Wednesday, July 21, 2010

“I’m Sick! Is That A Problem For You?”

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)


  1. I love this post, Leslie, how you see the two meanings in that statement. It took me a long time to come to be able to handle the reactions of people with any kind of calmness. I felt abandoned by so many friends. But then I realized that they were uncomfortable about illness and that it had to do more with them than with me.

    But at first I blamed myself as if it were some personal failing on my part that I became sick. Now I have fewer friends but those I do have are so precious to me. They accept me as I am and they're comfortable with it. And I've finally learned to forgive and let go (well, almost all the time) of the others.

  2. One of the things I really appreciate about my close friends is that if we have plans and someone is sick, we check in with each other before meeting. Last week I was sad to miss seeing a friend because he had a cold, but really appreciated that he chose to keep it at home since he knows my immune system is drek.

    As someone who does tech support for a Uni with lots of online classes, we see both the students who are trying to milk the system and those who have struggles that challenges that interrupt their education. The big difference that I see is that students with genuine health issues (and as someone who is chronically ill I am pretty rough on people who pretend to be sick to get out of work) is that they are proactive. They let their instructors know ahead of time, ask what their options are, and if they need special accommodations they communicate that with Student Disability Services. Illness and injury can sneak up on everyone- how you approach the issue with your instructor, department, or IT makes a huge difference.

  3. You are spot on here. If others could show the courtesy prior to knocking on the door, we with the AID's could make the choice to invite a potential threat in our lives. Compassion comes in many forms. Great post. THanks for having me. Tazzy