Four Kind Words
“How are you feeling?”
I saw Martha, my immediate supervisor today and she actually asked me how I was doing. She has not said anything much to me since I was terminated for having cancer. She certainly hasn’t mentioned my health.
I answered honestly. I’m doing pretty well. My hair is growing back in. I’m feeling stronger.
I am a lawyer so understand why people engaged in conflict stop asking polite questions, but I am a person, too. I appreciated the return to ordinary conversation. It has been a lonely year in many respects. I have attended meetings with colleagues and felt less than collegial even though most of my colleagues have no information about what is happening and so have no reason to inquire about me. The subject of my health was the subject over which my employers and I disagreed. Accordingly, no one felt comfortable asking even such mundane questions as how are you feeling. Thank you to all my friends from other aspects of my life. This could have been so much worse if I had to get through it without your calls, emails, cards, and visits.
I know a woman who is a hypochondriac. She never has a bruise. It’s a hematoma. She claims to have had infections without cures yet later cannot quite recall what ailed her when one inquires as to how she’s doing. She sees at least one doctor every week. She monitors her blood pressure, her pulse, and her blood glucose regularly. She once made an appointment to see her doctor to discuss a dream she had in which she was ill. She suffers from numerous complaints that I have never seen discussed elsewhere. When her contemporaries suffered from hot flashes, she made us leave restaurants and go elsewhere because she had hot feet. She got a disabled parking tag because she has a “trick knee” that can go out at any time but never has when I have been with her.
One of my family members warns us before we see this woman that we must be careful not to inquire about her health. “Don’t even ask how she’s doing because once you do she will never hush up.” Asking about another’s health is usually a social nicety. But it can become a bottomless pit of need if one has nothing else in one’s life to discuss.
I hope I have other things in life to discuss in addition to my health. I would hate to think that one day that might be the only subject I knew anything about. That’s one of the things that was so upsetting when the law school reassigned my students to other teachers’ classes. I was defined by a health condition. I became unreliable. I became unnecessary. I became a liability. I was sidelined for the rest of the season. I was benched. I was marginalized. And the subject matter of my condition became something we could not discuss without risking making our relationship worse.
So those four kind words meant more to me than Martha will probably ever realize. Instead of my health being the thing that isolates me, it has gone back to being something people ask about to be polite.
The next time Martha asks me how I am feeling I will answer with four equally kind words, “I am feeling better.” Maybe if I let it go at that neither one of us will need to say more to mend our fences and go back to being good neighbors.