Mark vs Cancer

Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Sickness and In Health

I was hit by a truck this week.  I could barely make out the license plate as it sped away: H1N1.

I had spent the last six weeks dodging germ traffic in my clinic, having diagnosed several dozen patients with the much hyped Swine Flu.  But my luck could only hold out so long.

My symptoms were mild at first, causing me to believe I may have contracted some lesser virus.  But, being a much better doctor than patient, I pushed it too hard through the weekend, and then crashed on Sunday night.  Still in denial on Monday morning, I loaded myself up with ibuprofen and tried to make it into work, only to have my nurse make an executive decision and send me right back home. 

And then I truly crashed.  Through the floor.  Plummetting towards the dark ugly bowels of the earth.

Being several days into the illness at that point--too late for tamiflu--I decided that as long as I was home, I wasn't going to mask my symptoms with ibuprofen.  If this illness was telling me to lay prostrate in bed, then that's what I was going to do.

My lungs were on fire.  My sputum was the color of pond scum.  My sinuses were turgid with pressure; I thought if I could stick a needle in them, they would pop.  My head throbbed.  My skin bristled at the slightest pressure of even my clothes.  I had no appetite. But mostly, my entire body was overpowered by a profound malaise, the likes of which I have never before known.   I lacked the strength to read, to even hold up my head.  I lay in bed and moaned for hours and hours, like a cow crazy with disease who stumbles in a winter pasture, thrashes, and then lies still, the only sound the mournful, wheezing bellows of its lungs as snow begins to slowly cover it like a white sheet in the morgue, like the blizzard that dropped two feet of snow in Denver that night.

I thought, so this must be what it is like to die.  This is what happens when an insult utterly saps my body of vitality, and I succumb finally to the malignant entropy of the universe, wave upon wave of disease and pain crashing over me as I flounder, thrash, and then relent.

Forty eight hours passed in unmitigated misery.  My lovely wife was an angel, Florence Nightingale bringing me soup, covering me up with blankets, and holding down the rest of the fort.

Just past the point where I thought my body had lost the fight, I began to heal.  My sinuses cleared.  My cough lessened.  My brain fog lifted.  But mostly, I felt energy returning to my bones.  I felt a rush of exhilaration.  "I have taken your worst shot, you dreadful Pig Flu, but I'm still standing."

Today, I went and played basketball, wary of whether or not my convalescing body could handle vigorous exercise yet--if ever.  As I drained three pointer after glorious three pointer, I knew that I was back.  Me.  My body.  My soul.  My deadly long range jump shot.

I deal with suffering people everyday of my life.  I sympathize with them as I try and coax them back to health.  Lucky for me, I don't often personally experience pain or physical suffering.

But I have renewed empathy now.  An illness such as this is a reminder of how miserable it is to lose our precious health, how our physical suffering threatens our emotional strength, and of how amazingly frail, yet marvelously resilient, our bodies are.

The sky is blue today. The snow is melting.  Life is beautiful again.  Hallelujah.


Kristen said...

Oh my goodness that sounds aweful. I DON'T want to get it. I sanitize my classroom like crazy these days. You have made me want to clean even more. I am glad you are back to normal.

princess jen said...

Glad you recovered! My SIL and her husband and her baby (an immunocompromised 18-months old, heart transplant baby, yikes!) came down with it.... after she exposed my two kids to it. Luckily we didn't get sick. I have to say I'm very grateful I got the vaccine. I did not want this flu at all.

Dexter's Girl said...

Hi! Do you moderate your comments? Umm... I am Christi and I sent your wife home from her mission... I sent a Christmas card in 07 which was returned and haven't been able to find you until now. My email is cougarcrazy03 (zero three) at Could you have her email me? THANKS!!!!