Yesterday my daughter starts complaining that her stomach aches and she doesn’t feel well. No other symptoms, no nausea, no gastric distress, no tender places, no fever, nothing. So I give her some honey chamomile tea and then we lay on my bed with a heating pad on her stomach watching Mary Poppins. Miraculously this cure worked, the stomach ache disappeared and she was back outside playing with her friends. Tea and sympathy – I should send it to Dr. Roizen for his wellness institute.
I have to admit my husbands influence in the adoption of the sympathy cure. He comes from people who know from heating pads. His response to illness is to stay home, get in bed within reach of tissues, thermometer, books and lozenges and watch TV. Its sensible. Its rational. Its what you are supposed to do in order to recover. This was all news to me.
Illness was another form of weakness to my parents, especially my father who never took a sick day in his life until he was dying of cancer. A combination of depression-era frugality and superstitious fear (“people go to hospitals to die”) meant that you had to prove you were sick. Being unconscious or having bone break the skin were legitimate, as was bleeding that my father could not stop with a butterfly bandage. (He fancied himself Baden-Powell and would have secretly loved an invasion of some kind so he could use all his deep woods, survivalist skills.) Flu didn’t get sympathy unless the fever was over 101, and any cold without fever was whining. A physical complaint registered, that did not meet the above criteria, was invariably met with “Qwitcher fakin”.
Hard to argue with that. My mother had a secondary approach when she thought you might actually be ill or in pain, and that was “offer it up to Jesus.” You sometimes hear people say things like this in movies, but trust me they really do say it in real life. “Jesus suffered on the cross for you, you can put up with a little headache.”
I wish I were making it up. My mother continued to “offer it up” even after her mastectomy. She came home from her surgery with no pain killers because she didn’t want to get addicted (or give her sons the opportunity to lift them.) She spent several dreadful hours at home, praying in her bed before she allowed my sister to run to the drug store and fill her prescription. I hope at least several unbaptized babies made it out of limbo on that bit of suffering.
My husband cannot believe some of the stories I tell because they are so radically different than his experience. And they will never be a part of my tender-hearted daughter’s reality. She will continue to have attention paid and sympathy provided and visit doctors regularly whether she is bleeding or not.