I am rarely sick. When I am, it is usually just a bad cold that makes me uncomfortable for a few days, but does little to slow me down. Christmas of 2014 was the exception. But first, a little background . . .
I am an only child with three adult children of my own. My elderly parents live about 80 miles away. For years my house has been the gathering place for Sunday dinners as well as birthday and holiday celebrations. I am the one who cooks and cleans and tends to everyone’s needs. It’s a role I embrace willingly as I love being surrounded by family and friends. I am also the de facto caregiver in my family. Early on I adopted the tenets of the “labor of care” as mentioned in our text as, “the three major elements of life as defining characteristics of the human condition: labor, work and action. Labor is a necessity; it is what we do that must be done . . labor of care defines our humanness and calls forth responsiveness to the world before us.” (Arnett, Fritz & Bell, 2009. p. 200) The “labor of care” metaphor describes not only my life within my family, but also life within my Christian faith. But back to the story . . .
Christmas of 2014 was shaping up to be an epic event with sixteen people expected for lunch. Never mind that two of my children, one of which still lived at home, were diagnosed with the flu several days earlier. I counted it lucky that they had enough time to recover before Christmas Day. I bought extra plates at Crate and Barrel so everyone would be able to eat off real dinnerware, I purchased and arranged flowers from Costco supplementing them with greenery cut from my yard, and I carefully planned the seating chart, splitting the crowd between the dining room and kitchen tables so that all would have a seat at a table.
Christmas Eve was busy as I prepared as much as I could for the next day’s feast, as well as filled the crockpot with homemade potato soup, a Christmas Eve tradition to be enjoyed after the candlelight church service. While playing in the bell choir during the service, I noticed my throat was scratchy, but chalked it up to being tired and standing under the air vent in the sanctuary. After dinner and our traditional tour of Christmas lights around town, I went to bed with great expectations of the next day. The next morning, I felt dizzy as soon as my feet hit the floor. I went down steadily as the morning progressed. Family and friends arrived and I put on a brave face, but as I was opening the oven to take the potatoes out shortly before noon, I gave up. I called my husband to the kitchen, told him it was all – food, crowd, presents, cleanup and everything else -now his, and climbed upstairs to my bedroom.
From my bed, I could hear the shock and awe spreading through the crowd. What happened to Melinda? Where was Mom? Is she ok? Do we need to take her to the emergency room? Do we still get to eat? What about the presents? Should we all just leave and go home? How could this happen? It’s Christmas Day – how could she get sick on Christmas Day?!? While it was nice to hear their concerns, it was also uncomfortable as I felt I had let everyone down.
Long story short – the cooking was finished and the food got on the table. Everyone ate lunch, albeit quicker than usual. Presents were opened and folks left soon after, either to go to other celebrations or get out of the sick house as soon as possible. I was left with a 103.7 degree fever, aches and chills, and great disappointment that the Christmas Day plans fell apart. It was hard to admit defeat, but I had to, in the words of Arnett, Fritz and Bell, “admit illness and take proper actions. For someone very conscientious, the admission of illness . . . shifts the care from the doing of normal work to the task of attending to health, one’s own and that of others.” (Arnett, Fritz & Bell, 2009. p. 201) That admission of illness of was very hard. As a natural caregiver, it was very difficult to find myself on the care-receiver end of the spectrum. It took about a week for me to recover and I haven’t really been significantly sick since. But I learned a lot through that experience.
The Christmas flu was a lesson in humbleness. I was reminded that I was not immune to sickness; I was not indispensable as Christmas Dinner went on without me; and I was not always in control. I could not stop thinking about the fact that I was not nearly as bad off as other folks who likely found themselves sick on Christmas Day with no roof over their heads, no access to doctors, and no one to bring them endless cups of ice water, crackers, and anything else that sounded good in a fever induced state. In a strange way, the flu caused me to reflect on my blessings and realize how very lucky I was to have a husband that cared for me, the resources to seek medical care, and a warm, safe place to recover. It was, as our book states, “the hour, the moment, the time of thanksgiving when a human being steps forth in response to what is met – whether joy, sadness, or sorrow. Initiating final freedom and the notion of response begins to define an action-framed understanding of health care communication ethics.” (Arnett, Fritz & Bell, 2009. p. 196) I was most appreciative of the care and understanding given to me during those few days, and I plan to continue to pass along that same care and compassion to others with health concerns. The Christmas flu turned out to be an Hour of Thanksgiving (Arnett, Fritz & Bell, 2009. p. 196) and, for that experience, as miserable as it was, I am grateful.
Arnett, R.C., Fritz, J. M.H, Bell, L. M. (2009) Communications ethics literacy: dialogue and difference. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.