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!