Illness as Teacher

CupOfTeaI’ve recently had a great opportunity. A serious eye infection left me with little to do but sit in a dimly lit room and take antibiotic eye drops every thirty minutes. I never thought those minutes would pass so quickly when doing, well… nothing, but each time my phone alarm went off, I was genuinely surprised.

After placing a drop in my eye, I’d close both lids, giving the medicine a good chance to seep in. Then I’d settle back into my chair. Unlike the usual torrent of ideas that flood my mind, these thoughts were lazy, sluggish. The fact that I had accepted my sedentary fate probably helped. There was, after all, no way to do anything. So there was no compulsion to plan, work on, or figure anything out. I was kind of stuck for a few days.

One afternoon I imagined being in the body of one of my hospice patients, who had been losing her eyesight for several years. Yes, this is what it might feel like to be blind. It was remarkably peaceful. I had decided that although pain was an undeniable part of this experience, I didn’t have to suffer; so I didn’t. BUZZZZZ! Time for an eye drop.

Ahh…this latest dose was doing its work. I could feel it. I imagined it encircling my swollen cornea, cradling the injury with its cool, lubricating elixir. How fast I must be healing, I thought. How amazingly resilient the body is.I was glad that my sister lived close by, and that she had recently retired. This week she had chauffeured me to daily doctor visits and prepared fantastic meals made with love. I was grateful to my doctor for moving quickly with a referral to a corneal specialist. BUZZZZZ!

The next day a friend offered to walk with me to a Mexican restaurant across the street. I was still very sensitive to sunlight, so I wore dark sunglasses and a straw hat. We chose a shaded table on a cozy tree lined patio. We chatted for awhile and got caught up on each other’s lives. Knowing each other for years, we at times sat in comfortable silence. Suddenly, while looking at the cascade of flowering oleander that surrounded us, it dawned on me: I was starting to see better. The cloudiness was still there, but it was as if a thin veil had been lifted away. I wondered how long it had been better, but it didn’t matter. Yippee!

Yesterday I attended my sister’s sixtieth birthday party. I drove the five miles from my home to hers. By myself. A feat. The steering wheel somehow felt different. I grasped it with both hands, loosening and tightening my grip as I drove, as if I would identify the cause of its new feel. Hmmm.

As usual, we all piled into the kitchen. I looked to the food on the table. It was nothing fancy, just real food, all homemade, but it looked great. I’m moving towards better health lately and eating well is a big part of my commitment.

Later, as I filled my plate, I noticed again how beautiful the food looked. Its vibrant colors almost leaped toward me. I decided this food was alive with the nutrients my body needed. I ate slowly, really tasting each bite, each texture. This was just as therapeutic as my antibiotics. I think they work together, each allowing the other to do its best.

After the meal there was gabbing, music and laughter; serious discussions and jabs of teasing. There’s nothing like celebrating with people you love, relaxing and sharing a meal. This was another of my “medications”.

Today I went back to the doctor. After the exam, he sat back to write some notes and then looked up at me. “You don’t have any pain?” he asked. “No”, I replied. Him: “It’s remarkable. I can see very little evidence of the infection. I have to say I’m surprised you have healed so quickly.”

Thank God for life and for the chance to be lived by it. There is a little slice of heaven on each breath if you take the time to notice. And once in awhile you get lucky. Life drops you into a dimly lit room so you can see for yourself.
 

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