Friday 9 March 2007

Illness and irritability

Sounds like a Jane Austen novel, doesn't it? A really bad one, in which a woman in a bodice dies of 'the dropsy', but the doctor who attends her falls in love with her sister, who after her siblings death is unhappily engaged to the local squire in order for their family to break free of the debt their drunken father ran up, blah blah blah, horses and carriages, misunderstandings, secrets, waistcoats, honour, a clash of the classes, etc, etc. Yawn...

Anyway, this week Nini has been ill. Very ill, as it happens: a nasty combination of 'flu, chest infection, bad cough and laryngitis. I was quite keen on the laryngitis aspect at first, as when she called me at work it was like being phoned up by a sexy, gravelly voiced Mariella Frostrup soundalike - albeit one that just wanted you to go the supermarket in your lunchhour and buy potatoes. But as the week wore on it got worse, and I am a bit deaf these days anyway (she would say 'selectively deaf', but I always pretend not to hear that), so phone exchanges became increasingly tiresome, with me shouting "What?" and "I can't hear you!" every other sentence, and her coughing and weeping into the receiver.
But she is on the mend now, and was well enough last night to have a discussion about how we each react to being ill. I won't dwell on Nini here - she is, as ever, pretty much in the right on these things and effortlessly claims the moral high ground: when I am ill she is always concerned and sympathetic, and when she is ill she bears it fairly stoically, and expects concern and sympathy commensurate with her condition (which is often far more then she actually gets from her ingrate of a husband).
But she tells me that I have a weird, non-linear reaction to being ill: rather than feeling sorry for myself in proportion to the actual seriousness of the condition, I simply have the same mid-level of reaction regardless of what's wrong with me. This means that I am grumpy and unapproachable beyond all reason for something as trivial as a headache, and yet will get also annoyed at the suggestion that I take some medicine, if, say, I have an arm hanging off and a fever of 120 - because doing so would seem like overkill.
This leads to some marvellously erratic double standards: I have been known to mooch around the living room being demanding when all I really need is an aspirin ("My head hurts and I'm very ill, so you should make me a cup of tea. I'll lie here and you can cover me with a duvet...") - and yet have also flatly refused to visit a doctor when I had an allergy-related asthma attack that shut my lungs down to under 20% of their normal function ("I'm fine, stop fussing me! If I sit as still as possible and manually push my chest in and out, I can still just about breathe, and the blurriness of vision is only at the edges...")
Nini's problem, is, of course, knowing how to react when I say I am ill. Should she leave me alone, because there's nothing really wrong with me and any conversation will simply be bad tempered and annoying? Or should she push the issue, and insist on some kind of medical intervention, because when it comes to my own wellbeing I clearly have the logic, reason and self awareness of a tiny little child?

Ah, she's a lucky woman. Doubtless it's stuff like this that makes being married to me such a joyous, random experience...