Warning: Some of this post is gross.
When I was younger, I was legitimately afraid of people with orthopedic casts. I was convinced that they were going to use the plaster on their arms to hurt me, so I just steered clear of all of them–including my cousin when he had one (sorry, cousin…now you know).
Unfortunately, this behavior of mine was never corrected, so as I got older it translated into an aversion of sick people in general. Don’t get me wrong–I’m a fairly nurturing person and I often play the mother figure when any friend/family member is ill or injured. But I’m talking about really sick…as in an appearance that features disheveled hair, sunken in cheeks, pallid complexion, unfocused eyes, etc. Seeing people in that state was always so unnerving to me.
Until I became that sick person.
I didn’t recognize it at first, perhaps because I was too vain to think that it could actually happen to me. There were several occasions on which I realized how disgusting my disease was–my skin turning grey in affected areas, spontaneous episodes of blood just pouring out of my body (on a daily basis), swelling like nobody’s business, and so much fairy dust*. The full impact of it hit me when I was in the hospital after my second major surgery and I saw my reflection–disheveled hair, sunken in cheeks, pallid complexion, and unfocused eyes.
But here’s the thing: no one ever treated me like I was gross. Family, friends, doctors, and nurses all handled me with extreme compassion, no matter how seemingly appalling my situation was. They understood why I was in that awful physical and mental state. They had witnessed the backwards metamorphosis that took place in me because of the pain, the transformation from butterfly to cocoon.
And they somehow knew that I needed physical contact more than I ever had before. They knew that I felt so alienated and alone. They would hug me, take my hand in theirs, put a comforting hand on my forehead, and anything else they could possibly do to reach out to me. They showered me with unconditional love and constantly reminded me that I was beautiful, smart, and capable. And that is what has given me the strength to conquer this illness with a positive attitude.
Although this process has been far from pleasant, it has been the humbling experience I’ve needed to open my mind and heart. I now know what it’s like to be that gross sick person, and I’m grateful to understand what that person needs. Instead of shuddering, flinching, or uncomfortably looking away, you better believe that I’m going to be one of the first people to show some love, even if it’s as little as an understanding smile.
*The word “pus” makes me cringe so I have decided to replace it with the term “fairy dust.”