Written by Rachael Cheeseman
Okay, here’s the thing; whilst lying on my sofa in a post-operative, drug-induced stupor, smelling like clammy armpit and generally feeling a bit sorry for myself, I got to thinking. Mostly, I thought about whether it was at all possible to heal by sheer force of will alone, when that proved to be a bust, I moved on to thinking about all the little things that make being ill that tiny bit more bearable. Things that pass the time, things that keep us going and the things that can make us smile even though we look about as healthy as one of Dr House’s patients around mid episode.
I know everyone has their own personal rituals to fall back on in hard times. For some it’ll be eating their own body weight in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, for others nothing beats a long relaxing bubble bath. My mother happens to swear by drinking flat lemonade (different strokes, am I right?) but I would like to share with you what I consider to be the winning formula for surviving your illness.
1) The Princess Bride
Before I get into this, I should confess to having a fairly major obsession with this movie and the book. I would recommend this film for pretty much every single foreseeable situation. Heck, I even walked down the aisle at my wedding to the main theme music (“Storybook Love” by Mark Knopfler in case you were wondering). So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that The Princess Bride is top of my list for when you’re feeling under the weather.
This film is just perfect. It’s sweet, funny, touching, heart warming and ridiculously quotable. When you’re ill, however, you get a whole new level of appreciation.
You suddenly find yourself able to relate to the kid. The poor kid, all tucked up in bed, feeling like crap and bored out of his mind. You get swept up into the story just the same as he does, lulled by Peter Falk’s weirdly hypnotic narration. Plus, there’s something about the way Grandpa Columbo talks about the tradition of the whole thing “It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father and today, I’m going to read it to you.” It makes you feel like you’re a part of the family, included in this special ritual. And, from the very first “As you wish”, through the terror of the shrieking eels and the rodents of unusual size, to Inigo Montoya’s moving revenge and Westley and Humperdink’s almost fight, to the pain you can’t help but be caught up in this fairy tale world. For 1 hour and 38 minutes you don’t care about how ill you feel, the effect is (wait for it) inconceivable (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).
If you feel up to it you could even read the book. It’s every bit as enchanting as the film and if you don’t hear the description in your head in Peter Faulk’s gravelly timbre, you really are missing out.
My little boy has been adorable during my recovery. From asking me if I’m “still a poorly mama?” to telling me that my bed hair and bruises combo is “just beautiful”, he really has been very cute. However, a 3 year old trying to be considerate is still a clumsy, energetic, excitable bundle of potential mishaps. He can’t help but cause me pain. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being Patch Adams style care and bedside manner I couldn’t possibly score my boy higher than 3. He’s well intentioned but he literally can’t stop himself from being accident-prone. He’s hit and kicked my wounds whilst attempting to cuddle me, he’s spilled drinks over surgical dressings that aren’t even a little bit waterproof, he’s knocked scalding hot drinks out of my hand and I have taken countless elbows to the stomach as he attempts to play with his toys whilst bundled up under the blanket with me. He’s tried very hard and been far too cute for me to ever even consider losing my patience with him, but a bit of relief from being the fall guy in his slapstick routine was essential. Enter babysitters. Friends and family who are willing to take my cabin-fevered toddler out and let him run and play and explore until he is actually calm enough to cuddle me without causing me further injury.
Babysitters are a Godsend. They’ll return with your kids like victorious soldiers from the battlefield, covered in miscellaneous stains and sticky handprints, looking fatigued but brimming with hope for when they can finally return home. Babysitters, I salute you.
They have made my recovery process so much easier for both myself and my son and, if you have young children, I urge you not to be too proud to reach out for some help when you’re out of commission. You just have to remember that you must return the favour for your selfless helpers when they are struck down by illness. It’s the rules.
3) Stay away from anything emotional
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m rundown, I can get kind of….fragile. And as someone who prides herself on being a stone-cold badass, this is a completely unwelcome side effect to being ill. Now, I will admit that this is a particular issue for me because I handle emotions about as well as Indiana Jones handles a pit full of snakes, however I still maintain that the last thing you need when you’re ill is any extra strain on your emotional wellbeing.
