It seems to me that in days past, there was something of an art and a science to convalescing. The definition of to convalesce is to recover one’s health and strength over a period of time after an illness or operation. In the days before antibiotics got people up and running quickly — in those days when people often died of sinus infections or strep throat — it was imperative that a patient fully recover from an illness to prevent relapse. This was especially true when it came to diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis. In our modern culture, however, we expect to be back at work within 24 hours of coming down with nearly anything.
In an article on her journey back to health after an illness, Johanna Fitzpatrick writer, “At first it (convalescence) seemed an agreeable idea. As a teenager, I had quite fancied myself as a tragic 19th-century heroine – usually consumptive – whiling away my time in a sanatorium in Switzerland. But this wholesome image of convalescence belongs to a gentler time, when getting better was an accepted part of being ill. That has been lost as modern medicine came up with magic bullets – antibiotics, anti-virals, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc – that seemed to cure instantaneously. It has altered our perception of illness, and now a period of convalescence does not translate easily into our frenetic pace of life.”
I am currently recovering from a bout of pneumonia. This began with an ordinary virus that inflamed my asthma, which I tend to neglect when I am feeling well, and then progressed into a bacterial infection in my lungs. I am, for once, sufficiently sobered by how sick I was to know that I need to get fully well before resuming my usual pace of life. However, I have discovered that I — like most Americans — am not good at convalescing.
As Jane says, “at first, it seemed like an agreeable idea.”
Here are the hours to read, to write, to watch movies, and to sew and not feel guilty for whatever else I might be neglecting. Here is the time to write real letters and also to catch up via email, texting, and the like. Here is my time to recover as a Jane Austen heroine would, with hours passed in gentle pursuits. Yet, my tired mind and a tired body wearies easily of even these pleasant things. I also fret that I’m not “accomplishing anything constructive”. The agreeable idea becomes a little less agreeable when you long to be out and doing.
I remind myself that it’s also a time to spend more time reading scripture and praying, and these things are nourishing to my health. I also consider that to convalesce is a blessing, considering the alternative, and that just a week and a half ago, I’d have been delighted to be as well as I am now.
I also remind myself that one of the best medicines is that old tincture of time.