And these our hells and our heavens are so few inches apart / We are awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.”
— Rich Mullins, “Not as Strong As We Think We Are.”
I’ve never been one to think of myself as bulletproof. Tough guy, yes. Invincible, no. For example, I rarely tell people when I’m sick unless I’m really ill, which usually happens only two times a year. But when I get sick, I usually suffer quite a bit.
I’ve heard it said that sickness is a result of the fall of man way back in Eden. That somehow the curse of God on mankind altered our genetic structure to allow deficiencies and subject it to mutations that can harm us. I don’t know about all that genetic stuff but I do know that being sick doesn’t feel natural. And yet it happens to every human at some point of life. So maybe it is natural. In a post-Eden kind of way. Maybe illness is a part of life to remind us of our cosmic place, or maybe of our inability to be divine. To be divine is to be perfect. To be sick is to be imperfect.
My personal “thorn in the flesh” of the last month has been an illness centered in my lungs. When I was leaving England for Scotland the first few days of March I came down with a typical cold, you know, sore throat, fever, weakness, sneezing and the sort. The cold was strong for four days and slowly devolved into a cough. Being overseas and with an agenda, I pushed myself to get from place to place, walking distances all bundled up in the Scottish cold and wind and rain. In hindsight, that probably wasn’t a good thing. The cough and weakness lingered when I got home and remained consistent for two weeks. Then in the days after March 24th I started to get worse. Much worse. The coughing became more violent and the fever rose to scary heights and I started to lose appetite and sleep. I quarantined myself to my little house and finally my sister Jennifer convinced me to go see a doctor. Being between insurance providers, I went to the Minute Clinic and got checked out. The nurse said, “You really need to see your doctor. I’m afraid I can’t help you.” Now even more concerned, I made an appointment with my GP for Monday (his earliest opening) and waited out the weekend in misery. This past Monday I got some insight into my condition. I showed most of the symptoms of tuberculosis, pertussis, and pneumonia. A chest x-ray showed that TB was not likely. Pneumonia was iffy. Pertussis was the most likely cause and so we’re treating my symptoms as being such. Pertussis was most commonly known as “whooping cough” in youths but has since become a illness affecting adults. It’s a severe form of bronchitis that is highly contagious. So I have quarantined myself at home for the rest of the week. The last thing I want to do is infect others. The doc prescribed two medicines and rest. They have helped a lot to make the coughing spells less frequent, allowing me to sleep, but coughing during the spells has become more violent and less productive. You must accept the bad with the good sometimes.
As you can imagine, I’m ready for this illness to cough its last. Then I can get back to a normal life routine and concentrate on my deteriorating back once again. My chest x-ray and height measurement revealed that my vertebrae have gotten much worse in the past year. Sitting for a living has taken its toll, so I’m making an effort to get outside and work for one hour a day in my yard. I just recently planted a garden, in fact.
It seems every month I get reminded that I’m not so bulletproof. I am weak and frail, though wonderfully and intimately made. Isn’t it amazing that our bodies would cease to exist if one molecule was removed from our cells and yet if one molecule is added to our cells our bodies go into fight mode to destroy it. And we usually win. Usually.
To be honest, my own frailty causes me to be more thankful for the health that I’m given and learn to stop trusting myself in order to lean on the eternal arms of Christ, the Great Physician. I can drink vitamin C and take Zinc tablets every day but I cannot prevent sickness. I cannot become bulletproof. No one can. Illness is a part of the fallen human condition this side of heaven. We don’t like it but we must face it. Until the Physician returns… to heal us all.