You don’t look so good – a healthy reminder

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The hacking, wheezing and overall not sleeping finally got to me. I took myself to the doctor thinking I would be in and out of the office in no time flat. I wasn’t. Though I had gone to a clinic with a word meaning speed in its name, it would seem that I wasn’t the only one seeking medical treatment that particular afternoon. The waiting room was packed.

After two hours sitting in a stiff pleather chair surrounded by the sounds of other sniffles, groans, and easy rock ballads, the battery icon on my phone turned red. Well, shoot. Faced with no other easy distraction, I looked around the room. I found myself beginning to question exactly how sick I really was feeling. What’s a little cough? I mean I had made it through an entire week already. I could make it another night. What’s the worst that could happen?

My rationalization grew louder, certain as I was that the doctor was going to tell me that I’d caught a simple virus. I knew he or she would just have to rest and run its course, things I was well equipped to do from the comfort of my home. So why continue to wait around in a room staring at my thumbs or other sick people when I could be back with my family?

I walked to the front desk. “I think I am going to leave,” I told the nurse. She blinked. Clearly, this was not a statement she was used to hearing.

She looked out into the waiting room. “But you’re next.”

I sighed. I’d been there two hours already but had only seen three patients go back. My place in the queue meant little. I followed her gaze. Two more patients had arrived after I had. A girl, barely older than my son, lay draped across her father’s shoulders. An older couple – a woman who could barely sit up, and her partner, a small man who’d caught my eye when they’d entered the room and had attempted to make small talk with me as if I was a life raft while clutching her hand.

“But there are other patients here that need the spot more than I do,” I said, and I meant it. I’d be fine.

I’m not sure the nursing staff was convinced. “We are equipped to deal with everyone. All we need is for a room to become available.”

“Right, which is why I would like one of them to go in my place.”

“But you’ve already paid.”

This was true, and my copay for a visit like this wasn’t cheap. “Can’t you just cancel the transaction or refund the money?”

“No. Once you’ve paid, you would have to wait for a check to be mailed at the end of the month.”

Well, that was a wrinkle I hadn’t quite considered. As I mulled over my response, another nurse appeared, taking the decision from me. “If you’ll come back with me now.”

I followed her through the hall and into a back room where we discussed my symptoms, each of which sounded more and more petty to my ears. So, I have had a cough and can’t sleep. I’ve had a fever and the chills, but the fever goes away and sure, I have shortness of breath and a rattle in my lungs you can hear from space, but I’m fine or will be soon. I’ve waited this long, I can wait a little longer. Really, why don’t you go and help the others?

The doctor looked at me as if she couldn’t quite determine if I’d insulted her professionalism or simply grown two heads. “You don’t need to worry about them. We’ll take care of them too.”

But I did worry. It is the downside of knowing you’ve been pretty lucky in life. You can always imagine those who have had it worse. In my mind, I saw the little girl calling for a mother who hadn’t yet arrived and her father pacing around the room at a loss as to what to do. I saw the little old man struggling to stay strong for his partner waiting to be told that their lives wouldn’t be the same. These stories played out in my head, each more tragic than the one before. I knew my story couldn’t compare – that the doctor would write me off as a waste of her time before she closed the door. Or at least that’s what I convinced myself would happen.

“Now take a deep breath,” the doctor said, pulling me out of my imagination.

Two minutes later, I learned I wasn’t fine. I had pneumonia (aka fun stuff).

While I still feel guilty thinking of those other faces in the room, it doesn’t change the fact that I was sick and deserved to be cared for too. If I had given into my doubts and gone home, those other patients might have been seen fifteen minutes earlier, but I would have been at greater risk of secondary infection, hospitalization, or even worse. The guilt I felt at delaying the other patients’ never-at-risk treatment by fifteen minutes would have paled compared against potential outcomes I now realized I had avoided by allowing myself to come first.

It turns out I needed more than just a day off. I also needed an antibiotic, a steroid, and an inhaler, but most of all, it seems I needed a reminder that while yes, I am often lucky, that doesn’t mean bad things can still happen. It was also a healthy reminder that every now and then I need to put myself first and not feel guilty about it. Because while generosity of spirit is always admirable, strength of body can be a good thing too.

