The Wrong Response to Illness


Many years ago, I went on a mission trip. And while I was on that trip, I got sick. I woke up in the middle of the night and vomited.  The leaders on this trip are very kind and compassionate, and they do their best to take care of me, but they didn’t know me well enough to truly understand what I needed. In the past, I have suffered from low blood sugar and lack of appetite. My mother knows that when I feel sick, it’s important to let me eat what I feel like eating so I can get something in my stomach. These ladies did not understand this. I told them I felt like eating some cereal. They told me no because milk isn’t good for upset stomachs. I asked for orange juice. They said the acidity of the orange juice wouldn’t be good for my stomach. They let me eat bread.

These women generalized my stomach issues and assumed that they knew what was best for me. They did not let me tell them how I felt or what I needed. They thought that because I was just a kid, they knew better. But they did not know what was happening in my body. They told me what I needed instead of letting me tell them. They did not listen to their patient.

When my mother was pregnant, she was miserable. She looked up her symptoms and found an illness that sounded exactly like what she was experiencing. The midwife told her that there was no way she could have that illness and that she must be mistaken. The midwife didn’t even bother to test her. During her next pregnancy, she mentioned her symptoms and her doctor tested her. Sure enough, she had that illness. Her previous midwife did not take her seriously, so my mother unnecessarily suffered miserable symptoms that could have been relieved. The midwife thought she knew better. She did not listen to her patient.

I have seizures. They’re like panic attacks. I never lose consciousness. I shake off an on, sometimes for an hour or more. It can be very mild or very distressing. The people closest to me try to help. They want to make it easier. Unfortunately, they have come to believe that it gets worse when they coddle me, so they just leave me alone and wait for it to stop. But I shake when I’m alone, and I shake when I am being held and comforted. The difference is, when I am being held, I feel like I am safe. I feel like I can let myself go, and someone will be there. I feel like I can express my distress. I feel like my illness is being taken seriously. But if I’m left alone, it’s like I’m being put in time out. It’s as if the illness isn’t worth taking seriously. It’s all in your head. Get over it. There’s nothing that can be done.

When others treat my illness like it’s not a big deal, I am inclined to view it he same way. So I seize alone. I writhe and thrash around, and I reach out for someone to hold me, but no one is there. They think they know what is good for me, so they just leave me alone.

When a person feels like crap and they aren’t taken seriously, it seriously sucks. They feel like it’s all in their head. They feel alone and they suffer alone.

When someone feels like crap, don’t push it aside. Don’t tell them what will make them feel better. Let them tell you. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t generalize. What helps one person might not help someone else. When someone is sick, LISTEN TO THEM! Don’t tell a sick person how to feel!


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