Ha, when I am “unwell!” I am supremely blessed to have an iron constitution which, according to my father (who is equally blessed) comes from his grandmother, a strong woman with epic resilience. It has been many years since I have actually been sick. Of course, now that I have said that, an unholy plague will no doubt descend upon me for having dropped the gauntlet.
However, I might point out that when I am “unwell,” I usually do it up big and in the form of major surgery. Don’t get me wrong, I do succumb to the occasional cold, but like most people life goes on, I suck it up and work through it. Like it never even happened. Nevertheless, when it comes to surgery, for reasons that escape me, I still try to soldier on as they say.
As the second oldest in a family of six children, I was also the oldest girl, which brought with it the burden of having to share mom-duties caring for my much younger siblings. In our big family there were no excuses. I was not doted on. I was not special. I was not privileged. I had a function and was expected to rise to the occasion no matter what. The less I did, meant more work for my parents. This inevitably programmed me to be self-sufficient, to not ask for help and, above all, to still get the job done. The only one on whom I could rely was me.
For about 10 years in my 30s I was a single parent. I lived in a city in which only one family member, my youngest brother who was in college, lived. One February birthday weekend, when I was feeling particularly unconquerable, I determined it was the appropriate time to learn to ski. My boyfriend at the time apparently saw abilities in me that, in reality, far exceeded my skill set and took me up a hill for which I was no match.
After thirty minutes of his rudimentary instructions on the finer points of starting, stopping and turning, I was cajoled into attempting to descend the mountain. Now it might not have been a mountain in actuality, but to me it felt like K2. Despite that, and not wanting to appear weak or incapable, I decided to go for it. My short, glorious skiing career lasted about 15 seconds, if that.
Upon making the first turn, my skis crossed and, since the bindings were too tight, neither of them popped off, resulting in a magnificently audible pop in my right knee. I eventually descended down the mountain, although it was on the back of a snowmobile and into the medic’s area. The ultimate diagnosis was a partial tear of my ACL. “Here, wear this splint and take it easy for a while,” were the doctor’s instructions.
Fast forward to September of the same year and a badminton match in the backyard of the same boyfriend. Clearly I had not learned the lesson about knowing my limitations. Even though my knee was regularly prone to spontaneous collapse if stood on it the wrong way, to me it still seemed prudent to jump around playing badminton. I am sure you can see where this is going. Yes, I landed on it, and it gave out in superlative splendor. I had finally finished what was started on that mountain so many months earlier. The tear was complete. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, so too was my relationship.
Two months later, living alone in a two story house with a two year old child, I underwent reconstructive knee surgery. Thankfully, my daughter’s father was involved enough in her life to take care of her for the first week or so, but after that, things were back to business as usual. I cared for her, drove myself to work (with my left foot – talk about awkward not to mention dangerous), maintained the house (to the extent possible), grocery shopped, did laundry. The whole shebang. It was what was expected, right? I was raised to believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness and that, having gotten myself into the situation in the first place, it was no one else’s responsibility to help bail me out.
I would like to say I learned my lesson from that experience, but I would be lying. Right or wrong, to this day I am still just as stubborn. I am still too quick to go back to work after surgery (and there have been several). I am still reluctant to ask for help (even when I have clearly needed it). I still feel more comfortable doing things for myself. Please make no mistake, it is not about pride. It is determination within me not to give up or give in, to keep fighting with all I have or to otherwise feel defeated. Defeat being a slippery slope down which I probably should not be skiing anyway!