Who’s sicker? Men or women? Husbands or wives? I mean, who gets sicker? Men or women? Now, speaking as an admittedly unauthorized ambassador of the unfairer sex, I have to make the case that Men Get Sicker. Not Men Are Sicker, mind you — that case needs not be made, as the evidence is of such preponderance that denial would only serve to fatally corrode the credibility and logic of the arguer. Still, the fact that Men Are Sicker does not necessarily equate to Men Get Sicker any more than the fact that Women Wear Dresses equates to Women Don’t Wear Pants. There’s a correlative relationship, for sure, but not causal. Indeed, some women do NOT wear dresses. And some sick men never get sick. They just ARE sick. Not a mere semantic distinction.
Meanwhile, at this writing, I am sick. Sinus cavity packed tightly, as if with frozen cotton. Eyes watering unceasingly. Mouth-breather. Lung hacker. Energy like a hibernating tree sloth. And everyone’s gonna know about it, dammit. Everyone. Behold the evidence in your hands.
Last week my wife had become similarly ill. Note, I did not say “…my wife was sick.” She’s never sick. Every now and then she becomes ill, but she never, ever “gets” sick. Sick gets her. She doesn’t get it. Get it?
And when sick gets her, she becomes ill. And she becomes quiet. And determinedly resolute.
“If you’re not feeling well, we don’t have to go.”
“Yes, we’re going.”
“But if you’re sick, it really doesn’t —”
“Get in the car.”
And at night, immediately after the appropriate assortment of pills and elixirs and tonics and ointments have been popped, swallowed, rubbed and sprinkled, there’s nothing but the sound of labored breathing, the tone of ancient stick-to-it-ive-ness, that common denominator of women like her dating to the dawn of woman-ness. Must be some vestigial remnant having to do with childbirth — a pain threshold simply foreign to men. And which applies to any brand of pain, ie: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, relational.... And although I can empathize with and imagine being of that constitution, I just cannot experience it any more than I can experience what it’s like to be a fire hydrant or six feet tall. Some experiences are simply inaccessible, no matter how hard we try.
For me, when it comes to being sick, my ancient common denominator is something like that prissy prince from Braveheart — Longshanks’ son — whose lover is summarily tossed out of the window by Longshanks himself, thrown to his death, defenestrated, all while the son watches, privileged by birth, cursed by character.
“I can’t believe I caught what you had.”
“Why can’t you believe it?”
“It sucks. I feel like dirt.”
“Take that stuff over there — it works. And get some sleep; put down the book.”
“Can’t believe how bad I feel.”
“Go to sleep (ie: quit whining).”
“I’d love to. But my head is stuffed and I can’t breathe.”
Silence. Because what else can be said?
Later, when she’s fast asleep and dreaming pleasantly, scenes of summertime, butterfly breezes buffeting the copper coat of our long-lost, beloved golden retriever, sunlight so pure the disease and loss and sin of the world are forever bleached away, only gladness fills the air and peace and contentment, Shalom prevailing as it does in the best of dreaming; and I nudge her.
“Honey,” I groan as she falls back to Earth, her elbow cocking — either to form a resting place for her drowsy head or to propel her fist into my ruddy face.
“What is it?” she says, mercifully, not gracefully.
“I can’t sleep.”
Her eyes narrow in the dark. A tiger crouching.
“Honey?” I say, feeling like that prince from the movie.
“You’re sick, alright,” she says, and rolls over and away from me. “Incurable.”