1 Aug 2015

an enemy you cannot see, a Love you must notice

I am 'convalescing'. It means I am on the mend, healing, becoming stronger, getting better. I am regaining strength after a bout of sickness; in this case one brought on by a tiny insect vector: the menacing Aedes Mosquito {I'll spare us the picture}.

Bug bites have never been a huge problem for me. They like me enough; but a scratch or two later, some lotion, and I am fine. Once after a trip to the Philippines I found a large welt on my left ankle. It was huge! I tried to think what creature had inflicted such a mortal-feeling wound on me but a bug bite is not something one notices until it is too late. The bug will not be sticking around to introduce itself! My mind scanned images of irridescent, dark, large, fat-bodied bugs of all sorts. When we landed, an earthquake had just ripped through so we swooped down to lost bags and waist high flood waters. The following two weeks I could have been bitten at many places.

Alas, the doctor's reaction was not exactly assuring; but there wasn't much to do. Thankfully, in another few days, the swell subsided and I was feeling my normal self again.

Ten days ago, I found myself shuddering in my sleep. What I expected followed: fever, aches and a loss of taste. The flu. Well, it's the end of July and I guess I have held out nice and long this year.

But it felt different, in a worse way. Something more sinister was happening. I felt way too exhausted. When I recalled how my area was a dengue hotspot; I decided I should check with my doctor. The test turned out; nothing to be positive about really, positive.

There is nothing external; I cannot even find the bite spot. When did this mortal enemy attack me? What stealth and what damage! A wee little bug easily squished if I had spotted it. But I had not; and it had done me in.

I was really angry.

Here I am, a thousand times larger and - I - lost. And what a darn unfair battle this is. I cannot see you bug! I could have been concentrating on my work when you decided to take a drink. I could be sleeping when you feel a rumbly in your tumbly. Why me?! Many good minded folks like to think of all critters that do damage as a result of the Fall. I am not sure of that; but I do know I was hopping mad that something way down the creation scale can take out a child of the Most High. There was something disturbing about it.

Dengue is one of those things everyone knows something about; and it has a whole scary "you could die from it" dimension where your system can shut down, your organs can bleed and it's all very Ebola like except it's not contagious.

No one can do a whit to help you. There is no medication and so - you just have to hope your body fights back strong.

Much as I would not wish it on anyone, I admit that the many who told me they or their loved ones have had it before gave me much hope. Very few die from it. That's always a good statistic.

Interestingly, the daughter came home from school with a book she got from a giveaway. It turns out to be Tuesdays with Morrie - a book about a dying professor's weekly time with a former student of his; imparting life lessons as he faced his imminent death.

If we cannot spot the bug; then what it can bring in its wake is far harder to anticipate. Some people don't get that sick. Others get way too sick; it turns into what the is called a 'sickness unto death'.

Death is the enemy we cannot really see. Even if you were told like old Morrie was that you had ALS and the doctor gave you a timeframe to expect your life to give up; death will still sneak up un-announced.

I once witnessed someone die before my eyes.

Her breath was very laboured and her daughter and I knew we were just waiting. There was no telling when the exact moment would be. She seemed suspended between the living and the dead...her rising and falling rib cage the only indication she was still on this side. And then, it stopped heaving. She had crossed to the other side. She is forever beyond our reach. Just earlier, we hoped our singing and our tears reached her; but now it felt like a permanence had come over everything. A finality. Someone closed a heavy curtain and the light did not come through any more.

This dengue bout got me a little mad, a little sad, and I could have acted pretty bad too.

The first night I finally was led to my hospital room; I thought the spartan room setting reminded me of the retreat I needed to take.

The Communicable Diseases Centre is such an old relic of bygone days. In fact it dates back to 1907! My room was one in a series of rooms linked by covered walkways as part of a matrix of old bungalow-like buildings. I did not get to see the place much until I left; it was old, homey and quiet; without the usual hive of a hospital. It puzzled me that they placed here - dengue is not infectious - but it's lower occupancy than the hospital and ensured I was already on hospital grounds should I require emergency care; the nurse explained.*

All the nurses and doctors did their best to remind me that they were not able to really help me.

