Always someone worse off

I did my usual prep on Monday, feeling worse and worse all the time; cystitis had struck. I ran a session with my follow-on group, which went really well – they enjoyed themselves and worked hard. When I came home I answered lots of emails, but I definitely didn’t feel good. And then I had a message saying that my ex-sister-in-law, whom I will call L, had been rushed to hospital and was in intensive care.

On Tuesday I worked with the adult literacy group in Hereford. They were excellent, but I wasn’t really myself. In the afternoon I went to the doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics. Great, I thought; within a few hours I’ll start feeling better. I spent most of the afternoon in bed, but answered some emails and prepared for my prison session on Thursday.

L had had an emergency operation for a ruptured intestine. This is an awful thing to go through, and I felt completely pathetic, after whinging about my own petty problems.

The antibiotics didn’t work. On Wednesday I did some writeups and ran the GP group (which was terrific – they are lovely people who really understand what they can get out of creative writing). I felt slightly better, and did some shopping, but by the time I reached the checkouts I felt dreadful again.

Meanwhile, L was on life support – dialysis, oxygen, the works. She was seriously, even desperately ill.

I had intended to work in the hospital on Thursday morning, but I didn’t feel up to it. I prepared lots of material for the Poetry on Loan website, and did my accounts, and ran a reading group at the prison – which was excellent, with more people than we have had for any previous session. When I got home I wrote a mid-term report for the prison project.

L’s liver had stopped working.

I had a bad night again on Thursday, but I had to get up early to spend all ay in Birmingham. In the morning I was being trained on how to update the Poetry on Loan website, and in the afternoon we had one of our regular PoL meetings. In between I had a quick lunch with my daughter. All went well – the webiste has been designed to be very easy to update; my daughter was good fun, as always; and the meeting was revitalising.

L had started breathing again without oxygen.

On Saturday I accepted that the antibiotics definitely hadn’t worked, and called the out-of-hours GP service. They were very good, and I got an appointment for 11; the doctor confirmed that I still had a very active infection, and gave me a prescription for different antibiotics. I phoned to say that I could not go to the family reunion in London that evening. I managed to perform at a gig in Hereford in the afternoon – adrenaline always works wonders – and by late evening I was definitely beginning to feel better.

L’s liver started working again. The doctors called in my nephew and nieces and said that L’s recovery would be a long haul – probably a year – and that she might never be able to do everything she could do before. Obviously they don’t know yet how far she will recover.

And all week I’ve been thinking to myself – how can I feel ill, when I know how badly off L is? And the answer is, I think, that knowing that there is always someone much worse off than you can be helpful to the mind, but there are limits to the mind-body link; knowing that your own illness is relatively trivial does not stop it waking you up at night and making you feel wretched. Most of my thoughts have been with L this week, but I can’t help the fact that some of them have been with me.



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