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Sick of Being Sick

January 11, 2011 | by Malka Forster

Who’s running this show, anyway?

Today, I called in sick to work.

There wouldn't be anything terribly newsworthy about this occurrence, except that it has already happened 15 times in the past two months.

In a clear illustration of what researchers mean when they say that pregnant women have compromised immune systems, I – along with the unborn child growing within me – have successfully managed to pick up every germ and bug circulating in my greater metropolitan area. And it's been an awfully humbling experience.

Allow me to explain.

I am the driven, go-getter type. In high school, I headed several student initiatives while maintaining a 98 average in all subjects and flawlessly fulfilling my responsibilities at home. I worked at numerous teaching and writing positions all throughout my undergraduate and graduate education (the latter of which included a time-consuming student externship), and somehow managed to marry, move to a different country, and give birth to my first child along the way.

More recently, I've held down two demanding jobs – one during the morning and one at night – while caring for a precocious toddler, keeping a tidy house, hosting frequent Shabbos guests, and preparing delicious, homemade dinners for my family. I would say that's a pretty impressive record for a wife and mommy.

Throughout the years, I prided myself on my expert juggling skills and – to be perfectly honest – thoroughly enjoyed the "How do you do it?" acclaim from family and friends. Though a tiny voice inside me piped up every so often, insisting that "God gave you this gift!" I still savored the thrill of being able to accomplish so many good things on so many levels.

Worn Out

But "Superwoman," as my loving grandmother sometimes dubbed me during our weekly phone calls, has met her unfortunate demise. Ever capable as she may have been in her prime, Superwoman is no match for the kicking fetus inside of me, who has gleefully appropriated all energies and resources toward his/her own growth and development – while completely sapping Mommy of all strength and immunity.

Gone are the days when I'd briskly turn from task to task, folding piles of laundry while making important family phone calls, and churning out heavenly chocolate cakes while the baby napped. No longer will I be sighted serving exquisite, six-course meals to groups of Shabbos guests or meticulously reorganizing the kitchen pantry with my trusty labeler (cans on one shelf, baking supplies on another). These days, when I manage to cook a pot of pasta, my husband gives me a proverbial pat on the back and gratefully acknowledges the effort.

And even with my abbreviated “to do” list, I still feel miserable.

Grilled cheese won't work for nine months straight.

Following the infamous first three gestational months of ceaseless vomiting, body-racking nausea, and extreme tiredness, I was sure I'd bounce back in no time, just like in my previous pregnancy. I had clients to see, students to teach, and features to write. I had things to do, places to go! And grilled cheese for supper just won't work for nine months straight.

But then I began getting sick. First it was the flu, then a bad stomach virus, followed by a violent cough that lasted a month. In place of a simple runny nose, I started coming down with frequent colds accompanied by fever, aches and severe congestion. I've been to a lineup of doctors, undergone batteries of blood tests that left me black and blue in the arm, and tried every vitamin under the sun. Thankfully, results indicate that nothing is dreadfully wrong – these are just standard winter bugs showing up with a vengeance – but this also means that there aren't any clear-cut solutions.

My work colleagues exclaim, "Sick, again?" and all I can do is nod pathetically. My parents, siblings, and friends – sympathetic as they are – are in all probability tired of hearing about my sundry woes. I am a first class nebach ("unfortunate soul" in Yiddish) and everybody knows it.

Yes, my family is far from starving – even without my fresh, heartwarming soups – and my husband has been very helpful. I do have some good days now and then when I scrape together a hot, nutritious meal, or complete an important writing assignment. I know I should be grateful that things aren't worse. But I'm frustrated.

This pale-faced woman who lies in bed for much of the day, coughing and wheezing and supporting the Kleenex company, letting her house fall into disarray and relying on outside help to do the simplest of tasks – this woman is not me.

This haggard-looking wife who begs for work deadline extensions because a virus crept up overnight, who sends her baby daughter to the sitter almost every afternoon – this woman is not me.

I am efficient. I am capable. I can do it all.

As I lie here in bed, I realize that my debilitating bout of illness has been more crippling to my ego than to any part of my body. I've been forced to give up the wheel and hand over the keys. I've been taught that the extent of my control on this world is more miniscule than any of the microbes that have caused me such grief.

And maybe, then, when this all passes, when I finally emerge from my cocoon of blankets and tissues, and once again exult in my packed schedule and myriad accomplishments, I'll stop for a moment and actually listen when the little voice inside says, "Remember, it's all a gift from God."

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