The Guilt of Illness


Some of the most profound experiences come in unusual places. Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the PGA tournament in Wisconsin. Can’t say I am a huge fan of golf but I was excited to be out on the course and watch the pros. Michael and I traveled with my parents on this weekend road trip.

Unfortunately, it was extremely hot (I later heard it was 94°F with a “feels like” temperature over 100°) in the mid-afternoon. It seemed the golf course and planners were unprepared for the demands of thousands of people in such extreme heat. There were not many concession stands; those available had long lines with long waits, and some actually ran out of water.

I was one of what must have been well over 50 people that day who experienced heat exhaustion. I know I am not very tolerant of heat. Some of the medications for my heart and blood pressure make me very heat sensitive. I was also unprepared for the golf course, the amount of walking, and unexpected lack of indoor facilities.

It is the fault of no one and, thankfully, I did not pass out or worse. But I ended up in the medical tent for over an hour. My blood pressure remained stubbornly high. I was nauseous. The volunteer physician treating me was kind and compassionate, and seemed very concerned. With my history of heart attack and artery disease, he felt I needed to be checked out at the hospital emergency department. I needed IV fluids, and they could not do that in the medical tent.

In the ambulance, a young, friendly paramedic started an IV to put fluids into me. I told her I felt really bad for my husband and parents; I had ruined their chances of fun for the day, and was causing a lot of worry—again.

The paramedic responded, “One thing healthy people don’t understand is the guilt that comes along with being ill.”

I could only nod as I let this profundity settle in. I had never thought of this as something common to many (most?) people with an illness.

I thought about all my trips to the emergency department over the past six years. Each time, I have apologized to my husband, family members or friends that are with me. I feel terrible for their worry. I don’t like to be the center of attention or to inconvenience others. I don’t like to be the cause for a change in plans. I don’t like the expense that comes with having a medical dust-up.

Each time I am being treated in an emergent situation, I worry about my family worrying about me. I know I am okay. I am with the medical people and know exactly how I feel. But those waiting in another room don’t know, except for the occasional update which I usually ask a medical person to provide.

I feel guilty for the ongoing accommodations my husband makes: lifting anything remotely heavy, being sure I am not too cold or too hot or over-stressed. Being willing to change plans when I don’t feel well. He does all of it very willingly and I feel fortunate to have him. I try not to take him, or his willingness to accommodate my medical peculiarities, for granted.

If you have been ill, chronically or short-term, have you felt guilty? How did you handle these feelings?

I imagine the guilt of illness is common because none of us wants to be the cause of distress for our loved ones. We feel bad for causing them to worry. I wonder if it is just natural.

Last weekend, after two bags of IV fluids and some potassium, I was good. No problems since then. Chalk it up to being unprepared for the conditions of the day, and the gift of understanding a new layer of living with a chronic medical condition.

Make it a good week!


6 thoughts on “The Guilt of Illness

  1. Oh, Jen!! How awful for you all once again!! Sorry to hear this. I love your comments, however, as far as having faith that everything will work out for the best!! I know that you have a hard time “letting go”, so to speak. I’m sure that many people that aren’t necessarily healthy, can relate with you. We all have to learn to Live Life Fully~at least as much as we feel we can! I love you and know you have Faith!! We need the reminders sometimes. You are a wonderful, person!! I have to remind myself often, like the song says~LET IT GO!! Georgette

  2. I’m glad you’re ok! I remember at work you’d apologize so much if you had to be out unexpectedly or needed me to lift something. I know it’s not as simple as saying, “You shouldn’t feel bad,” but you truly shouldn’t. I’ve always felt like it was really just about teamwork. I’d help with the lifting and you’d me in areas I wasn’t so strong in. And I know we’ve all been out unexpectedly for various reasons and we’d just cover down for one another and make do. We ALL worried about one another during various situations because we CARE about one another. You are so much more than illness and you bring so much more to the table. When you feel bad because people may be worried or you feel like they are doing “extra” just remember, you bring your own wonderful contributions too.

  3. Heather, thank you so much for these kind words. It is true we are all a team and people worry about each other because we care. I try to live “regular” and when my illness gets in the way, I struggle. I appreciate the reminder I am much more than it!! XOXO

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s