowing those of us who have more serious illnesses in our selves or our families the ability to stay out as long as we need without worrying about a loss of income. How ideal, I wish we all could have such luxury. Did you hear that, Barack? Being sick is expensive, my doctor once told me. In more ways than one.

Oh, for the innocent sick days of my youth. Luckily, I’m not the school nurse. I’d be sending kids home left and right, living vicariously through what very well may be their final opportunities to rest up, enjoy the break, and get well soon. They’d be lining up in the hall for pushover me to call their mom or dad to pick them up. The parents would resent me, the teachers would resent me, the administrators would resent me . . .

I guess, all in all, it is best to stay healthy. Here are some of my tips: The second I feel soreness in my throat, I suck on a zinc lozenge. I prefer the 365 brand from Whole Foods. I always eat before I take it to avoid the dreaded zinc-induced pseudo-morning-sickness feeling, but if that strange nausea hits anyway, I simply eat more food. But don’t count on Whole Foods for the “Wah, I’m sick! Get me some ginger ale,” because their soda is a poor substitute when junk is your goal. Though ginger has medicinal properties, real ginger ale is way too healthy to really soothe. The sugary fake stuff is best when you are crying out for comfort, I say. Traditional Medicinal’s “Throat Coat” is good for when soreness has hit and sunk in and Kripalu’s gentle yoga video helps the creaky aches and pains that result from too much time in bed. Ibuprofin works better, but eventually you need to rely on something a little more pure. Emergence-C is surprisingly effective at getting you out of bed. But bed is the real answer: there’s something about a nap that works wonders like nothing else. We all just need to be human sometimes and do our time. The world really can go on without us.

What kind of sick person are you? What do you find helps? Did you and yours make it through the holidays healthy? Give us your tips!

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  • TEA, the recliner and my laptop (to make me feel like I am working enough to warrant not leaving the house)… that’s my remedy for today. Aiming for a day with minimal conversation b/c my throat hurts….

  • There’s no cure to the common cold quite like a rest in bed/a cozy couch with grandmother’s knitted quilt, a mug of cocoa, a bowl of soup, and a mindless book/magazine/old movie…No one dares ask anything of you, and you have no guilt about “what you SHOULD be doing right now”….
    And..I do totally endorse zinc lozenges and emergen-C…..(can only help and can’t hurt) and a big tall glass of Tropicana “Valencia” orange juice treat!

  • If I’m sick, as soon as I’m home and my husband is home, I go in our bedroom, lock the door, and watch an entire season of The Wire or Big Love. The more fighting, whining, and dish clanking, and vacuuming I hear below, the faster I feel better.

    This was great to read, Martha. You hit many nails on their heads.

    I loved my middle school nurse. She let us hang out and chat and use Q-tips dipped in vaseline to apply as lip gloss. At the end of the year she took all of the girls who hung around her office to the Ground Round during school, as if we had been a legitimate club like Debate or something. She was awesome, and always called my mom to pick me up.

    (I see now that it was rather inconvenient for my mom.)