There is no medicine
There is no vaccine
We just hope your platelets rise
Don't brush your teeth, we don't want you bleeding.
Please call us, don't fall down.

So I was reduced to laying in bed and taking four feet to the bathroom. They hooked me to an IV drip that fed me sodium and potassium.

After being in the ER for a while, I insisted that my husband who looked sicker than I return home to rest. A sweet girlfriend came over to see that I was admitted.

While managing drowsily the past week, with the occasional dread of losing it all; I nursed another care within my bosom: the human desperation to live.

Being sick was rough; but my thoughts turned often to the millions of women who unlike me may have no one to care for them, who may have no access to medical care, whose bodies are so sunk from giving that a mosquito bite will bring on their end. I complained about the hospital meals but I have food. The bed had a sinkhole in the middle and the plastic sheets brought on bouts of sweating; but I was in a room, on a bed, with air-conditioning. I had a call buzzer to use when I needed help. My heart ached to think of the women who are alone and in need.
Then there are those who are desperate to live because they keep feeling like they haven't lived it up. Maybe they are hankering for a short getaway, for the dream spouse, to find what they really care about and pursue it with abandon. Some experience it as part of a larger search for self; often co-inciding with the middle years. Many today however are incited to feel dissatisfied in our hyper-consumer culture. 
Then of course there are those like me who are at risk; and if we think about how vulnerable we can all be - a bug bite - it's no wonder many are busy looking for ways to augment life; from pills to Pilates (the latest thing is Rolfing). Of course, I received well-meaning advice soon enough and drank my portion of papaya leaf juice! {It was nasty.}

I wonder if people do live better when they have had a brush with death.

If we seriously consider the odds of staying alive; we should all be more sensible, grateful, and artful about life. But we are not. We are apt to squander it.

Like Mitch Albom, without that providential moment when he caught sight of his old professor and reconnected with the old man, his life was throttling in wild pursuit of a blinding success that inured him to what he truly valued and wanted.

I believe such providential moments exist. I think this sickness is one such moment.

Interestingly for me, I had just taken some time out a few weeks earlier to think about my life and what the next half of it will be about. The exercise left me feeling hugely grateful. Sure there are bits of my life I gripe about. There are days when I cannot be sure where to put my feet. But I have a Purpose. I have a family, a committed spouse, two children who make me laugh. I have gifts I am using. I was still thinking about this, and honestly at this point, wondering about friendships when Dengue struck. My friends emerged from everywhere to pray and communicate care!

Behind all of this stands God - someone I cannot fully comprehend or even relate to -- He is God after all. 
He was extremely quiet while I was in hospital. There must not be much to talk about. I could hardly concentrate to pray or think; and I didn't need to. If God's love for me depended one whit on what I could do; I am dead meat. But it doesn't. It does not begin with my need or my ability and it won't end if I should lose both. 
In the many quiet, half-awake moments I felt cocooned in a safety called Love. 

So I began to think - satisfaction is a state that is cultivated. It begins with the small seeds of gratitude and grows to be a strong tree that can withstand the storms and surprises of life when one realizes that behind and beyond everything stands God; the Great Unchangeable, Constant. Then the desperation to live is real and we must live - not by grasping for what we think we lack - but by gladly enjoying that which is before us.

And of course, things can be better.

Schools can be better.
Marriages can be better.
Church can be better.
The climate can certainly be better.

But things get better because someone is working to make them better. 

And it is hard to make things better when you are bitter. It is a bitter thing to be felled by a tiny bug.

But --  you cannot be bitter for long when you are loved.

Love never fails 
~ 1 Corinthians 13

*although I am not infectious, I carry a virus that can be transmitted by a mozzie! So this makes me 'communicable'. Thank you Patricia Liu for pointing this out!


  1. Well written and very personal. Good reminders ... sure need them.

  2. glad you're feeling better jenni. enjoy the rest and recuperation :) blessings friend!


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