Saturday, 26 January 2013

Burns Night - In Sickness and in Health

My husband had a sick day from work yesterday. Lovely as it was to have him home, I am not good with sick husbands.

When I am feeling unwell, my husband is wonderful - attentive, sympathetic and loving. When he is the one shivering and feverish, I avoid him as much as possible, roll my eyes and tut when he asks for medicine and tell him to man up. In my defence, I do apologise for my behaviour and try to explain that I am simply not good with sick husbands.

He did ask me if I knew why it was that my normally generous nature deserts me in the face of ill health. I think it possibly stems from a time in my childhood when my mother was very sick.

I grew up in a small house that felt even smaller than it was because it was crammed full with large furniture. I was probably about 9 years old when my mother fell ill. I distinctly remember being in the overcrowded living room trying to watch television with my mother in a very sorry state, struggling for breath and saying that it felt as though she was being stabbed in her back, and my father telling her curtly that there was nothing wrong with her. This was not neglect or cruelty - simply denial. He could not bear the idea that his beloved wife was anything other than her healthy, vibrant self. My uncle called round, took one look at his sister and demanded that my father call the doctor. It turned out that she was suffering from Lobar Pneumonia.

My mother was ill for a long time and spent a lot of that time in her bed. In a fevered state she experienced a glimpse of the afterlife. Unfortunately for her, her hallucination was not a 'beautiful light at the end of a tunnel' sort of experience - she was visited by a horned Beelzebub complete with flaming inferno.

The one thing that haunts me most about those grim days was not the coughing up of blood streaked sputum, or the the disruption to our daily routines and my dad's lumpy porridge - it was the smell of illness. It is well recognised that smells have a remarkable power to evoke memories. The smell of illness embodies the fear and the uncertainty a young girl felt when she saw a mother frail and weakened and a father no longer able to hide behind denial, having to face the hard reality.

My mother recovered. The permanent damage to one lung did not seem to bother her. The ordeal strengthened my parents' relationship with each other but to the detriment of their relationship with me. I always felt in the way.

Darkened room, fevered body shivering beneath clammy duvet, barely audible plea for medicine or a glass of water, subtle but unmistakeable smell of illness - I'm rolling my eyes, tutting and avoiding. My poor husband deserves so much better!

Thankfully, he had perked up enough by the late afternoon to peel a load of potatoes for the 'tatties' part of our Burns Night traditional Vegetarian Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.

We had an almost perfect evening. A roaring fire was a good antedote to the snow battering at the window. The Proclaimers provided the soundrack to our Scottish feast and Lidl's provided the themed Burns Ale to accompany it.

Bad recitals of Burns' poetry and the retelling of my favourite Scottish Folk tale, The Milk White Doo filled the interlude before bringing out the very unScottish homemade Lemon Bakewell Tart dessert (I didn't have the ingredients for shortbread!).

The only thing that prevented this being a perfect evening was the fact that my little Addy's temperature started to soar.

When my children are the source of the smell of illness, it doesn't have the same effect on me at all. No eye rolling, no tutting - just cuddles, kisses and Calpol!

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