Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Another blog is on the way.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I've been sick--a little sick, then more sick--and now I'm well again.  Two rounds of oral antibiotics didn't faze my infection, so I had to show up at the infusion room of St. Joseph's in Bellingham for an intravenous antibiotic.

"Considering how common illness is,"writes Virginia Woolf in On Being Ill, "how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influence brings to view . . . how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature."

Woolf's husband and doctors put her to bed when she was ill. While she was recuperating, they sent her out on long country walks and made her drink gallons of milk. They didn't let her write, believing that writing disturbed her mind and stressed her body. Not writing, I've always suspected, made her sicker. But maybe not.

I have a hard time staying in bed.  I spent the days before my evening treatments grading fifty essays. I could have postponed this task, I guess, but I knew I would panic if I got behind in grading, if this set of essays was still unfinished when the next set rolled in.  My IV port was in my left hand, so I was able to write in margins all day long. My husband and son walked the dog and washed the dishes and bought the groceries, all jobs I couldn't have done. Friends took care of the dog one day while my husband attended a meeting. I carried on with the one thing that I could do.

Woolf had household servants. Do I need to repeat this?  Her family did not have to wait on her all day long. The idea that the very people I used to take care of are taking care of me may be what keeps me up and down the stairs, in and out of the house, or sitting up in my office moving my pen. I never quite commit to being the patient.

The infusion room at St. Joe's is quiet in the evening.  My IV antibiotic was called Gentamicin, a friendly name for a substance that didn't make me sicker while it was making me well--unlike the pills I'd been swallowing. The nurses could not have been kinder, even when, after multiple sticks, they couldn't get through my thick skin to a vein. A"pick nurse," Janine, came to the rescue, inserting a pediatric-size needle near my wrist bone.  Janine rolls her equipment around in front of her in a cart as tall as an IV pole, with stacks of baskets for her needles and tubes and a shoebox-sized ultrasound machine for spotting the tiny veins of children.  Like anyone with a very specific skill she has utterly mastered and does not underestimate, she took her time, spoke softly, and succeeded on the first try.

The infusion room is not far from the chemo room, and I think this is what Woolf meant when she wrote that the "waters of annihilation close above our heads" in illness.  You can't help, if you are 58 and sick, thinking ahead to future illnesses, to final ones.  Maybe this, and not the discomfort of being waited on, is the real reason I don't lie down and let myself get well.