For the upcoming edition of Patients For A Moment, Queen of Optimism asks:
What is the nicest thing (or things) anyone has done for you since you became ill?
My answer to that question is based on the following experience…
Recently, I got an e-mail with the phrase that is the title of this post as the subject line (although I’ve added punctuation for effect). I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I opened the e-mail. Such a statement could be taken two ways:
1. Someone is sick and wondering if it is okay for them to be around me
2. Healthy people often act as if the illnesses of others are an inconvenience to them
I have to say, the first option is one of the nicest things people can do, to make sure that it’s okay for me to be around them if they are feeling under the weather. My immune system is unpredictable, and there are times when I have been around someone acutely ill, and have gotten sick myself. Other times, I haven’t. So I really appreciate being given the opportunity to decide for myself, and to extricate either myself or the other person from the situation.
That said, depending on how I am feeling, it is kind of a toss of a coin. And it still makes it hard for me to tell someone that either they or I need to leave, or we have to reschedule or whatever. But when someone asks, truly from a place of care and concern, I am more prone to respond honestly. And that person is more likely to understand.
Not many people care this much to think about it, let alone to ask, so when someone does, I’m especially appreciative. Similarly, I find it particularly nice when someone gives me an out if there are plans, and they tell me not to feel obligated if I am not feeling well. I usually don’t take people up on this offer, but it is certainly nice to have an escape clause.
I think these things are so important to me because I am not likely to be inclined to take them upon myself. When I am not feeling well, I try to push through, no matter what. But that doesn’t always work to my benefit. In fact, it usually works to my detriment. So it’s nice when other people let me off the hook.
But as I suggested, this doesn’t happen often, and usually comes from people who are ill themselves. It’s funny how that works, right? That’s where the second meaning of the phrase, “I’m Sick! Is That A Problem For You?”, comes in.
So often, I have encountered people who have acted like my illnesses seek to inconvenience them. I have certainly seen this in higher education; with colleagues, professors, and administrators. It seems that the University is on the prowl, always concerned about how students want to evade requirements. In other words, their first concern is how the student is trying to play the system. Obviously, there are always dishonest people, but I would say that in the majority of cases, people are coming from a place that does not seek to harm the University, and is truly legitimate.
Sorry, that little bit of a rant may seem off-topic, but really, it’s not. It’s amazing how a single phrase can have two such divergent meanings. One version of this phrase comes from someone to the chronically person, and the other comes from the chronically ill person to other people. One has the chronically ill person in mind, while the other does not.
Granted, it’s a fine balance between acknowledging illness and not focusing solely on it. And it’s difficult for all sides involved. But to me, the nicest thing someone can do is be cognizant of a chronically ill person, and even if they are not ill themselves, try to understand, even just a little bit.
So the next time someone asks, “I’m Sick! Is That A Problem For You?”, I might just ask them the same question right on back. (And of course hope that the answer is “no” on both accounts)