On Being Ill


There is nothing more horrid than being ill. You lie in bed, the sun streaming in at the window, the muffled noises of life going on around you, while you must be still and quiet, set apart from the world. You feel cast adrift from normality; the busy routines of your normal day become mere memories. Instead, you must reduce your life to fit within the suffocating quietness of your bedroom’s four walls. Occasional visitors tiptoe in, their voices hushed, their faces full of sympathy but also relief that today they are not banished to the sick bed and  can leave, rejoining the ordinary world of wellness as soon as they shut your bedroom door. They deposit glasses of water, plates of hot buttered toast, well wishes; then retreat, leaving you adrift on the sea of your own boredom. You lie, slipping in and out of unsatisfactory sleep, hoping that next time you wake the pain will be gone, the symptoms abated, that you will soon be permitted access once again to the world of the well. For a while, at least, you must relinquish your control over the course of your own life. You must surrender to the greater power of illness, which will briefly remind you of how little you appreciate the health you take for granted. It is only here, as your head turns from the hot pillow over to the window, outside of which cars rush by, birds sing, flowers and trees sway in the wind and people walk past, that you stop to realise how much it matters to be well.

For the past few days, I have been stuck in bed.  Excitingly, I had my first experience of riding in an ambulance after I fainted and managed to hit my head so hard that I knocked myself out for several minutes. Everyone was very nice to me, despite sticking lots of needles into my arms, and after lying in a very comfortable private cubicle in A&E for a night, it was decided that there wasn’t any nasty underlying reason why I’d fainted – just the flu I’ve been fighting for a couple of weeks – and I was allowed to go home. Unfortunately, I look like I’ve been in a fight with someone about three times my size, with a very swollen jaw and an impressive black eye, not to mention a banging headache. I have no idea how I managed to hit my face in so many different places, but I’ve now learnt the lesson that if you feel dizzy, sit down quick! I’ve also learned, as the very kind but very stern A&E doctor told me, with wagging finger, that I am not invincible and going to work with full blown actual flu (not the man variety!) for several days and not expecting there to be consequences was Very Foolish Indeed.

So there you go. It shouldn’t have taken such drastic events to make me stop and rest, but every cloud has a silver lining and I have now been able to finally catch up on my huge pile of reading. The marvellous Harvest by John Crace was quickly finished, followed by the lovely Sissinghurst by Sarah Raven, which had me longing for sunny afternoons and summer holidays which are still so far away. I then picked up my very sweet and thoughtful Valentine’s Day present from my dad; a copy of the beautiful Persephone edition of Diary of a Provincial Lady, which I haven’t read in years and is the most perfect sick bed companion (it doesn’t appear to be currently available, but will be again when the Spring books come out very soon). I have been giggling away at the Provincial Lady’s many problematic encounters with daily life; while I do not have a house, husband, servants and small children to care for, I do know what it is to be continually upstaged by irritatingly successful and completely insular friends, to fail at most attempts at appearing sophisticated, to never have anything to wear and to never be able to manage my finances. I too continually long to be in sunnier climes, often find myself with nothing to say to people I am put next to at parties and love nothing  better than  a good gossip over a cup of tea. I like to think that E M Delafield and I would have been great friends, and had enormous fun causing trouble in our sleepy backwater. Re-reading these delightful vignettes of what has remained perfectly recognisable middle class life really does reveal how little we change as people, despite the customs and routines of our existence moving with the times. I already can’t wait to get stuck into the other volumes of the Provincial Lady’s take on life that have been sitting unread on my shelf for far too long, and I hope they will merrily speed me back to health!



  1. Julian says:

    You poor thing! I hope you feel better very soon. I enjoy your Blog very much and thanks to you I recently read Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner – a wonderful new discovery for me. Look after yourself!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you very much Julian! So glad you loved Crossing to Safety – such an amazing book and it is a pleasure to have introduced you to it!