A confident sailor’s message and my restless confessions

A confident sailor's message and my restless confessions -
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I lay awake. An oscillating creaky noise, reminiscent of a boat too long in the water, stretching moldy tie lines as it swayed from side to side, prevented me from finding the rest I needed. I shifted my position, but no matter how or where I moved, I couldn’t eliminate the sound. It was a quiet noise, but not an ignorable one. Gradually, I accepted there would be no restful sleep this night. The sound, you see, it was coming from me.

I am death. 

Too over the top? Okay, let’s just say I’ve been better.

The noise that has kept me awake for the last several nights is a mucous induced rattle in my nose and throat I can’t seem to shake. A bug has been floating around my office recently, and I guess, it was my turn to bring it home. Yay! Have I mentioned how much I hate being sick? But on the plus side, the whole not being able to sleep thing has given me ample time to think.

One of the blogs I regularly follow (The Spectacled Bean) recently posed the question: How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? 

Last week (with the exception of one epically terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day), I might have shaved a few years off. Would this be out of vanity? Maybe, but there wouldn’t be many physical clues. While I have a few gray hairs, overall it is much the same color as it was when I was born, and though I have noticed a wrinkle or two I can blame my lack of height for at least a portion of premature etching. (Looking up at everyone all the time is hard work). Therefore it would really come down to how old I feel mentally at any given time, which most of the time is fairly young.

I was feeling especially so when I attended a presentation with my husband’s rotary club. The guest of honor was a retired Rear Admiral from the United States Navy. He opened his presentation by talking about the crews that manned the flight deck. He asked the audience, many of whom were also retired, how old they thought the median age of the crew was. The answer was roughly nineteen and a half.

Nineteen and a half.

And they were responsible for multimillion dollar fighter jets.

At nineteen and a half, I was responsible for a very used car (which didn’t run most of the time) and getting to class on time. Way to make a person feel like an underachiever, Sir. The message the Rear Admiral was trying to make is that we need to trust the younger generation, something I know I have a difficult time doing at times. I’m sorry, but it can be hard to accept the people you babysat or whose diapers you once changed are now adults. It’s not that you aren’t capable – I know you are – it’s just that I remember when we couldn’t trust more than a few of you to walk down the hall with scissors (or worse – a capless marker).

He went on to talk about readiness and spoke of two ships. On one ship (not a US Naval vessel), hoses were a pristine white and fittings shone like the sun. The condition of other, a US ship, was a far contrast. On that ship, the hoses were worn, faded, and fittings, dented. Considering the beginning portion of the speech, and his emphasis on supporting the next generation, I was sure that the Rear Admiral was about to suggest that we weren’t spending enough – that our military was less than as ready as it could be due to inferior equipment.

I waited for the sales pitch.

Instead, the Rear Admiral made a different point entirely. The equipment showed signs of age, but that was a good thing. It meant it was used and used regularly.

Every now and then I give into a little envy. I look to people younger than me, who have accomplished so much in their short lives, and can’t help wishing my path looked more like theirs – less readiness and more doing-ess. The envy makes me question a few of my choices. Did I waste my time before? What would it have been like had I taken the chance on me sooner?

I’ll never know the answers, but I guess it really doesn’t make a difference in the long run. I am where I am now. I’ll kick this bug (I hope). I may yet conquer the world – who knows? (mid-day naps for everyone)! At least I know I am trying to take the helm. And while I sometimes feel I need a few more sick days than I used to or just a few extra hours rest, that’s just evidence that I’ve lived my life as I seen best.

It doesn’t matter how old I think I am.

Age is just a number.

It is only the experiences filling that time that matters.

One flu over the cuckoo’s nest

What I originally thought was just a minor sniffle turned out to be a case of the full-blown flu.

Mess up the hair more, swap out the stylish clothes, add more blankets and used tissues and this is so me when I am sick image courtesy of Unsplash)
Mess up the hair so that it looks like an animal’s nest and make it brown, replace the stylish clothes with mismatched sweats, add more blankets and used tissues scattered among kid toys and do away with this whole suffering in silence thing she has going on and this image really captures how I look when I am sick. (Image courtesy of Unsplash)

I do not handle being sick well. While I am mostly better now, I’d spent the last few days either in bed or under a blanket on the couch. The effort of getting marginally presentable each day was exhausting. I wanted my mommy to magically appear and make it all better, but my mommy is busy taking care of her mommy right now. I coughed, and sneezed, and resigned myself to be miserable.

