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Illness

  • In hospitals there was no time off for good behavior.

  • As he resigned himself to the acidiae of mortal illness, he was beginning to acquire the foibles of old age: a liking for a small treat, a fussiness about routine, a reluctance to bother with even his oldest acquaintances, an indolence which makes even dressing and bathing a burden, a preoccupation with his bodily functions. He despised the half-man he had become, but even this self-disgust had the querulous resentment of senility.

  • Disease is an experience of so-called mortal mind. It is fear made manifest on the body.

  • ... the [hypochondriacs'] program's motto, 'There is no such thing as just a mole.'

  • One of the most difficult things to contend with in a hospital is the assumption on the part of the staff that because you have lost your gall bladder you have also lost your mind.

  • How impossible it is for strong healthy people to understand the way in which bodily malaise and suffering eats at the root of one's life! The philosophy that is true — the religion that is strength to the healthy — is constantly emptiness to one when the head is distracted and every sensation is oppressive.

    • George Eliot,
    • letter (1863), in J.W. Cross, ed., George Eliot's Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals ()
  • Home is the best place to be sick in.

  • No man needs curing of his individual sickness; his universal malady is what he should look to.

  • Intellectual curiosity about one's own illness is certainly born of a desire for mastery. If I couldn't cure myself, perhaps I could at least begin to understand myself.

  • Like countless first-year medical students, immersed in the symptoms of one disease after another, I am alert to the tingles and pangs, the throbs and quivers of my mortal body, each one of which is potentially a sign of the end.

  • Another person's illness is often harder to bear than one's own.

  • A man's illness is his private territory and, no matter how much he loves you and how close you are, you stay an outsider.

  • Illness is the opposite of freedom. It makes everything impossible.

  • Don't discuss your ailments before visitors. Visitors prefer talking about theirs.

  • I am much perturbed by this business of sickness. Our bodies seem so easily to leap into the saddle where our minds should be. People who are ill become changelings.

    • Winifred Holtby,
    • 1926, in Alice Holtby and Jean McWilliam, eds., Letters to a Friend ()
  • ... what a strange distance there is between ill people and well ones.

  • In the country of pain we are each alone.

    • May Sarton,
    • "The Country of Pain," Halfway to Silence ()
  • ... it isn't mere love and good-will that is needed in a sick-room; it needs knowledge and experience.

  • My health is so often impaired that I begin to be as weary of it as mending old lace; when it is patched in one place, it breaks out in another.

  • ... illness is regarded as a crime, and crime is regarded as illness ...

  • The sick soon come to understand that they live in a different world from that of the well and that the two cannot communicate.

  • There are two kinds of wimmen that go to see the sick. There's them low voiced, still footed wimmen, that walks right in, and lays their hands on your hot foreheads so soothin' like, that the pain gets ashamed of itself and sneaks off. ... Then there is them wimmen that go to have a good time of it, they get kinder sick of stayin' to home, and nothin' happenin'. So they take thier work and flock in to visit the afflicted.

  • My sore throats are always worse than everyone's.

  • Every body's heart is open, you know, when they have recently escaped from severe pain, or are recovering the blessing of health ...

  • The incurable ills are the imaginary ills.

  • Illness was a sort of occupation to me, and I was always sorry to get well.

  • The sick-room becomes the scene of intense convictions; and among these, none, it seems to me, is more distinct and powerful than that of the permanent nature of good, and the transient nature of evil.

  • Everything but truth becomes loathed in a sick-room ... Let the nurse avow that the medicine is nauseous. Let the physician declare that the treatment will be painful. Let sister, or brother, or friend, tell me that I must never look to be well. When the time approaches that I am to die, let me be told that I am to die, and when.

  • ... it is the worst humiliation and grievance of the suffering, that they cause suffering.

  • Ours is an age which consciously pursues health, and yet only believes in the reality of sickness.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Simone Weil" (1963), Against Interpretation ()
  • Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.

  • Any important disease whose causality is murky, and for which treatment is ineffectual, tends to be awash in significance.

  • Any disease that is treated as a mystery and acutely enough feared will be felt to be morally, if not literally, contagious.

  • The romantic treatment of death asserts that people were made singular, made more interesting, by their illnesses.

  • Fatal illness has always been viewed as a test of moral character, but in the nineteenth century there is a great reluctance to let anybody flunk the test.

  • Illnesses have always been used as metaphors to enliven charges that a society was corrupt or unjust.

  • ... in my grandparents' house it was a distinction and a mournful pleasure to be ill. This was partly because my grandfather was always ill, and his children adored him and were inclined to imitate him; and partly because it was so delightful to be pitied and nursed by my grandmother.

  • End me or mend me: heavy is my burden!

