Being there

Tuesday, 23. August 2011

Being seriously ill is a shock-laden situation for which most of us are unprepared. Our world falls apart when we are suddenly confronted with a body that is in pain and may no longer keep the spirit alive. Usually such news comes in situations of helplessness and usually the people around us are also ill prepared to cope. Often their platitudinous mumblings make everything a whole lot worse and the professionals, good as they are, begin through procedures to discover what needs doing. It will be a long time before you are allowed to be a real person again.

In such situations the mind will usually default to denial, an interesting if ultimately useless defensive mechanism where you tell yourself that what is happening is not really happening. This is quite an achievement, if you think about it, one that demands the fading of consciousness from sharp to vague towards dream. “It’s not so bad. I’m imagining the pain. It will clear up on it’s own. The tests will show that it isn’t cancer. I am strong and nothing can harm me. I’m too young to die….” We say brave things but we also process the situation silently, half way to coma, trying to stare down the raging gale of adverse reality that has comer to tear us away from the safety of life.

Trust me, this is not the right way to go. Trust me, this will get you killed. Trust me, this is how people start to go crazy with their sickness. Trust me, this is where you lose the ability to focus on what really matters. Trust me, if you resort to denial you won’t fight back and you’re likely to die. And denial can take subtle forms, such as researching diets and alternative treatments, such as making up tosh about how being happy will save you, such as attributing causation (which is blame) to yourself for being ill in the first place, such as l;etting your well-meaning friends convince you that they know the answer. Even the doctors do not know the answer. They work with reality. They do what is possible given the discovered facts. You need to be in the same ball game as they are if you want to live.

You need to be in the place where you can feel what you feel, sense what you sense, know what you know, cry if you need to, be silent if that’s what you want, be real and maintain your own identity, the thing you are fighting for in the first place, the you that wants to live.

Nobody says this to patients. Nobody teaches them. Nobody encourages them. To avoid being lost in routine and denial, relatives and results, half truths and speculations, lost moments of unexpressed anguish that don’t go away… then you must bravely fight to remain real. And it will be against the odds. But, trust me, when your turn comes, as it will, that will be your best chance of living. I know what I’m talking about, I really do.

2 Responses to “Being there”



  1. Vincent Says:

    Thanks for this. It will be useful if and when it comes to it. My own feeling is that I would not want to go to hospital at all, just weigh up the prognosis for myself and try to avoid any life-saving interventions. Sometimes I think I’m going through the early stages of dementia, which wouldn’t be fun for anyone, and then I’m glad I stopped taking the anti-cholesterol and anti-blood-pressure medications the doctor forced upon me. I think strokes (which run in my family) are a cleaner way to go than Alzheimer’s. Am I in denial of something? I expect so.



  2. RealSteveHolmes Says:

    I agree. There will be no next time. It’s as long as I have from now on. But I thank God for Cora.

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