Sickville

As I read through blogs and message boards for patients of MS and other chronic conditions, I keep coming across the idea of wellville. In this place which is really a state of mind, people don’t have chronic illnesses and can’t relate to people from sickville. It seems the ideas of sickville are as understandable as Portuguese to a Spanish speaker. Even when something looks the same it’s conveyed in a way which is very difficult for those from across the divide to understand, and because of the lack of understanding empathy is sometimes a tall order. Both difficulties, understanding and empathy, only lead to greater chasms requiring ever greater efforts to communicate across.

As a reluctant citizen of sickville, I can attest to the difficulties. I don’t know how to convey wrists which hurt bad enough to make me think back to the guy who came into the emergency room because he had cut off his arm at the elbow due to constant pain. The paramedics brought the arm, but before he was knocked out he begged them not to reattach it because he didn’t want to have to go through the pain of cutting it off again. It seems so extreme, and it is far more than anything I have felt. However, for those with chronic pain I can understand. Here in sickville, those types of thoughts can pass for pop culture along with an almost Stoic belief system towards suicide where a citizen merely petitioned a council for hemlock when they had nothing more to offer society save an unreasonable cost. It is a different threshold set by the culture of those with a different commonly shared history.

The real shame in the divide is how many divides we make whether it’s wellville and sickville or family and outsider. I think it’s natural to partition the known as a way of categorizing what we know and making predictions which we all make all the time. We almost have to make partitions with people because everyone can not be perfectly honest with everyone or maybe even anyone. We treat people outside our partitions different than those we let inside. Sometimes the partitions have little to do with how much we care for people on the other sides.

I think the hardest part for me in sickville is remembering what it was like in wellville. Sometimes the divides creep into my life like when I find myself wanting to stay home instead of going out to a birthday party for a kid’s friend. It’s tiring and hot and uncomfortable…and yet by not going or worse consistently not going I separate my life from theirs (and my wife’s). I worry for my kids because I want them to grow up in wellville after spending their toddler days in sickville, and selfishly I still want to be able to relate to them. I don’t want to lose the commonly understood emotional expressions between us. I still want the common history with as much of it as possible being told in the first person plural of “we.” The sense of losing potential “Remember when we…” moments makes me feel ever more isolated and lonely.

When there is already an expression divide between wellville and sickville, is it a surprise loneliness runs rampant, more common than a cold breeze in February? I can’t help but think of this every time my daughter says “You just don’t (or can’t) understand me!” Babe, you’re only 5. I expect to hear that line for at least another 15 years. I may not understand what you are trying to say right now, but please believe me when I say I understand the frustration of troubled communications on all levels.

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