    • Nora Chesson,
    • "The Gate-Keeper," Selected Poems, vols. 1-5 ()
  • But Andrew when compelled against his will had a trick of falling ill. It was not conscious pretense — it was an actual disturbance caused by the distress of not having his own way.

  • To those who fall and hurt themselves one runs with comfort; by those who lie dangerously stricken by a disease one sits and waits.

  • Convalescence. Such an utter weakness that you lie like an animal hibernating, playing possum. You float. You are adrift. Every current is stronger than you.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1953, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 5 ()
  • 'Dear! Everybody is ill now, I think,' said Mrs. Hale, with a little of the jealousy which one invalid is apt to feel of another.

  • Visiting the sick is supposed to exhibit such great virtue that there are some people determined to do it whether the sick like it or not. ... All visitors everywhere are supposed to make plans to depart if they observe their hosts visibly wilting or in pain, but this is especially true at hospitals.

  • How idiotic civilization is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?

  • She seemed to lie less in weakness than in unwilling credulity as though the successive disasters that make an illness had convinced her slowly, by repetition.

  • Her illness seemed to be one prolonged mistake. Her self looked, wildly smiling, out of her body: what was happening in here was too terrible to acknowledge; she had to travesty it and laugh it off. Unserene, she desperately kept her head.

  • She's a professional invalid, poor soul, because she hasn't anything else to do, so she enjoys bad health.

  • People who praise illness as bringing out the best in people ought to have their heads examined. Pain forces you to think about yourself, directs your interest to your own body and what is happening to it. You don't reach out benevolently, filled with good will for others. You don't seem to care enough. Pain makes you a little person, not a big one, and not a nice one, except perhaps in the case of saints, and I've never known one.

  • Now I am in for it, with one of my unappeasable headaches. Don't talk to me of doctors; it is incurable as a love-fit ...

  • Some people think that doctors and nurses can put scrambled eggs back into the shell.

  • There is no human relationship more intimate than that of nurse and patient, one in which the essentials of character are more rawly revealed.

  • As I see it, every day you do one of two things: build health or produce disease in yourself.

  • ... a sick room is at times too sacred a place for a friend's knock, timid as that is.

    • Emily Dickinson,
    • c. 1883, in Mabel Loomis Todd, ed., Letters of Emily Dickinson, vol. 2 ()
  • Illness sets the mind free sometimes to roam and surmise.

  • The happiest people in this world are the convalescents.

  • [On her breast cancer:] Sorrow / like spores of razor-wings / in my lungs, my eyes.

  • It's like a convent, the hospital. You leave the world behind and take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience.

    • Carolyn Wheat,
    • "Life, for Short," in Marilyn Wallace, ed., Sisters in Crime ()
  • Unconsciously we grow to look upon the sick as people of another world.

  • The worst illness today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but the sense of being unwanted, of not being loved, of being abandoned by all.

  • Now I am beginning to live a little, and feel less like a sick oyster at low tide.

    • Louisa May Alcott,
    • 1887, in Ednah D. Cheney, ed., Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals ()
  • Keeping the patient uninformed and closing ranks with regard to information are two of the ways that doctors limit the power and autonomy of patients.

  • He did not like illness, he distrusted it, as he distrusted the road without signposts.

    • Eudora Welty,
    • "Death of a Traveling Salesman," in Manuscript ()
  • Convalescence is a sort of grown-up rebirth, enabling us to see life with a fresh eye.

  • ... he was just about to get a job when he got intentional flu.

    • Jane Ace,
    • in Goodman Ace, Ladies and Gentlemen, Easy Aces ()
  • Olga discovered that there are only two kinds of illness: those that are fatal and those that heal themselves in their proper time.

  • Mother has lupus. / She says it's a disease / of self-attack. / It's like a mugger broke into your home / and you called the police / and when they came they beat up on you / instead of on your attackers, / she says.

  • Once you are diagnosed with cancer, time changes. It both speeds up insanely and stops altogether.

  • When illness enters a home, not only does it take hold of a body. It also weaves a dark web between hearts, a web where hope is trapped.

  • Severe illness isolates those in close contact with it, because it inevitably narrows the focus of concern. To a certain extent this can lead to healing, but not if the circle of concern is so tight that it cannot be broken into, or out of.

  • When there's more sick ones than well ones, by golly the sick ones will lock the well ones up.

  • Oh, the agony of invalids comes at night.

    • Jenny Read,
    • 1972, in Kathleen Doyle, ed., Jenny Read: In Pursuit of Art and Life ()
  • I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it's always a place where there's no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don't have it miss one of God's mercies.

  • Disease may score a direct hit on only one member of a family, but shrapnel tears the flesh of the others.

  • Recovery from illness often seems like beginning life all over again.

  • Very sick people seem to ... depart from themselves, from the people who love them. They make their way back very slowly. Some ... just journey on and never do return.