One of those days, as I lay there envying the liveliness of extras on the Walking Dead, my door opened and in walked my eldest son. In his hand was a yellow flower, the first of our daffodils of the season. “Here mom, this is to make you feel better.” It was lovely, except my sinuses, thoroughly blocked, would not allow me to breathe in its scent, and its bright color caused my eyes to water.

“Do you like it?”

“I love it, baby.” Although it probably sounded more like I wuv get, baby. Achoo! Snort. Snort. Ack! I hate being sick!

“Dad asked me to help him more in the garage, but I’ll be back to check on you.”

“Dad did?” Bless him. “Okay honey, have fun.” I pulled the blanket back over my shoulders as Kiddo returned to play in a great outside world I couldn’t currently enjoy, thankful that my hubby was on point. I assumed LT was out there somewhere too, but I couldn’t dreg up the energy to be sure.

It could be worse. I could still be traveling for work or I could be doing this all alone.

A few days earlier, I had been trapped on a plane, forced to make small talk for hours when it should have been a mere forty minute flight. One the poor unfortunate souls stuck in that tin can with me had asked innocently enough, “so who’s watching your kids while you are gone?”

“Their dad.”

“Oh,” the older man responded as his face became the picture of sympathy, “and are you okay with that?”

“Of course.” Um….Why shouldn’t I be?

The comment still bothered me, days later buried under blankets on the couch, even though I could barely remember what it was like to breathe.

Tuesday was International Women’s Day and the internet was full of images and writings of strong woman. It was a day to celebrate how very far we’ve come in terms of empowerment, but I believe there are still a few gaps in the modern-day feminist narrative, keeping true gender equality just out of reach. One is our perception of what makes a good father.

What does fatherhood have to do with feminism? I am able to pursue my dreams, my own sense of self, and be all I can be because I know someone else has my back at home.

When I travel as part of my day job, I don’t typically worry that I’ll return to find my backyard now serves as an arena for an underground cock-fighting ring, or that I’ll trip over a stack of random Polaroids detailing a night that will never be remembered or evidence of a hundred other bad decisions. Nor do I worry that homework will be excused, bedtimes avoided, or that ice cream and candy will be served exclusively for breakfast. I don’t worry because my other half is a parent and not a babysitter.

And yet, this simple fact may read like praise, as if my husband keeping the household from descending into chaos while I am otherwise indisposed is somehow above and beyond what all fathers and husbands should do for their families. I understand that not every father is as engaged with their children or as willing to pick up mom’s slack (especially after several days of solo-parenting before mom started to complain about feeling like death warmed over), but I’d like to think that the default assumption about the role should be slightly higher than the slacker / man-boy / comic-relief dad so favored on sitcoms.

When someone tells me my husband is a good father, I want them to say that because they saw the half-dozen kids use him like a swing-set during a school field trip, or because they overheard one of the hundreds of super-secret one-on-one talks he and one of the boys share about an individual child’s worries. I want them to say it because he is a great father and not because he simply shows up when there isn’t any other option.

Continuing to accept that men are somehow less capable of caring for a family is much the same as continuing to accept that women are any less capable of running a business or more and can be just as damaging to the next generation.

And so, during this Women’s History Month, I will rejoice in the accomplishments of brave women who fought for my right to vote, celebrate those who broke through the glass ceiling, invented Kevlar, fire escapes, and computer compilers. I will drink to those ancient women who created beer and to those more modern women who redefined math and physics.

But at the same time, while I am proud to be a STEM woman by day and a writer mom by night, I am so very grateful to be partnered with a man who isn’t afraid to make breakfast, who isn’t too manly to fold laundry, and whose very machoness isn’t threatened by agreeing to play with colored blocks. I may hold his parenting skills to a higher standard than the sitcoms, but then again, I don’t find the alternative very funny.