“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” – Mahatma Gandhi
There is no truer saying. And at no time is this more poignant that when you're sick.
Just recently I came down with the flu. Not a cold, or man flu; real influenza. I experienced this 15 or so years ago and had dreaded ever going through it again. I felt like I was going to die. In fact, during the fever-induced delirium and body pain I'm pretty sure I wished it upon myself.
Having neglected to get the jab this past year, here I was again: shaking, aching, coughing; the full symptom spectrum.
It wasn't as bad as the first time, but it hit me hard and I was bedridden for two days, unable to eat or sleep due to the persistent hot and cold fever that Tylenol seemed only able to ward off for an hour at most.
When I couldn't take it any longer, my wife finally persuaded me to go to the hospital. They ran some tests and confirmed the flu virus. I got some anti-viral medication among other stuff and retreated to my pit of tissues and sweat-infused blankets. It would be five days before I felt anything like normal again, and seven before I went outside.
I am an absolute weakling when it comes to dealing with even a common cold, so for me this was a huge episode.
So what's the point here? Get over it. Hundreds of thousands of people get flu each year!
Well, if you've ever had the flu, you'll know that during those long, sweaty, achey nights there's not much you can do except twist and turn and do your best to find a position that is a little more comfortable than the last. You can't use the time to read or even watch a movie; it's torture. Your mind is in overdrive with thoughts – many bordering on insanity – swimming around your head.
I remember thinking, just like the last time I had flu, that I would do anything to feel better: In that moment I didn't care for money, success or material things. Nothing I owned was of any importance. All I wanted to be was healthy again and able to sit comfortably with my family.
I stress again: Your health is your wealth.
I begged Mother Nature numerous times to make the fever stop and my back pain subside, for my hacking cough to simmer down and the pounding between my eyes to leave me alone so I could get some sleep, but she just smiled, almost sadistically.
Sure, I was ill, but I would get better. In the back of my mind I knew this and it was a comfort. I would go back outside, I would enjoy a meal again, I would work again, I would laugh again, I would spend time with those I love again.
And it was these rational thoughts amidst the emotionally charged and self-pitying ones where I began to imagine the mindset of a person with a degenerative disease or terminal illness. What would it be like to know you're only going to get worse, to know that the pain will deepen. How would one keep any hope? And here I was; the lucky one.
When morning awoke, another lesson arrived. My daughter – 22 months old – wanted to enjoy our usual morning playtime, but I was too weak to play. It was of course also sensible to keep her away from me since she might catch my virus – even though she probably had immunity because her mum had the flu jab and was breast-feeding at the time.
The torture of not being able to play with her and her not understanding why, to have to be separated in different rooms, was quite upsetting. But again, I was lucky: I would get to play with her again, hug, kiss, and feed her in a few days when I was better. Even just being able to see her while feeling ill was a blessing.
I thought of all the parents around the world separated from their children, of those refugees losing their children on desperate journeys away from war, of those who'd lost children to famine, malnutrition and illness. These are realities people around the world face every day. At least I had a comfortable bed to get better in, I had food if I needed it, I had medicine, and I had people around to care for me.
Being ill was horrible, but perhaps I was due these lessons. Perhaps Mother Nature thought that after the indulgence of Christmas and a self-consumed stressful work period that it was time I needed slowing down to show gratitude for the blessings in my life, to realise that my health is my true wealth.
To be able to feel fit and healthy, to be able to lift my daughter up and give her a big kiss; this is the greatest gift. I never thought having the flu would make me feel this thankful, and I never thought I'd appreciate writing a post this much.