We are all a cocktail of individual differences and that is what makes us interesting. It occurred to me recently how people have their own way of reacting to sickness, or injury. I don’t like to subscribe to the view that how people behave in sickness is how they define themselves. Let’s say the jury is out on that, but there is evidence that the saying has potential for truth.
Going back a few years (decades truly, but the older one gets the more one is wont to shade the truth) I had a friend, Vinod. This is in the day when I aspired to represent India in a Test match, spinning the nation to glory with my left arm (were it not for Bishen Singh who showed batsmen what a crafty high-quality web he was capable of spinning that often left them tangle-footed!) Vinod and I played maidan cricket together. We didn’t even get to the club stage, unfortunately, because Vinod allowed himself to be seduced by the curve of the hockey stick and, as with my Test aspirations, I found other left-arm spinners had already staked their claim in the local clubs. So I bided my time, and remained sadly, on the maidan.
However, before this piece becomes a tragedy about me which was never the intention let me return to Vinod. He was our wicket-keeper, for the most part keeping without pads (often standing up to the stumps) and getting knocked on the shins mercilessly by the fast bowlers (which is why years later I postulate the theory that he regarded me fondly because I never ever struck him on the shins; my bowling being so slow that the batsman were rarely in danger of letting the ball pass the bat; all this being in the safe days pre-Twenty20 when batsmen in my team wielded bats half broken, not bazookas.)
Anyhow, Vinod (to whom I appear to be arriving at via an extremely torturous route) was one of those born with a smile on his face, or a laugh. I have to this day never witnessed someone take a blow to his person and chuckle about it. Not just on the odd occasion; time after time. If there was pain (and I cannot imagine how there couldn’t have been for I have been struck often with a cricket ball, winced and collapsed with Oscar-winning flamboyance) Vinod’s way of showing it was with a laugh and a few hops.
A variant on this is the patient who is well-read on sickness. First of all he startles the doctor by reeling off a string of medical terms under the guise of polite inquiry (for example, “I have a decreased appetite, fatigue, nausea, my muscles and joints ache and I believe I’ve lost weight in the last 24 hours. Could these be the symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy, do you think? What do I need to do to check if I’m suffering cognitive impairment?”)
The doctor of course after a routine check pronounces it a bout of common flu. The patient, though, takes his secret diagnosis home where members of the family are put to the test. (“Should I really be eating apple puree? Is it easy on the stomach given its acidic content?” And, “I think I’ll visit another doctor, get a second opinion, rule out Hepatitis.”) Families are usually truly happy when such people are well, for their ill health tends to run everyone ragged.
There is, of course, the third type: the one, like my late brother, who will never let on he is ill, come rain, hail or shine. In some ways they need the closest monitoring for often by the time the doctor comes in, it’s all way too late.
This article was born from a saying I came across by Henry Ward Beecher, the 19th century American social reformer: ‘To array a man’s will against his sickness is the supreme art of medicine’.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.