500 Words, Day 16 / by dan turner

Christina wrote that she was sick in the middle of the night, and I've woken with a sore throat and slight fever for two days, so today will be about illness, illness as living in another country as per Sontag's metaphor, and how apparently the sick me would be terrible at international relations.

For me, and for many others, one of the most horrid and infuriating things about being ill to any degree is how it feels like betrayal; you're suddenly aware of your body as an other, noticing how you're not able to just be as you're used to being, or do what you're used to being able to do. Constant warnings and interruptions prod into your consciousness like a million car alarms or annoying ring tones in the middle of a hot summer night.

Sontag well extended this, drawing the metaphor of illness as exile to another country. Granted, she was writing about cancer, and I'm talking about a sore throat, but I think he insights apply to some degree no matter the severity of the illness. As the things you do automatically at home require conscious steps and negotiations in a strange land, so do the everyday acts of living when you're sick. And as we are all human (hi, NSA and Google bots!), and we all fall ill, we all have visited both lands. As Sontag wrote: “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.”

When you're sick at all, her metaphor feels apt internally and externally. Internally, we're removed from where we once were; we no longer speak the same language as our bodies, and translation of directions to stand, or run, or think, are difficult and garbled. Externally, if we're sick enough, we may stay home from work or school, or go to hospital, or even be quarantined from others. And as when you go to somewhere not your home, you become a different person. I've tried bike racing when sick, and I literally can see where the me I'm used to being should be compared to where the sick me was (hint: the me I was used to being was way up the road).

Now, for the most part at least, I'm not a bad patient. I don't whinge and moan and demand someone bring me another flat soda or bon bons while I lie on the couch with my stories. But I am susceptible to being annoyed and frustrated by all those stupid healthy people who go about their lives as if they have no idea what it's like to be ill, even a bit. Bastards. Hate. Yet I forget all about the country of the ill when I'm repatriated home.

I imagine this is like first-world privilege, of always having clean water, no land wars, etc. And I fully admit if illness were counties, I'd be a terrible one to share a border with.

And that's 500 words.