Julian Sheather: In praise of minor ailments

I have just been ill. Not very ill. Not ‘under the doctor’. Just a lingering cold, a touch of manflu. In the end I took a day off. I woke in the morning from an uneasy sleep and thought no, not today, today I’ll struggle no more. My wife took the children to school and then went to work. I made myself a cup of tea, took a few paracetamol and slid back under the duvet, a fugitive from reality. It would be an exaggeration to say that the house was of a sudden robed in silence – nowhere in south London is robed in silence – but it did go rather quiet. I sipped my tea. I stared at the ceiling, hovering between wakefulness and sleep.

As I lay there, malingering on the wide threshold of consciousness, the minutes slipping peaceably by, I began to notice a change coming over me. My mind, habitually preoccupied with the next thing that needed to be done, began to loosen its grip. Detached from the world of drudgery and deadlines it settled back into itself. For the first time in a long time I became properly aware of my body. I could feel the full length of my arms and legs, the weight of my head on the pillow, the rise and fall of my chest.

No longer needing to be in control, my consciousness went a wandering, spreading through my body, soaking into it like rain into dry ground.  I could feel every knot and burr of tension, every niggle and worry. I let my mind play over them, easing them apart. Miraculously, care got up and left, taking her ravelled sleeves with her. Tension dripped from my fingers.

Gradually my attention turned to my mind, to another, larger tangle, to its thousand irritable ends, to the grey sea of utterly inconsequential chatter washing through it. Depleted, mildly fogged by fever, it grew unusually still. The few things that were really bothering me floated up. I teased them out – work, love, family, the usual suspects – I turned them over and around, I let them have their say. They, too withdrew their claws. Given a little air and space they didn’t seem such trouble.

The day wore on. I slept. When I woke I watched the light creep slowly across the bedroom. I listened to the ebb and flow of traffic. I read a little. Briefly released from the Puritan grip of duty I felt the rhythm of a whole day.

Dear God, once in a while let me be ill, but not too ill.

Julian Sheather is ethics manager, BMA. The views he expresses in his blog posts are entirely his own.