The Best Sympathy Card


     I have a confession to make. I really, really, don’t want to admit it, but this blank page is taunting me. “Everyone knows your secret anyway, ” it says.

So here goes:

After one, horrifying, sleepless night followed by two long days in the hospital, I was sent back home armed with medication and no official diagnosis. My inflamed gut hadn’t yet relaxed its grip, but after a couple days I was pretty much back to normal.  At a small dinner party my husband and I went to a few days after the BIG EVENT, the conversation went something like this:

“We heard you were IN THE HOSPITAL. How are you feeling?”

“Pretty good, thanks. Just tired.”

“What happened?”

“I had the worst night of gut pain in my life.”

“OMG. Sounds awful.”

“It was pretty bad. I stumbled from my bed to the toilet all night,” I said shrugging, like it was no a big deal, like I was super brave and tough. (Except the truth was that I whimpered like a pitiful puppy all night long while hanging my head over the toilet bowl).

“When did you go to the ER?”

“Not until morning when I could walk without too much pain. Andy would have had to carry me.” I smiled at my husband: the Almost Superhero.

“Did they figure out what’s wrong?”

“Not sure. You know how doctors are. I have to take a bunch more tests. But the CT scan was clear.”

“Thank God.”

After hugs and supportive murmuring, Andy and I placed our instruments in the corner of the living room, for the later music jam, and brought our salad, wine, and ever-ready gluten free chocolate cookies into the kitchen. We settled in to a lovely dinner and a good visit with our friends.

After dinner as the instruments came out.  “I think I’d better head home,” I said smiling apologetically.

“Of course!”

“Get some rest.”

“Feel better!”

“I hope you figure out what’s wrong soon.”

I walked out into a beautiful fall evening that had exactly the right kind of slight chill, nothing to fight against, and a perfect musty-leaf smell. In spite of being tired, I felt oddly tempted to dance down the street like Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain”.

It took a moment to realize why. I had absolutely NO guilt for being a party pooper. The honest to God truth was that I didn’t feel any worse than I do on most other days. Days when I push through my overwhelming fatigue because I want to be social, not disappoint anyone, or not feel like a loser. But feeling no guilt, doubt, shame, self-pity, or frustration, left me giddy. Who cared that I left the party early! I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. I wasn’t judged a wimp! I was legitimate! All I felt was delicious acceptance and support from my friends.

The truth was that my entire stay at the hospital was a blurry blend of sleep, pain meds, and waiting endlessly for the doctors to tell me what to do. I didn’t feel that bad at all.

But at the dinner party, because I had “HOSPITAL” tagged onto me like a badge of honor, I could talk about how I felt physically with no apologies.

So here’s my confession: I LOVED all the sympathy. I LOVED that I could talk about feeling bad and my friends could get it. Hospital stays are easy for everyone to understand.

You must be: very, Very, SICK!

Here’s my even worse confession: There’s a teeny tiny part of me that hopes I get a diagnosis with a big and significant name that I can hold out for everyone to examine. “Here see this? Now do you understand?” Of course I would say this with dignity and bravery, worthy of admiration, and needing no pity.

Disclaimer: I emphatically declare that my confessions above are completely, absolutely false! I should hit delete 1000 times. I do NOT wish for a significant illness. I do NOT wish for more pain and medication. I do NOT wish to burden my friends with the chore of constant sympathy and worry. I do NOT wish to be a drama queen or a martyr. I absolutely do NOT want to offend anyone who has a serious illness, for whom going to the hospital is a life or death situation.

It’s mortifying; hide-under-a rock-horrifying, to admit that maybe I’m not Enlightened Pollyanna Perfect. That maybe I do need more hugs than I ask for, and it’s tiring, oh so tiring, to fill my mouth with vague words of discomfort instead of a clear request for support. Yes. Sometimes it’s just easier to say I had to go to the hospital.

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