  2. Lori says:

    I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve been so poorly, it must have been a very strange and helpless experience to faint and injure yourself like that. I wish you a swift and peaceful recovery. Sometimes the best thing is just to enjoy your situation as much as possible (like reading those lovely books) and be relaxed about being an invalid, because there is such an emphasis today on being busy every moment and carrying on no matter what, and I don’t subscribe to that, from experience of being delicate myself! Best wishes, Lori

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Lori! Yes it was rather a strange experience and a wake up call that I have been pushing myself too hard! Having a rest was lovely and I need to make sure I get some earlier nights and do more reading to ensure I stay relaxed!

  3. Deborah Vass says:

    Sometimes fate intervenes and makes you rest! I am so sorry to hear you have been ill and wish you a very speedy recovery. Do please take care and look after yourself – I speak as a teacher who has learned the hard way!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes it does! I definitely overworked myself last month and this was the result! Thank you for your kind wishes 🙂

  4. Liz Wood says:

    Crazy to try to work when you’re unwell but we’ve all tried it. Why not download an unabridged audio book? You get a different view of how the novel has been constructed. Joanna Trollope, Austen (of course), or John Buchan works for me. Take care – better not to read too much with a headache.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks for the suggestion, Liz! I am normally rubbish with audiobooks but perhaps if I lie still I will be able to take it in better!

  5. Blighty says:

    Hope you feel better very soon Ms BookSnob. I love your new look blog design. I adore the Provincial Lady books, some of my favourite ever.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you, Blighty! Glad you like the new design. Aren’t the Provincial Lady books amazing? Just the thing when you need a pick me up!

  6. Ivo Holmqvist says:

    Your writing has not suffered from your fall and headache, though you have. Get well speedily!

    god bedring! as the painter of the picture would have said, if it is Wilhem Hammershöi which it looks like.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you, Ivo! Yes indeed it is a Hammershoi – very calming, I think!

  7. vikzwrites says:

    Hope you feel better soon

  8. Have you read the DE Stevenson Mrs tim series? They are like The Provincial Lady, but I found them much funnier.

    1. bookssnob says:

      No I haven’t! I shall track them down!

  9. Poor Rachel! Sounds like you’ve learned the hard way to take the flu seriously. Glad to hear you’re getting the rest you need and that you’re able to read. Take care of yourself!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Claire! I am making a real effort to rest more and look after myself!

  10. dianabirchall says:

    I’m distressed to hear of this and hope you’ll recover very rapidly. And may I echo what Ivo said – your writing and spirit are dauntless!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Diana! You are very kind!

  11. Diary of a Provincial Lady is my “ill” book as well. It’s perfect 🙂

    Hope you get well soon!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Isn’t it brilliant? Thank you very much!

  12. Kate says:

    I’m sorry you’ve been so ill. And I know from experience that the sense of being ill and left behind while life goes on just seems worse when you know you have classes going on and students you need to get through exams. I hope you can get lots of rest and are feeling better very soon.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Kate – I know, it makes you feel so bad but you have to let go and look after yourself first. Hard for us teachers to do!

  13. Isn’t it crazy how one has to be really really sick to let go. Just garden variety sick and one still feels the stress and expectations of everyday life. Glad you are on the mend.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I know! Sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise! Thank you 🙂

  14. drharrietd says:

    Poor you. Get better soon. Glad you are up to reading, anyway. Take care.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Harriet!

  15. Poor poor you!! Take care of yourself, rest up lots (even if it’s boring) and get well soon!! xxx

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks darling! x

  16. Joanne says:

    I hope you feel better soon Rachel, and that the bruises fade quickly. (I was reading about the Sissinghurst book this morning and thinking that it sounded lovely).

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Joanne! Yes it is lovely – I hope you’ll have a chance to read it!

  17. Joan Kyler says:

    You describe being ill so very well. I (knock wood) haven’t been bed ill for a long, long time, but I have childhood memories of being ill in the summertime, hearing the other kids playing outside, of someone mowing the grass, all while lying in bed.

    I hope you are feeling yourself very soon. Although it is nice to have time to catch up on your reading!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Joan! Yes there are some upsides!

