The Elephant in the Room

If you missed me last week, I was out sick. My cohabitant and I were both ill for several days with something worse than a cold but not as bad as the flu. Just as he was feeling better my fever started, and then the watery face, nose leaking, sneezing, tears blurring my eyes until I gave up on reading and writing and just let time slide by. Days were lost, edited out of my life without event. I ate and slept but otherwise I was absent, disconnected, and dull. In my head the pity party was a rock opera. My partner however had no such emotional theater with his version of the virus. He was cheerful when he wasn’t sleeping and settled right into the same symptoms that drove me off the deep end. He snored. I whined. We hacked. But we took care of each other.

In the scheme of things, we have a generous reciprocity. Last week was the first time we’ve succumbed to infectious disease since Covid in December 2021. Then in 2022, I had two oral surgeries and he had shingles and a knee replacement. 2023 was a year of good health until last week. Yes, we’re keeping up with our vaccinations, sleeping well, and walking, working in the garden and doing chores. So, we have some resilience in reserve. 

Of course, when it comes to health, aging is our pet elephant in the room. Each time we have a physical setback we naturally wonder if it’s worse because we’re older. Did our recovery take longer because we’re almost 70? Probably. I remember going to work sick in my 30s and 40s when it was the accepted thing to do. People who stayed home from work for anything less than having a leg amputated just weren’t team players. My colleagues and I were expected to pop some pills, sniffle into our hankies, and keep pushing paper. Suck it up, buttercup. 

Now staying home is the easy part of getting sick. Staying in circulation is the hard part. We have to find ways to isolate our contagion without becoming hermits. Embrace the elephant. Sometimes loneliness is just a bad habit we fall into. Friendship takes some effort, but it’s how we weave our safety net. We lean on our friends to get us through the difficult times. For me, the remedy is to just pick up the phone. Reach out and touch someone. Update them, share concerns, talk about the future, and listen to feedback and advice. We are embedded in one another’s lives.

I used to live in a rural town with many single olds aging in place in their homes on country roads. Among themselves they organized a morning phone tree to check in each day with a quick hello. The point of the phone call was not to converse, no chitchat, just a quick Good morning, how are you? The call was like checking someone’s pulse. Failure to respond meant a neighbor was coming to your house. I do the same thing now with my 90-year-old dad every morning since his wife passed. We text our status and move on with our day. It’s an acknowledgement of vulnerability. We don’t pretend we can’t see the elephant.  

As wonderful as it is to have a cohabitant who cares for me, I need my friends. I want that feeling of a circle around me, there to catch me if I fall. This is becoming more important to me as the years go by. I want the feeling of connection, the sense of relevance and purpose that I get from the people who share my life. But I have to work harder for it because we all have obligations. We don’t just run into each other at the bar on Friday night. Each is ensconced in their own milieu with their own elephant. Illness is a reminder of how fortunate I am to have these relationships, and how much I depend on them emotionally to get me through the mood soup of being old, bedridden, and feeble. Now I’m feeling well. Thanks for being there for me. Next up, elephant tap dancing. 

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2 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room

  1. I remember thinking ‘you know who yr friends are when yr in the hospital’. Some visit, other don’t. I live w 2 pretty much shut-ins. borderline depressive, and the other a for real clinical depressive. Both pigs. Their rooms – disasters. (Im thinking about having an occasional cleaning lady in, but i’d have t spring for it. They don’t care. Im fine w that tho, like hearing their quiet noise in house.
    Didn’t Capote once say he had no more room for more friends as the ones he already had took up all his time? I guess Answered Prayers answered that. Me, I move singularly for the most part. Fine alone but not lonely. My innate MQ I suppose.
    ‘We don’t just run into each other at the bar on Friday night.’ Ive given up that ghost pretty much after Covid’s lockdown. My new part time job doesn’t allow the midnight cowboy to make it work at the Brendan Behan. I miss the regularity, but not the inebriated circular conversations. Those barflies have sat on those stools for hours and for the most part hold each other up, figuratively or for real. But for me, it got old. Since I don’t drink at home, I’m saving at least $400/month. Don’t miss it, but do miss the ‘observer’ in the crow’s nest aspect. Which describes my social life.
    ie Ya got me thinkin’ Bil.

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