I’ve been sick for the last four days. I woke up Monday morning with a burning sensation in the back of my sinuses and then I thought “huh, this can’t be good.” The drive back to Vermont was decent. I was mostly rested despite a shorter night’s sleep and I was fairly alert, but I was still suspicious from how I felt that morning.
Generally the first thing I notice when I’m about to get sick is that my hands start getting weak. My arms get heavy and inoperable. My legs slow to shuffle. I feel decrepit. Going from a sit to stand almost exhausts me. My head becomes foggy and sluggish. My body seems confused as I shiver from lack of warmth yet only to sweat profusely when I apply heat. A man cold is serious business. Sure, you laugh, but its a real disease with doctors and stuff. No joke!
One of the many good qualities humans have is noticing when another is not doing well. Our intuition and ability to read one’s body language doesn’t usually betray us. On the other hand, there is one thing that I’ve come to really question lately: how we respond to it.
I feel like our society has a handful of “go-to” responses when we can’t think of anything else to say. Hearing “hope you feel better” just feels empty to me. It lacks empathy. It feels programmed, almost mathematical. If a + b = c, then go with d. Trust me, I’m going to be doing everything I can to feel better because no one likes being sick and I want things back to normal. I’d much rather hear someone say “get well soon.” Why? Because I feel that saying “get well soon” encourages a speedy recovery and shows that the other person cares to wish me well. It demonstrates that the recipient has heard me, acknowledges that I’m not 100%, and is not just looking to appease.
This may sound absolutely ridiculous to some of you. I understand. You may be thinking, “well, screw this guy. Next time he’s sick I won’t say anything at all.” I hope it doesn’t come to that, but hear me out. Look, I’m guilty of just spouting off whatever Hallmark phrase just to squeeze out a little satisfaction and move on too. Think about any time you’ve been to a funeral. How often have you heard people say to the survived “if there’s anything I can do for you…” etc? Seems meaningful, right? I beg to differ. Again, I feel like this is another programmed response straight out of the moving pictures. A bit contrived in my opinion. Can you do anything for me??? Can you bring the person I loved dearly back to life? That would surely end this ultimate pain and suffering I’m going through. Much obliged.
You know, it’s not our fault that we’re like this. Most of the time I believe that when we say these things we’re truly coming from a good place. We mean well, we do. Since being exposed to the French language and culture I’ve come to learn that the French have a word for every specific situation. They have no choice but to really think about what they’re going to say and use the vocabulary as its intended based on the circumstances. English tends to be too loose and more open to interpretation. This can cause social discrepancies and double entendre. I’ve noticed that the French have this unspoken code of you say what you mean and you mean what you say. I like it.
When I’m sick in Quebec I’ve never heard someone tell me “I hope you feel better.” Instead I hear for example: “Repose-toi, prend ça relax,” meaning “Rest up, take it easy.” It’s more encouraging and I can hear the empathy allowing me to be more prone to say merci rather than be put in this awkward tumble like the latter. This is a cultural diversity that I’ve really come to appreciate in the French. I’ve attended a few funerals in Quebec as well. Unlike American funerals, the tone is different; your speech is different too. I had to be taught to say “Mes condoléances” or “Mes sympathies” because the pain and loss is already inferred and doesn’t need to be acknowledged unless the survived want otherwise. Its just different.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that word choice is everything. Actually taking the time to read a situation, actively listen, and then responding appropriately would make a huge difference. It would make us better communicators. It would make us more cohesive as a community, a society, and maybe as a nation.
To further illustrate my point I give you Louis C.K.