  18. Enid Lacob says:

    Oh dear poor girl. I do hope you are feeling much better and that you will be 100 percent.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Enid – I am definitely on the mend!

  19. Martina says:

    Hope you recover soon. And next time – you know when to stop and call in ill, yes?
    (Your students will survive this, even if we wouldn’t believe so…)
    Best to you, and enjoy the time for rest! Martina

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes, I have learned my lesson! Thank you Martina!

  20. Jo says:

    You poor soul! I do hope you feel more like yourself soon. That was a pretty spectacular way to let people know you weren’t feeling so great though! Take care, I do hope you have a snuggly hot water bottle to keep you company? Wishing you a speedy recovery. Lots of love.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Jo! I had a lovely time resting – back at work now!

  21. Oh, my goodness, I’m glad it was nothing more serious. We teacher types tend to think that we must keep on working. Besides, planning for a substitute can be so much work. I’m glad you are on the mend and able to enjoy reading. I hope you get all of the rest necessary for complete and speedy recovery.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Janet – yes we do! I always used to take sick days in oher jobs but teaching is the sort of profession where you do feel guilty for being ill. I need to recognise that sometimes it’s better for me not to be at school!

  22. cczivko says:

    It is so dreadful to be ill! However, being ill does make us appreciate good health. I suggest that you limit your reading to the easy and pleasant, such as P.G. Wodehouse? I wish you a speedy recovery, and don’t forget to flip your pillow to the cool side every so often.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Doesn’t it just! I have never read any P G Wodehouse…I shall have to check him out!

  23. Sue says:

    Commiserations, so glad you are turning the corner towards good health and the first lovely glimmerings of spring.

    The Provincial Lady would be great company.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Sue! The Provincial Lady is such perfect company!

  24. EllenB says:

    Oh my dear, my dear! How distressing for you and all of us who love you so. I know you are on the mend because you are able to read and enjoy it so that is some consolation. Our 2 girl read-along book has been on its way for about a week now so you should have it soon. I’ll wait for you to let me know you have it before digging in myself. Rest, don’t worry and allow your loved ones to take care of you. That will make you all happy. xxoo

    1. bookssnob says:

      You are so sweet Ellen! I am lucky to have such wonderful friends xx

  25. What a tumble on top of feeling ill, dear Rachel. I’m so glad to hear that you are on the mend, both from the flu, and from your injuries, and it sounds like you are being well cared for and have your ever-at-hands friends, your books, to keep you company.

    Speedy recover, Rachel.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you very much Penny 🙂

  26. katie says:

    Hope your body is still mending well; what an unhappy combination that was! Take your time and be very good to yourself.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Katie! I am feeling much better!

  27. James Lomax says:

    I recommend a second reading of Rebecca. That will revive your spirits. Chin chin, and pip pip, and suchlike apposite stuff for such moments. When you go back to the fray you will be a heroine. I await the report.

    – Bop.

  28. Elena says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about everything that happened. But I will take your doctor’s side and remind you that you’re not invincible and you need rest and a break, especially now! My aunt is a stubborn as you and ended up with a quite serious pneumonia a few weeks before… However, I must admit I’m a little bit like that too, so I’m now on your side again 😛

    I loved these sentences: “You feel cast adrift from normality; the busy routines of your normal day become mere memories. Instead, you must reduce your life to fit within the suffocating quietness of your bedroom’s four walls” because your dialy life seems so… daily? And then it’s gone and you realize it’s your life! And you want it back as soon as possible, because it’s yours and it keeps you sane more than you thought.

    I hope you get better soon and I hope you get the rest you certainly need.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Elena! 🙂

  29. Elena says:

    Oh and when I’m sick, I like watching the movie “Contagion” (2011) because I may be sick, but I’m not THAT bad (I know, it’s a weird thing to do, but it helps me).

    1. bookssnob says:

      Ha! I’ve seen that film and I think it would just make me paranoid!!

  30. So sorry to hear that you’re ill. But…..at least you can still read. What I really hateis being so ill I cannot read. That is the worst. Get better soon.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you James!

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