  • Sickness, like sex, demands a private room, or at the very least, a discreet curtain around the ward bed.

  • ... I think diseases have no eyes. They pick with a dizzy finger anyone, just anyone.

  • Illness and accidents were mysterious manifestations of the war of the spirits, fought on the battleground of the body.

  • Time was when medicine could do very little for critically ill or dying patients. Now it can do too much. Where to draw the line is the subject of a broad, heated debate throughout the country, a debate that becomes louder with each new medical miracle or impossible case ....

  • ... bodies are sometimes in a state to reject the infection of malady, and at others, thirsty to imbibe it.

  • The sad truth is that there is no point to getting sick when you're a grown-up. You know why? It's because being sick is about you and your mother. ... Without that solicitous hand on your forehead, there is no one to confirm that you are really sick.

  • ... remembering that Alison was not well, Leonora tried to look sickly also, as that was her notion of the proper behavior in a sickroom.

  • Like an animal, cancer sleeps, prowls, hibernates, turns surly or placid.

  • Ever since I have been ill, I have longed and longed for some palpable disease, no matter how conventionally dreadful a label it might have, but I was always driven back to stagger alone under the monstrous mass of subjective sensations, which that sympathetic being 'the medical man' had no higher inspiration than to assure me I was personally responsible for, washing his hands of me with graceful complacency under my very nose. Dr. Torrey was the only man who did not assume because I was a victim to many pains, that I was, of necessity, an arrested mental development, too.

    • Alice James,
    • 1891, in Anna Robeson Burr, Alice James ()
  • I confess to you, dear Ottilie, that I do not like the idea of going to you with my health so broken as it is now. You are also an invalid. Must we lie on two sophas and look at each other? — tho' this would be better than nothing, and better than to be separated for more years, till life ebbs away and leaves our best hopes stranded like wrecks on the shore.

    • Anna Jameson,
    • 1858, in G.H. Needler, Letters of Anna Jameson to Ottilie Von Goethe ()
  • Illness is the great equalizer. It doesn't matter who you are, rich or poor, young or old, fat or thin, sick is sick.

  • It was she who always greeted me with 'How did the dawn find you?' — the melancholy greeting of an invalid, for whom each dawn must be a stock-taking of pains.

  • Right there is the usefulness of migraine, there in that imposed yoga, the concentration on the pain. For when the pain recedes, ten or twelve hours later, everything goes with it, all the hidden resentments, all the vain anxieties. The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact. There is a pleasant convalescent euphoria.

  • And I have learned now to live with it, learned when to expect it, how to outwit it, even how to regard it, when it does come, as more friend than lodger. We have reached a certain understanding, my migraine and I.

  • That no one dies of migraine seems, to someone deep into an attack, an ambiguous blessing.

  • Diseases are really metaphors which you should look at closely.

  • Like any of life's refining fires, cancer is a potentially profound learning experience. So what did I learn? I learned that profound learning experiences are vastly overrated.

  • There's some herb that's good for everybody, except for them that thinks they're sick when they ain't.

  • ... sick people need immediate help, understanding and humanity almost as much as they need highly standardized and efficient practice.

  • How much ... did the volume of disease in a nation account for its spirit? If so, the eradication of sickness, as far as it was possible, was a responsibility a democracy must assume for its people.

  • ... we've got to find a better way to handle the expense of disease. Odd as it may seem, the more efficient we become in eliminating disease, the more our services are out of reach of the people.

  • Hyponchondria truly kills all those who come in daily contact with it except the person who is supposed to be suffering.

  • The fact is that ours is the only minority you can join involuntarily, without warning, at any time. And if you live long enough, as you're increasingly likely to do, you may well join it.

  • ... physical disability looms pretty large in one's life. But it doesn't devour one wholly. I'm not, for instance, Ms. MS, a walking, talking embodiment of a chronic incurable degenerative disease.

  • ... every invalid is a prisoner.

  • A sickness ... defines margins, crystallizes the shape of things.

  • I caught everything. Like a magnet, I attracted every wandering draft. Every germ had my name on it.

  • I love visitors, especially the cheery ones. They just don't believe there is anything the matter with you at all, they think you are just fooling everyone — you little rascal! They never saw you look better in your life. My, they would be sick themselves if they could look like that, and if that is what hospitals do for you they guess they will go into one and stay there forever. Which is all right with you.

  • ... I missed you terribly when I was ill. I have no female friend and neighbour; and men are not the thing on such occasions.

    • Amelia Opie,
    • 1800, in Ada M. Ingpen, ed., Women As Letter-Writers ()
  • Severe illness has (I often think) on the frame the same effect that a severe storm has on the atmosphere. I myself am much better in every respect since my late indisposition than I was before; and the mind is never perhaps so serene and tranquil as when one is recovering from sickness.

