When I was a kid, I had a replica of the Liberty Bell. When I was sick, my Mom would set me up with cinnamon toast and tea, and tell me to ring the bell if I needed anything. She’d wheel in an old black and white portable television and I would lounge in bed, draw pictures and watch UHF (for those of you that even remember UHF). After a while, however, I’d get bored and lonely. There is only so much Mr. Ed one can sit through. So I’d ring the bell. I didn’t need anything in particular. I just wanted company.
I rang that bell as if I was London Tower. Every fifteen minutes. My mother was less than appreciative. Apparently she had other things to do. Imagine that.
This is where I would say how I’ve matured, and now understand the stress and exhaustion my constant requests created. I would, if I had.
I’ve concluded that there are two kinds of sick people on the planet, pillow-fluffers and wounded animals.
I am a pillow fluffer. I like to be cared for. Bring me ginger ale, a warm blanket, some soup, and I’ll be the happiest woman on the planet. When I was consulting, I traveled to Boston for a series of meetings when I was quite ill. I must have looked awful when checked in because five minutes later a bellman arrived with chicken soup and tea compliments of the front desk. This happened twenty years ago, yet I still get misty eyed when I talk about it.
The wounded animals just want to be left alone to die. Their plan? Go to bed and wake up when it’s over. Approach them at your own risk. They are likely to confuse caretakers for predators and act accordingly.
Because the universe is perverse, pillow fluffers almost aways marry wounded animals.
When my husband is sick, he sends out a curt telegram. He makes a cup of tea, puts on some fleece and retires to his computer. He rarely calls in sick. He naps on the sofa if he is tired, and isn’t hungry, thirsty or in need of ibuprofen. He already took it 20 minutes ago. I can’t fluff his pillow. He doesn’t have one. If he did, he probably throw it at me.
When I am sick he does exactly what he would want someone to do when he’s under the weather. Absolutely nothing. Maybe not absolutely nothing. He gets takeout for dinner and will go to the pharmacy in the middle of the night to get any medicine I ask for, especially if it keeps me from snoring. He’ll do whatever he can from a safe distance. A five foot germ perimeter is an absolute minimum. He will hug me once I get a doctor’s note and shower in Purell.
My son is a fellow fluffer. He lets me make him soup and cocoa and asks for me to take his temperature at least once every two hours. He wants me to watch television with him (one year all we watched an entire SuperNanny marathon) so he can snuggle up and put his head on my shoulder. He lets me mother him the way I’d love to all of the time but his teenage rep can’t sustain.
Oddly enough, I don’t get sick any more than my husband does. You’d think with all of that pillow fluffing the germs would all be headed in my direction. Apparently they find me annoying when I’m sick too.
My son happens to be sick at the moment. I’ve just finished making him some hot cocoa and a noodle dish that he said sounded good to him. I went to the grocery store to get the ingredients and brought home some ice cream and goldfish. As I put the warm food on the table he said I was a great Mom. “No one else would do all this for someone who is sick.” He hugged me and he didn’t let go in 3 seconds like usual. He put his head on my shoulder and I rubbed his back like I did when he was little.
“Of course they would,” I said. At least if they are a fellow fluffer.
He lifted his head from my shoulder and sat down to eat. “Dad wouldn’t.”
“Not without surgical gloves,” I said as I rubbed my son’s back. I’m not giving him a bell, though. I know how that game plays out.
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph by John Harke © 2010 Creative Commons