Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for May: (5/4) Linda Norlander, (5/11) Connie Berry, (5/18) Mary Keliikoa, (5/22) Annette Dashofy, and (5/25) Rosalie Spielman.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

On Being Sick

I came back from the AWP national conference (10,000 people) sick. Fever, sore throat, loss of voice, cough. And it’s only gotten worse since I got home. So I am once more in that strange miasma of illness.

Fever always gives me the oddest dreams. Wandering through maze-like structures with people I hardly know—certainly not well enough for them to show up in my dreams. Responsibilities for large amorphous projects of which I didn’t know I was in charge. Grown children and aging brothers and sister all little ones again, all at the same time and my responsibility. Dead parents and grandparents alive and young as I never knew some of them to be. Important insights and realizations that drift apart like smoke in my hands as I wake.

Waking life isn’t much better. Muzzy with medications and voiceless. The dog knows something is wrong and whines around me, licking at my knees and hands. It doesn’t take long for the computer to take my headache and neck pain to new heights, so work on that is limited. Reading is the one occupation that doesn’t hurt or require more concentration or motor skills than I have right now.

Always, reading has been my salvation in times of illness, injury, and overwhelming pain. I turn to it eagerly, knowing that I will step out of my aching skin and into someone else’s for the duration of a good book. I remember a back injury so severe that even morphine couldn’t touch the pain. One leg was paralyzed, and I was in a wheelchair, waiting for emergency surgery with no guarantees that I’d be able to walk again when it was finished. I couldn’t sit, walk, lie down, sleep. Books (Janet Evanovich and C.J. Cherryh) got me through that period, waiting to have my back surgically reconstructed. I’ve had pneumonia countless times in my life, and that’s when I turn to Dame Agatha Christie, especially the Miss Marples and Ariadne Olivers, and to Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, that gem of a novel with Oxford as its centerpiece.

Once when hospitalized and on lots of IV medicines, I re-read David Copperfield with such intensity that it felt as if I were living the story at the same time that I was marveling at the beauties of Dickens’ prose. No graduate literature seminar has ever given me that kind of rigorous grasp on a book.

I have a towering To Be Read stack of books, some of which I’m to review for various places. I set the review copies aside. They need my everyday brain and not this gauzy thing I’m floating on through these days of illness. Still, I’m starting to make a dent in the others in the stack.

When people ask me what novels could possibly be worth—why don’t I spend my life doing important things to help humankind?—I remember a time of agony and send a little prayer of gratitude to comic mystery writer Evanovich and fantasy/science fiction writer Cherryh for getting me through overwhelming pain and fear and out the other side. I only hope my own books will do the same for someone else in such pain and fear and trouble.

What about you? Are books your help in times of illness and pain? Which ones do you turn to?


E. B. Davis said...

I read the entire Lillian Jackson Braun series while I had the flu years ago. As a mother of young children, it was the vacation I always wanted. I may have taken a few extra days that I really didn't need to take, but it made me feel better. When I got out of bed, I swear I had grown a few inches taller. Gravity is more than just gravitational force!

Hope you feel better soon, Linda.

Sally Berneathy said...

I have too many favorites to be specific. Novels have been my best friends since I was a lonely little kid. I remember one time in recent years when I almost severed my Achilles tendon and had eight stitches in my heel. I was working 60-80 hours a week, acting as caregiver for my elderly ex-mother-in-law and trying to manage my own life in between. But I was forced to spend an entire Sunday lying on the sofa, reading...and it was the most delightful day I'd had in years!

Get well soon!

Ricky Bush said...

The flu season had a late start this year. Hopefully, it'll be a short one. I wear out my Kindle when I'm down and out.

Gloria Alden said...

Your dreams sound like my stress dreams when life seems overwhelming. I always had them when I was a teacher before the new year started. Often I'd show up at school in my nightgown, or couldn't find my class or take them somewhere in lose them.

When I was sick or injured - fortunately rarely - I turn to mysteries to read or reread. My favorite mystery writer to reread is Jane Langton. I love her plots and humor. Homer Kelly reminds me of a present day Lord Peter Wimsey.

I hope you're up and dancing soon, Linda.

Warren Bull said...

When I had bone marrow transplants I was too sick to pay attention to what I could read, I found music could help me through the long nights. When I re-gained the attention to read I started with short stories, went to children's books and then on to adult literature.

Linda Rodriguez said...

EB, I love that idea of growing taller as you shucked off the stresses on you!

Sally, ugh! Achilles injuries are the worst! How do we do all the things we do most of the time? The sandwich generation, isn't that what they call us "women of a certain age"?

Thanks for the good wishes!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Ricky, thanks for the good wishes. I don't know if a Kindle would be better to read while recovering. I'm still such a paper-book person.

Gloria, I'm not familiar with Jane Langton's work. I'll have to find some to read. she sounds delightful. The fever dreams are better than stress dreams because I just lie there and wonder at their weirdness with no connection to real-life concerns.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Oh, Warren, bone marrow transplants! So glad you made it through all that and are still here with us, my friend!

The only time I couldn't read while sick was when I had cytomegalovirus (described to me once as "killer mono"). I was so weak that it was a huge milestone when I could finally sit up in a chair for a few minutes. NEVER want to go back there!

Deb Romano said...


DO continue to be good to yourself and get well soon!

I keep a bunch of humor books on hand for sleepless nights and recovering from illness. Dave Barry is my "go to" author for those times. Laughter calms me down and helps me to relax. Also,I will reread favorite books from childhood when I am not feeling well.

When recovering from my first spinal fusion surgery I discovered that it's probably not a good idea to read thrillers while on heavy duty pain meds! In one that I was reading, it was extremely important for the protagonist to physically get from Point A to Point B before the Bad Guys could discover that he was aware of their deeds. It took me about twenty minutes of rereading a page and a half so that I could remember how he arrived at the location of Point B! ("He drove across town."How hard is that to remember?!)Back to the humorous esays for ME!

Valerie said...

Like Warren, I've found books for children to be most helpful when I'm ill, especially ones that I already know. I usually start with a picture book I was given when I was 3, Rupert the Bear. It seems as if Mom is still close by when I read Rupert.

For bedrest, though, it's back to thrillers and mysteries. My Agatha Christie collection got me through the pregnancy with twins -- 5 months in a bed -- with help from Ludlum, Deighton, Macinnes, le Carre and others. I wonder if that explains some of the twins' peculiarities?

Linda Rodriguez said...

Deb, thanks for stopping by! You're right about humor. It helps with pain and with other illness greatly. Donna Andrews (the bird mysteries) and my friend Carolyn Haines (the Sarah Booth Delaney "Bones" mysteries) can be such a distraction and comfort right when you need both!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Valerie, I don't usually turn to children's books, even when I'm ill. Though I suppose my Agatha Christies might count as such, since I've been reading them since I was about nine or ten.

This illness I've read Val McDermid's THE RETRIBUTION, Kate Atkinson's LEFT EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, Casey Daniels' WILD, WILD DEATH, Greg Lilly's SCALPING THE RED ROCKS, Charles Todd's A LONELY DEATH, and am currently in Ted Hallinan's THE BONE POLISHER. (I'm not sleeping well since I can't breathe.) If this continues, though, I'm about to turn to MURDER AT THE VICARAGE and MRS. MCGINTY'S DEAD.

Just think of how resourceful your reading during the pregnancy has made the twins!