The key to surviving this namby-pamby emotional chaos is avoidance, plain and simple. And, when it comes to TV and film, a good rule of thumb is: if it has an animal in it, don’t even consider watching it. You don’t need that kind of turmoil. You don’t need the floods of tears that come from watching that scene in Homeward Bound where Shadow is desperately trying to drag himself out of the ditch so he can get back to Peter and be reunited with his family. “The Fox and The Hound”, “Marley and Me”, “Free Willy”, “Andre”, “Flipper” and even that really weird one where the scientists teach the dolphin to speak and it tells them it loves them as they’re trying to force it to leave, a scene so heart wrenching that it’s actually featured on a website dedicated to people confessing the childhood moments that most traumatised them.Honestly, animal movies are not your friend in your already weakeed state. And be sure to stay the hell away from Pixar too.
If you’re going to make it through you’re recovery without turning into a blubbering mess you’ll have to practice constant vigilance. Potential emotional ruin is lurking at every turn, not even sitcoms are safe: I got caught out once whilst recovering from glandular fever. I thought I would be ok with the lighthearted comedy of a show like Futurama, what could go wrong? Next thing I know I’m sucker punched in the feels by the episode “Jurassic Bark” and literally can’t breathe for crying so much.
So, if you want to survive the emotional minefield of being poorly, you stick your Ipod on repeat with Pharell William’s “Happy” you don’t read anything more taxing than Heat magazine and if anyone even mentions the movie “My Life” you run, you run for your God damn life.
4) Find a decent couch co-op
Recovering from an illness or surgery can be a very isolating experience. You can’t really get out and about and you tire easily when you do manage it. Often the biggest battle you find yourself facing is boredom. Well fear not my sickly subjects, for I have the perfect solution. Buy a videogame that has a great couch co-op mode.
You see, the brilliant thing about couch co-op is it allows you to be sociable without all the exhaustion of actually paying attention to another person. It is far superior to online co-op when you’re not feeling top of your game, mostly because you don’t have to put up with the abundance of racist, sexist, hateful smack talk from ten year olds on the other side of the world. A couch co-op game allows you some of that precious human contact that you so desperately miss and honestly I’m not sure there are many better feelings than taking on the big bad bosses with your best buddy by your side.
I remember one occasion when my brother was unwell, I went to visit him, we threw in Dead Nation and we obliterated Zombie hoards all the livelong day. We completed that game on every difficulty setting. We became so frighteningly efficient that, to this day I feel like the two of us could single handedly thwart a genuine Zombie apocalypse. But I digress. The point is, it made my brother’s day to have a little company, to have something to take his mind off how awful he felt and we actually had a lot of fun.
Now, personally, if I were looking for the perfect sick day co-op game I’d look no further than Borderlands 2. The game is interesting, funny, it’s got a diverse selection of characters with unique skills and combat styles, it allows you to complete the story mode as a team and frankly, until you’ve thrown a corrosive grenade into the face of a bandit screaming that he has a “shiny new meat bicycle” have you really lived?
Or, say you fancy something a little more easy going, you could try Fat Princess Adventures or Portal 2, or literally any of the Lego games (ok, maybe not the Hobbit one) then you can just sit back and enjoy some quality unsociable socialising.
5) Kids Books
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed but kids books are really quite good. Not books meant for really little kids, obviously. Although, “Oh The Places You’ll Go” is an insightful, moving work of art and I won’t hear anyone say otherwise. But predominantly I’m talking about the 8-12 years or “young adult” section books.
The stories can be pretty compelling and they’re generally fast paced because we don’t think kids are capable of paying attention to anything for more than ten seconds, and when you’re dozing in and out of consciousness, high on whatever cocktail of medications you’re taking, these are the sorts of books you might actually find yourself capable of focussing on. Besides, nothing is going to make you feel better about your lot than wading through the overwhelming amount of dystopian, cut throat teen fiction that is out there (Honestly, the next generation is going to be angry, ready for a revolution and frighteningly prepared to actually pull it off). As bleak as some of these stories may seem they make for an entertaining read without being taxing and if a world where teenagers fight for their lives against corrupt governmental systems is still a bit too much to wrap your head around you can always find something charming to settle down with. “Howl’s moving castle” happens to be a delightful book as are the “Diamond brothers” series by Anthony Horowitz, and let’s not forget “Harry Potter” technically falls under the umbrella of children’s literature, just be choosy about which ones you read, remembering rule number three: how important it is to avoid anything too emotional.
There you have it, my personal guide to surviving your recovery period. It’s straightforward but effective. It’s all about keeping your brain entertained while your body gets some much needed rest and if you find yourself distracted, even for a moment, from how unwell you feel then all the better.