This past winter was a big one for the flu; lots of people seemed to get hit who are usually resistant, including me. Fever, aching, fatigue, a cough … it sucked, and I went through two rounds of it. Then a co-worker said she was starting to feel kind of sick, I started telling her what she should expect, and how much she should rest, and what she should take for it, and … and then I recognized the look on her face, because it was one I’d been sporting myself.
What she wanted, and what I wanted when I was sick, was a little sympathy. But you don’t get that in this town, you get advice. In much of the world, it’s accepted that bad things just happen sometimes, and we should give comfort to one another through the hard times and hope for better. But we’re a problem-solving people. And in Santa Cruz, we’ve got more solutions to choose from than anywhere else.
I had an issue with minor headaches recently, and most everybody I told about it gave me some advice based on their own personal care prejudices. To only slightly exaggerate, the yoga friends had a couple poses that were reputed to help, the herbal supplement and vitamin types each suggested a different regime of capsules, I was issued phone numbers for acupuncturists and massage therapists and chiropractors and psychologists, a meat-free diet was advocated (as if), and the tough-love physical trainer suggested a precautionary round of chemo. Of course, there are those who will tell you that there’s nothing a little marijuana can’t make better; sometimes I think those folks look forward to getting sick.
The worst part of dumping on that poor woman was I didn’t bother to assume she had her own path to health all mapped out, her own tried and true way of dealing with it based on decades of taking care of herself. What she could really use was a “Sorry to hear that,” with a sympathetic look that said: “Oh no, colds are the worst. There is something wrong in the universe when somebody as awesome as you coughs herself awake while Donald Trump and the inventors of pop-up ads slumber on with drooling grins, dreaming of new ways to annoy people. You deserve much better. You are incredibly brave and I can only hope that should such a fate befall me, I’ll have half the composure and class you’ve shown through this calamity. If you’d like me to help you get through this with a neck massage (dinner, babysitting, house cleaning, sexual favor), just ask.”
Regarding my headaches, I took some ibuprofen until they went away on their own. Good thing too, because if you stay sick long enough for people to follow up on you, things get worse.
“Still hurts? Did you do that incantation every hour like I told you?”
“No, I tried it for a while and it seemed to make it worse.”
“Well then …” they shrug, annoyed. Because clearly if you’re not willing to follow their advice, it’s your own damn fault if you’re not better. And even if you do submit to their plan, a failure to recuperate can only mean one thing.
“You must have done it wrong. It totally worked for my cousin. Did you bring your arms out like this? POM YOR IKK LUM SOO FOR MUN LAW SHA …”
Some people, I don’t even tell them I’m sick. It’s bad enough to take the blame for a slow recovery, but it’s even worse to get blamed for the problem in the first place. I once told a friend in New Leaf about some shoulder pain I was dealing with, and a nearby butt-inski said, “Do you eat gluten?”
Turns out the guy didn’t eat gluten, and his shoulder was fine, so there you are. Santa Cruz science. The fact is we’ve got a real tendency to blame the victim around here. We’re a bunch of armchair diagnosticians, happy to believe people brought their troubles on themselves. It’s easy to blame this guy’s knee problems on his weight, and that woman’s stomach problem on her diet of cigarettes and coffee. Brain cancer? I hear he let PG&E put in one of those smart meters.
As for treatments, I’ve long thought there are some reasons to be wary about mainstream western medicine. I also feel fine with poo-pooing a good number of alternative treatments. Any smart consumer must do some research to separate the demonstrably effective from the snake oil salesmen getting rich off our fears and suspicions and prejudices. I’m especially annoyed by those that seek to take credit for the work done by the most amazing healing source around: our own bodies. It’s impossible to not be impressed by how bones and tissues repair themselves, and how the immune system fights, and usually wins, grand epic battles we’re often totally unaware of. Even well-known unhealthy factors like excessive drinking, obesity, smoking, bad food, and a lack of exercise are endured by the body for a long time, decades even, before they lay you out. It’s all enough to make a person either amazed by or skeptical of natural selection as a means of engineering the complex machines we are.
Here’s where I’m going with that: Just because you were sucking on a rock twice daily when you got over your cold, don’t credit the rock. The world wants to sell you a lot of rocks.
To your health. Tink!