Being
Patient with Illness
I have a headache today. Every little sound is exaggerated.
The bright sunlight is painful instead of enjoyable.
I’d like to crawl into a hole somewhere and cover up until it’s over.

I am one of legions of people who are afflicted with headache.
And when I have one, I don’t like me very much.
I am irritable, cranky and anti-social.
I can’t concentrate long enough to read a paragraph.
Even the light from the television tube is painful.
Most people are sympathetic at first.
But when the headaches persist, year after year, sympathy must wear thin.

People must get tired of seeing a drawn face and hearing about how much it hurts.
I was once one of the lucky ones. As a young adult, headaches were induced by tension or sinus
congestion. They were easily treated and went away fast.
About six years ago, the other kind appeared.
These are hormonally triggered, the doctors tell me. Something to do with the hormone irregularity
brought about by menopause.

At times like today, I really don’t care what causes them. I only know that I must be at work, writing
a column up against a deadline, talking with people on the phone and generally being businesslike and
efficient. I only care about finding some way to stop the pain.

Others like me, who have headaches caused by a variety of things, share my frustration.
I have friends who have suffered far longer than I with such burning pain as cluster headache
and a long list of migraines.

Before my own headaches began, I found myself in the mindset of the healthy who question why
these people are always complaining.
Okay, so they don’t feel good. Why can’t they just put a happy face on it and be more positive?
We don’t really want to hear about how badly they hurt, so why can’t they talk about anything else?
Don’t they know that physical health is controlled by the mind? Why can’t they keep their
complaining to themselves?

I was one of the insensitive louts who tuned out when a friend talked about how bad he or she
was feeling. Recognizing that, I try not to talk about the headaches when they are here. I try not to
burden my healthy co-workers and family members with moaning and groaning about how bad
my head hurts.
I try to be positive and go about my business with little outward show of distress. But it must not
work too well.

My elder daughter called yesterday. “How are you?” she asked.
“I’m doing great,” I replied (this was yesterday, mind you, before the headache hit).
“Oh, good,” she said. “It’s nice to talk with you when you don’t have a headache.”

She wasn’t being intentionally insensitive. She was reflecting what is reality to her.
I am rarely “doing great” when we happen to catch each other for a phone conversation.
It doesn’t seem that frequent to me. But it must be a consideration for everyone around me.
It must get in the way of my relationships with my family and friends.
It must be very difficult for those with whom I work to deal with the at-least-twice-monthly
headaches that depress my essential positive attitude.

But the headaches have helped me in a way I’d never have considered.
I’m more patient now with people who hurt.
I overlook a brusque response or an unthinking remark, reminding myself that the speaker may
not be feeling up to par.
I look for expressions of pain on the faces of those I meet, so that I can be as gentle as possible
in my interactions with them.

There may not be a cure, but there can be patience.
Sometimes, that’s more comfort than you know.