Invalidate Yourself

Hello from Fever-ville!

This post is coming to you from the recuperative (I hope) chair where I’ve been fighting a flu that’s been going around my house. I say “hope” because the fact is, I’m a pretty lousy patient.

It’s not surprising. Ask an EMT who the most annoying patient is, they’ll often tell you it’s another EMT. When you are used to providing a service, there is a natural tendency to second-guess that service when it’s being provided to you. We call it “helping”, and often the amount of “helping” we do is directly proportional to the degree to which we need the help of others. So when I had the grizzled veteran paramedic in the back of the ambulance and he started telling me with astonishing inaccuracy what his blood pressure and pulse rate were, I nodded, smiled, and wrote down the actual numbers on the chart.

Try dating a single parent sometime. See how well they handle when you want to do something – almost anything – for them that falls within the purview of household chores. It’s an exquisite kind of torture when someone tells you “Just relax!” and proceeds to do something that used to be your job. Cooking dinner, folding laundry, grocery shopping – these are all things that I have had a hard time accepting when my partner wanted to do them for me.

But I persevered, and I’ve managed to force myself to accept, with as much Sawyeresque grace as possible, when my partner wants to do me favors. I remind myself that I enjoy doing those things for my partner; how cruel would it be to deny them the same pleasure?

Suck at Sick

Unfortunately, when it comes to being sick, I’m not quite as skilled. The problem is that I am outnumbered:

  • The Patient: You need to relax, let the flu run its course. You’ve got someone caring for you, they are quite good at what they do. Let them help you the way you were helping them a couple of days ago. You’re no good to anyone when you’re sick.
  • The Marine: Sick? Sick? Who gave you permission to be sick? What are you, Navy? Accomplish the mission, you can rest when you’re dead!
  • The Mom: You’re not really that sick. C’mon, you have a desk job, fer goodness sakes! How hard can it be to edit video or post things on the web? It’s just clicking a few buttons! Quit being a baby about it!
  • The Partner: You know, she really wants to take a day off tomorrow. She’s needed one for quite a while, so you really need to get the work done today that you would have done tomorrow so you can give her some quality time.
  • The Entrepreneur: If you were better organized, you’d be ahead enough that you could just handle a sick day or vacation day or two. Aren’t you supposed to be two weeks ahead? What do you think your clients are going to say if you don’t get the work done?
  • The Writer: Not to mention how you should really be writing your blog posts ahead of time, and have pre-written posts to just plug in when things like this happen. That way your readers aren’t forced to endure fevered entries like this one which clumsily jump over the fourth wall and back again.

See what I mean? Even the voices that acknowledge that it’s a bad idea to be working while I am sick subtly imply that I ought to be getting things done.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t get sick very often. But that also means that I’m rather bad at being sick.

Receiving Gracefully

Therefore, like anything else you’re bad at, you should practice it, right? Does that mean I need to go out and get sick more often? Oh, I hope not; my poor grandsons!

But what I can do is cultivate a practice of gratitude, and work on being gracious in my thanks when people do things for me, big or small. Here’s five quick tips on ways to make sure your gratitude is felt, beyond a simple “thank you”:

  • Name the service. Describe what they did, and if possible pick out something they might not have realized they were doing for you. “Wow, you got me soup! And it’s the same kind my Mom used to bring me when I was eight, my favorite!
  • Give some physical reinforcement. A hug, shaking their hand, even just making significant eye contact – make sure the person knows you are viscerally aware of them.
  • Compliment them on the service. “Wow, I can’t believe how neatly you folded those fitted sheets! You must be some kind of wizard!” The converse of this is also true: don’t criticize the gift, even if they did it wrong. You can do that later; expressing gratitude is the task right now.
  • Make it personal. Describe how the gift makes you feel, beyond the obvious. “Yum!” is a fine compliment, but “This makes me feel really cared for, and I appreciate that.” is better. If that’s too schmaltzy, just say that: “If it weren’t too schmaltzy, I’d tell you how good this makes me feel. But…yeah.” Then fist-bump. Nothing more needs saying.
  • Don’t cheapen the gift. One of the worst things you can do is turn a gift into a transaction. After you’ve said thank you, leave it at that. It’s fine if you intend to do something for them in the future – but make it a surprise. Think of it as an opportunity to let them practice their own gratitude.

There you go, the fevered ramblings of someone assiduously (if not effectively) practicing being a grateful invalid. Got any tips of your own?

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