    • Amelia Opie,
    • 1800, in Ada M. Ingpen, ed., Women As Letter-Writers ()
  • ... to admit that disability and illness are hard doesn't mean that they are wholly negative experiences, meaningless.

  • The worst thing about sickness is that it makes you so selfish. It closes around you like a circle. You don't have the energy for anything outside. All you care about is how you feel.

  • Control is a big issue when you're sick. It's the first thing you lose — other losses come later.

  • It angers me that sick people have to wait for everything and everybody — doctors, nurses, callbacks, lab results, prescriptions, medications, technicians, treatment rooms. If illness is the embodiment of powerlessness, which, believe me, is true, then waiting is its temporal incarnation.

  • Telling a story of illness, one pulls a thread through a narrow opening flanked on one side by shame and the other by trivia.

  • How quickly a person in pain whom you can't help becomes a reproach. And then, no doubt, a thorn.

  • I got well by talking. Death could not get a word in edgewise, grew discouraged, and traveled on.

  • There are no sick people in North Oxford. They are either dead or alive. It's sometimes difficult to tell the difference, that's all ...

  • ... diseases, as all experience shows, are adjectives, not noun substantives.

  • Nature alone cures. ... what nursing has to do ... is to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him.

  • Apprehension, uncertainty, waiting, expectation, fear of surprise, do a patient more harm than any exertion.

  • Illness is friendship's proving ground, the uncharted territory where one's actions may be the least sure-footed but also the most indelible.

  • Of all the divisions between man and man — rich and poor, black and white, east and west — it seemed as though none was so complete as that between the sick and the well. The living and the dead were closer.

  • ... we all hope for a — must I say the word — recipe, we all believe, however much we know we shouldn't, that maybe somebody's got that recipe and can show us how not to be sick, suffer and die.

  • A disease and its treatment can be a series of humiliations, a chisel for humility.

  • There are many rooms in the House of Pain.

  • The difficulty with becoming a patient is that as soon as you get horizontal, part of you begins yearning not for a mortal doctor but for a medicine man.

  • Looking out of a hospital window is different from looking out of any other. Somehow you do not see outside.

  • This woman sneezed like 300 times. She said, 'There must be something in the air.' I said, 'Yeah, your germs.'

  • Pain is the most individualizing thing on earth. It is true that it is the great common bond as well, but that realization comes only when it is over. To suffer is to be alone. To watch another suffer is to know the barrier that shuts each of us away by himself. Only individuals can suffer.

  • ... the casualties among us include not just those who are dying, or bleeding, or recovering from injury, but also the caretakers around the edges whose selves fall sacrificed to their charges.

  • In our 'don't just sit there, do something' culture, when we get sick we are supposed to become characters in a heroic medical narrative that conceals the remorselessness of pathology, the intractable fact of human vulnerability, and the inevitable inadequacies of medicine. To many of the participants in the medical drama, aggressive treatment — even when it fails — represents a quasi-religious quest for immortality and meaning.

  • In medicine as in statecraft and propaganda, words are sometimes the most powerful drugs we can use.

  • Being a sick man is like being a log caught in a stream, Gilles. All the straws gather around it.

  • An individual doesn't get cancer, a family does.

  • The delicate and infirm go for sympathy, not to the well and buoyant, but to those who have suffered like themselves.

  • It isn't the sign of a good sport to go out among other people when one has a cold: it is the sign of a selfish and ill-advised person.

    • Mary E. Clark,
    • in Mary E. Clark and Margery Closey Quigley, Etiquette Every Child Should Know ()
  • The most dangerous sicknesses are those that make us believe we are well.

  • Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings ... it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes in literature.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • "On Being Ill" (1926), The Moment: And Other Essays ()
  • The seed of health is in illness, because illness contains information.

  • Those of us with illnesses are the holders of the silent fears of those with good health.

  • Given the ease with which health infuses life with meaning and purpose, it is shocking how swiftly illness steals away those certainties. ... Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.

  • There is a certain depth of illness that is piercing in its isolation: the only rule of existence is uncertainty, and the only movement is the passage of time. One cannot bear to live through another loss of function, and sometimes friends and family cannot bear to watch. An unspoken, unbridgeable divide may widen. Even if you are still who you were, you cannot actually fully be who you are.

  • We are all hostages of time. We each have the same number of minutes and hours to live within a day, yet to me it didn't feel equally doled out. My illness brought me such an abundance of time that time was nearly all I had. My friends had so little time that I often wished I could give them what time I could not use. It was perplexing how in losing health I had gained something so coveted but to so little purpose.

  • My doctors made it clear that there were two kinds of illness: those they could identify, and those that didn’t exist. My symptoms were simply shadow puppets cast by a mind that couldn’t control itself. … They were wrong.