George Mason Law School

Pity party: tragic illness with a side of tomato soup

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November 2, 2007

9:19 AM

I want a semi-serious medical condition. Preferably nothing too pussy, but otherwise I can manage. If someone would just give me some slightly life threatening ailment, I could be a happy man. There is, after all, such dignity associated with suffering.

p. Do not for one moment accuse me of shortsightedness, because I have put years of thought into this desire. Since the age of three I lived with an invalid — my brother has acute asthma coupled with a dust and pollen allergy. From the start I was jealous as hell. Every December since he was one, my brother would suffer an asthma attack and my parents would drop everything they were doing in order to rush my brother to the intensive care unit.

p. My mother might have been in the middle of making me tomato soup when suddenly my brother’s coughs would send her into the other room. Instead of heating up my soup, she would be forced to wash Joe’s blankets for dust or to rub a hot towel on his pneumonic lungs. And me? My poor fate compelled me to stand tiptoed over the stove and ladle lukewarm soup into a bowl. Instead of toast, I settled for the stale Triscuits my mother kept in a cupboard beneath the counter. Some people have all the luck.

p. I can remember countless times when Joseph would spend nights in an air tent at the local children’s hospital. During visiting hours, friends and family members would crowd around his tent and ogle him as though he were some sort of god. His emaciated form and dark gaze lent an air to his young frame. With doctors, nurses and our mother waiting on him hand and foot, he was a little prince.

p. Fortunately for my brother his asthma improved over time, and now he is practically cured of the disease. But I am not cured of my jealousy. While he got the dignified disease I was always forced to suffer the most embarrassing ailments. There was the time in third grade when my face exploded into a pulsing rash. Then there was the time in eighth grade when I passed out while watching “The Shining” and suffered a baseball-sized carpet burn on my right cheek. Then there was the time freshman year of college when I fell in the cafeteria and cut my upper eyelid on my glasses. Sure, the stitches looked cool, but I never really got to suffer in a public way.

p. My criteria are fairly simple. First, I want an ailment that doesn’t look gross. For this reason anything involving tumors or rashes are probably out. I hate needles, so this would rule out any disease that requires frequent shots. Also, I love fried and sugary foods, so I suppose having a heart condition just would not work. Further, I do not like dying, so ailments like AIDS, the bubonic plague and malaria can be nixed. I also require that my sickness will draw frequent attention to itself. Though I couldn’t really stand diabetes due to the dietary restrictions and the constant shots, I love those insulin packs that some lucky diabetics get to wear.

p. Vertigo might be fun, though a little restrictive when venturing to theme parks. Can you imagine the thrill of walking up a crowded set of stairs and suddenly yelling, “My God, I have vertigo!” I would grip the railing for my life, and I might even trip and begin to fall down the center of the staircase. Fortunately, someone would always be there to catch my hand and pull me to safety. After that people would look at me differently. They would think, that boy is so brave for living with such a debilitating ailment and still doing all his homework and maintaining a full course load.

p. Everything I did would glimmer with grace. My essays would stand out, but not for their quality. Professors would read my essays through watery eyes, stunned that someone of my condition could still manage such a normal life. They would offer me extensions on everything I wrote, but I would always turn them down.

p. “I can handle it,” I’d say. “I have a feeling everything will be just fine.” They would nod and watch me as I walked out of their classroom and into the world. Almost like everyone else.

p. __James Damon is a Confusion Corner columnist. He is hoping to acquire scurvy.__

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