Radio Free New Hampshire: Being Sick, I Saw My World Turn Inward
NASHUA, NH – I was gone for a little while and haven’t quite come back yet. It was nowhere fun. I was sick and being sick is like traveling. You see new things, you have new thoughts, you come home, and you have new memories. But it’s no fun. The things you see, the things you think, the things you remember, all appear in shades of gray.
It wasn’t Covid, which would have been a different kind of ride. It was one of those things that happens, instead; something ordinary, and it was ultimately treated in an ordinary way. To get there, however, I took the long way. I went to the ER, I went to emergency care, I went to the hospital for a few days, and finally needed surgery. My head is still spinning. It will take some time before I process these events.
The emergency room where I spent many hours was a cauldron of poverty and despair. The hospital staff who guarded this space seemed to despise its inhabitants. The misery exposed is beyond description. It wasn’t Third World, it wasn’t medieval, and it wasn’t mechanical, but it was all of those things. It gave me a glimpse of the end of the world, where our cutting edge technology stops and we must find solace in the hard metal edges of broken machines. I also left this place with all my symptoms intact, improved only by the knowledge that anywhere, anywhere was better than being there. Anyone who questions the state of our national health care system should fall ill and rely on this system for emergency care.
I also spent hours in different examination rooms, staring grimly at laminated posters of body parts with all of their anatomical features clearly and lovingly labeled for study. I don’t know who decided that patients should look at these things in their times of stress and despair, but he was someone who hates patients. I prefer to look at a plant myself. Or a painting of a few flowers. Or the serious face of someone’s dog. I would especially like to look through a window.
I have seen many doctors and other health professionals. Very few of them saw me again, or if they did, they didn’t see me much. It was an added source of pain and discomfort at a time when I had a lot to start with. I remember specific moments of kindness, when someone reached out to me with a friendly touch, or asked me for more than an effective summary of my symptomatology, and those moments were like cold water in the desert.
Most of the people who treated me did not understand what my problem was. They kept asking me about it and treating me for what I said, but I didn’t know it myself. So there is that.
At the hospital, I saw how hard our nurses work and how old our culture remains. Nurses in particular still face the most basic discrimination. Patients do not hesitate to treat them as sexual objects, and they put up with it, for reasons of care protocol. It was sad to see.
With my illness and surgery and everything that came with these things, I saw my world turn inward. I stopped working and stopped writing. I only became a father and husband in name. I have become more self-centered, and miserably, than I can remember from the most solipsistic days of my childhood. I saw it all through the prism of my illness, and that prism was both dark and distorting, and possessed both amazing clarity and the most frightening of all truths. There is a whole psychology of the disease to be studied and most medical professionals seem so engrossed in their own specialties that their patients are left alone to navigate blind.
I would like to think that I learned something from this ordeal. I would like to think that I kept my eyes and ears open and came away with some valuable ideas. But I can’t say it’s true. What I learned came down to this: that the world don’t care about the sick, and the sick don’t care about the world. When all of this was happening, I would watch the New York Times headlines and look away. I had my own problems to solve. And even now I have come a long way. I still shiver sometimes, for very few reasons.
So maybe when we wonder why some members of our community don’t seem to care about the melting ice caps, or the poverty of others, or the injustice of our different social systems, we have to keep this in mind. spirit: true good health is both rare and beautiful, and to enjoy it is to have immense luck.
Many of us are sick and weak, and we need more help before we can regain our leadership, love and cherish the world around us.
Michael Davidow is a lawyer in Nashua. He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising that together form The Henry Bell Project, The book of the order, and his most recent, The Hunter of Talyashevka. They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
This story was originally published by InDepth NH.