Bad Medicine

I had the opportunity recently to flex my compassion muscle. A member of our breeding cubicle fell ill. Tragically the bundle of joy (mucous) didn't recover after a day off regular duties. So come the next day, my allotted weekly day off, I faced the chilling prospect of having to care for someone other than myself.

Cue complex range of conflicting emotions.

Number one - love. Didn't figure immediately, I have to say. Truth is, I cherish my day off. (If this sounds selfish - good - we're on the same page.)

Two - frustration, resentment, indignation. Started registering loud and clear when the stricken one proved not so struck they couldn't hog the computer all day. Didn't they realise I had important work to do too, like check my emails? Whatever happened to just laying in bed, suffering?

Three - outrage. Not only did the sick one dominate the computer, they also dug deep to claim they were hungry.

Talk about demanding.

Rather than seeing hunger as a sign of healing, I took it for what it really meant - I'd have to cook. Possibly something as complex as toast, or, heaven forbid, a hot lemon drink.

Part of me suspected my outrage was due to an inability to respond humanely to another person's suffering. Another part thought I was mistaking outrage for guilt, or guilt that I was outraged.

I don't know, I'm a bloke. Technically, we don't do emotions. They reckon we've only got anyway - anger. And doesn't that narrow-minded view of manhood aggravate me!

Pretty soon I found myself in the room of mirrors urging myself to pretend I care.

Forget toast. Forget hot lemon drinks. I needed to feign an expression of ultimate empathy. And that could mean only one thing - chicken soup.

Don't ask me why, but over the centuries chicken soup has become the de rigueur medical response to malady. Chips and lemonade, so much easier to prepare and clean up, just don't wash any more.

It's not like there's any verifiable pharmaceutical stuff in a chook. No codeine, no ephedrine, no schweppervescence. But you make it, or not, at your peril when someone's sick.

I well remember the day this penny dropped. I'd been a bit off-colour, yearning for fizzy relief, crisps and sympathy for what was being misdiagnosed as "man flu". It was much more life-threatening than that - "man pleurisy" at least.

All of a sudden I copped a bowl of garlic-and-ginger something-or-other with a token piece of carrot in it and some chook. Love of the highest order, I was told. Nature's penicillin.

Miraculously I recovered and a few weeks later, the shoe was on the other foot.

We had Black Hawk down and I was thinking straight up, "Call in the cavalry with chicken noodle."

My greatest moment beckoned. The broth was boiled, the pillow propped, the bib positioned, the spoon dabbed to the quivering lips of the afflicted.

But imagine my affront to hear as the first drops of nectar caressed the parched palate that rather than being just what the doctor ordered, my elixir was declared simply "wrong" and spat out: "Too much this, not enough that, how could I be so uncaring!?"

All expressed with the kind of crazed vehemence belying a person on their so-called death bed.

Cue complex conflicting emotions again.

Sick people; so easy to please. Not! Hence, it hurts to flex the compassion muscle these days.

I'm scarred. Obviously not as much as those who've had to put up with my care. But what goes around comes around. Bottom line, if you can't cure it, endure it.

Have you had to care for someone at death's door?

Did you find compassion, or chicken soup?

Blog with Simon at theherald.com.au.

I'm scarred. Not as much as those who've had to put up with my cooking and care.

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