After seven solid days of sickness, I got a bottle of pink medicine from the clinic doctor and his Russian nurse.
The nurse wears shoes as big as alligators.
“Let me see how tall are you,” he says, and sizes me with his eyes against the wall. “5 foot 3 inches.”
His eyes mistake me. Unless, weed-wise, I have lately shot up two inches. My weight, too, he woefully overestimates. He gives me about 1.5 minutes to spit out all my symptoms. I like him.
After seven days of living so far under the weather, I’ve nearly forgotten the face of my economics professor. I have slathered garlic onto my feet for the sake of the Vitamin C. I wish doom upon each baleful bacterium in my body. They have so far vanquished me. I want pink medicine.
The doctor comes in. “Fever?”
“Pain in the sinuses?”
Oh, yes. I take my second dose tonight in a plastic teaspoon, thinking about sickness.
Other persons have made profound notes on sickness in other places. For instance, Virginia Woolf in her essay “On Being Ill.” Her slam-bang of an opening sentence is quoted so broadly and lengthily for its sheer slam-banginess that I’ll spare you here. I’ll just mention that she ponders “how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down” and “what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view.”
Woolf thought sickness, by virtue of its force and commonality, ought to join love and jealousy as one of the most prominent themes in literature. I don’t know about all that. But I do know that a little wandering in the “wastes and deserts of the soul” does me a lot of good from time to time. It makes me lie awake at night with a tissue box and some saline, thinking of someone besides myself.
In the seven days preceding my pink medicine I did not always exemplify this moral. Au contraire. But on a few occasions, as C.S. Lewis had it, God shouted to me in my pain. I walked through rainy D.C. on Saturday with eyelids glue-heavy and an aching neck. Finally the tears of frustration came. They came in the history aisle of Barnes and Noble. Ran right down my boyfriend’s sweatshirt and left a stain that stuck around for a few blocks afterward. Then God drew my thoughts toward a blessing-count. How is it that God gives me legs and strength to walk on them? A shoulder to cry on? A roof to shield me from the rain?
When I’m sick, I feel close to God. My frustrations, real enough, become nothing when stacked against His mercies. I remember to pray for people sicker than me, more frustrated, or in more physical or spiritual danger. I wake up in the mornings remembering that my body is the Lord’s, and that He freely does what He wants with it for His good purposes.
But I remember too that illness is an intruder. For that reason, I will take all the pink medicine.