I have a sinus infection.
I have been congested and have had headaches, including one that went into migraine, but I thought to myself, “Stupid allergies.” I’ve also been somewhat achy (“Stupid working out.”), and keep going between feeling really hot (“Stupid Texas summer.”) and really cold (“Stupid Texas air conditioning.”). Then I was in tai chi class and was sweating buckets (“Stupid humidity.”), but tried to power through even as I felt weaker and weaker (“Stupid limbs made out of cement.”). At that point, my tai chi instructor walked over and told me to go lay down because I looked like I was about to pass out. When I got home that night, I cooled off, ate something with lots of protein, and generally rested. However, I couldn’t help but notice that I still felt light-headed. The next morning I felt the same.
Finally, I went to the doctor. I told her all about the light-headedness and the nearly passing out. Luckily, my doctor was a better detective than me and she thought to ask questions to find the other pertinent symptoms. After a very thorough examination, which included an EKG, a blood test for anemia, and a head x-ray, I got the diagnosis of a sinus infection.
Rather than feeling relieved that I didn’t have some bizarre light-headed disease, my first reaction was to be embarrassed. I had another sinus infection? Shouldn’t I know what those feel like by now? As I added up all the symptoms it seemed perfectly obvious...you know, right after somebody pointed it out to me. How could I have not realized it was a sinus infection?!
A few of my friends have been dealing with medical problems lately. I’m at least number four on the list of sinus infections, there have been a couple stomach bugs, and then there were some more serious, long-term issue diagnoses. All these problems run the gamut of corporeal existence, but I noticed a theme as I was discussing them with my various friends.
Embarrassment. Every one of my friends seemed to be embarrassed by the idea that their body was weak in some way. At least two friends used the word shame when discussing their medical condition. There was even a sense of guilt expressed.
It’s not a far leap, I suppose, for women in our society to be embarrassed by a medical hindrance. After all, we tend to spend a lot of time being self-conscious about our appearance. I suppose it all falls under that master category of “physical defect.” I know more than one woman who has trouble taking a compliment—
“Your hair looks nice!”
“I just wore it pulled back today because it’s windy outside.”
—so it’s no wonder then that we react poorly when someone actually confirms that something about our bodies is wrong. It’s as though someone announced out loud the dirty little secret we all know: our bodies aren’t perfect.
Even though this is just the universal human condition, we tend to act like it is some terrible mistake we have made. We immediately analyze our behavior to see how we brought this upon ourselves, how we could have avoided it, how others will treat us if they find out. We find we need to forgive ourselves for something we never chose to have happen to us. We find we have to account to others how this situation could have occurred.
Even for something as dumb as a sinus infection. I can’t tell you how much it bothers me that I haven’t done my laundry because I am exhausted from being sick and taking antibiotics. I feel I need to explain myself to people for the fact that I’ve been sleeping more than housekeeping. I have a good reason, really! Please, don’t judge me too harshly! Certainly, not as harshly as I tend to judge myself.
When I was in the doctor’s office, I received a reminder why I shouldn’t be so hard on myself for uncontrollable physicality. As the doctor reviewed the results from my EKG, she said, “You have a beautiful heartbeat. You work out, don’t you?” I was so surprised that I didn’t have a chance to retort with my usual, “Not as much as I should.” The fact of the matter is that I don’t feel I work out enough because I’m not losing weight. The outside part of me—the part that I’m used to feeling guilty about—seems to be pretty much same. It took an expert to point out that I do exercise regularly and that it is having a very good effect somewhere.
So I remind myself: I’m a healthy, beautiful woman who does not have medical training. It’s okay if I don’t immediately spot potential symptoms of minor illnesses. It’s not only okay, it’s normal, to occasionally be sick and tired. What is important is that I take care of myself as best I can, that I say “thank you” when someone compliments me, and that I give myself time to recover from minor illnesses before doing my laundry.
(Stupid sinus infections.)