Last week my husband got sick. Now my husband is a tough guy who can barrel through just about anything. He is also impossibly healthy. In the fifteen years I have known him he has been sick three times and missed a total of one day of work. I do not begrudge him his health, but when he gets to sniffling and kvetching about how horrible he feels it is hard for me to find that necessary bit of compassion because when it comes to being sick he is, quite frankly, a total wimp.
He was lying in bed and started describing his symptoms. "I am stuffed up and my body aches and I have a headache and my throat hurts and my mouth is dry and I feel so awful!" he exclaimed. "I am nauseous and grouchy and short tempered and don't think I could possibly work this way. In fact, I can't go to work tomorrow!" Now that elicited an eyebrow raise of surprise from me. He must be really sick, I thought. "I have cotton stuffed in my brain and my eyeballs hurt. I have no energy and just feel awful," he stated as he flopped around trying to get comfortable. "I can't work like this. I am just too sick. I think I might start hallucinating. I have a terrible fever," he carried on. "Hummm," I replied, knowing I would appear far more sympathetic if I just kept my mouth shut. I dropped three aspirin into his hand and gave him a glass of water. He huffed and puffed and bitched and moaned as he swallowed his pills.
"How did you go to work when you were so sick?" he asked me. "I didn't have a choice," I replied. "I know but still! Oh I ache and have chills and my vision is blurred. My neck is so weak I can hardly hold my head up and my face hurts!" His cadence slowed as the wheels in his head started turning. "I am so tired and frustrated. This is awful! Is this what it is like to have Fibro?" he asked in genuine inquiry. "A mild version, yes," I answered. His eyes got wide as he realized I just told him the unbearable misery he found himself in was a mild version of what I suffered from every day for many years. "How did you do it?" he honestly wanted to know. "Not very gracefully," I replied. "Oh but if this is what you felt like you were very graceful. I would be a mess!" he declared. "I know you would, I sure was," I gave him a tender caress on the cheek, touched by his turn of compassion. He sat for a bit in silence, trying to comprehend this information. "So you were sick like this for years on end, this is really what it felt like?" The facts were starting to congeal in that cotton head of his. "On my good days, yes. But take into account feeling the way you do and doctors insisting nothing is wrong with you. And the psychological torment of years of this on end," I clarified, because that truth adds so much more awfulness to the extent of the experience. "Oh my God, I know what it feels like to have Fibro!" he exclaimed. Now I had been patient, and was glad if he had to go through it he could at least channel his misery into a greater understanding of my experience with chronic pain and illness. But that blatant claim, that he now knew what it was like to have Fibromyalgia based on a three day sickness, well it was just a bit more than I could keep my sarcastic tongue bitten between my teeth and take. But since he was sick, and I really do try to be empathetic to others in that situation, I was very careful to be sure and give him as delicate a slap as I possibly could.
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