Reflections on Illness

There’s nothing that will quite knock you down to size than finding yourself in an adult diaper.

Let me explain.

Having moved to India in July 2017, I have fended off my fair share of bouts of diarrhoea. In our Health Institutions lectures, our professor asked us what percentage of Indian children in the past 2 weeks have suffered from diarrhoea. I gave an estimate of 60% (it is actually 20%). When he asked me if this was speaking from personal experience, I said that it was. Diarrhoea has become like an old friend who stops by once a week, causes some mild inconvenience and leaves before you can actually make a fuss about it. Despite this track record of dodgy bowel movements, I prided myself on managing not to succumb to any major illnesses since I came here.

And then out of the blue, illness struck. First, came the bolted visits to the bathroom, then came the hot flushes and then came the cold shivers. I was escorted to the infirmary where I groaned in pain and received my first injection into my nether regions (illness is not pretty). After ranting deliriously to my friends about everything under the sun, I fell in to a troubled sleep, during which my temperature thankfully broke.

But the diarrhoea did not stop. I cannot understand why an architect would design an infirmary without a toilet IN the actual infirmary. Instead, the toilet is conveniently located outside of the infirmary doors in the sports’ block, for use by the general sporting population. Believe me, making those 20 metres or so when one is dying to use the loo is a feat that many Olympic sprinters would struggle to master.

And so enter scene, the adult diaper.

At this stage the medication was not working. I was to be admitted to hospital. In true Irish fashion, I asked if it was really necessary that I go. “Sure, it’s only a stomach thing,” says I, “No need for any hassle”. The doctor looked me straight in the eye and said that I was dehydrating by the minute. I remembered in that moment how much of our bodies are water, or as my friend put it, how much of keeping healthy is about ensuring that the right liquids go out and the right ones stay in. I thought how we are all just anxious cucumbers, really.

Having discussed much of the Indian healthcare system in class, I braced myself for packed hospital, long queues and the potential that there may be no nurses since they have all emigrated to the Middle East. I arrived to an empty (albeit, private) hospital. There were in fact, doctors and nurses and they were all lovely. Some cursory questions were asked, a cannula was inserted into my hand and I was escorted to my room. I sat in my hospital bed in a foreign land and felt grateful to the people around me, to Ashoka University, the medical staff and my friends for providing me with the best of care.

Thousands of miles away, my brethren were casting their votes in a once-in-a-generation referendum. The question? Whether to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution, which would liberalise Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. I thought of the many women who have been forced to travel to England and other countries to access abortion healthcare. Although the circumstances were different, I could imagine  how they must have felt in foreign lands, in hospital beds, without their friends and families around them. I could feel their fear and their  pain. I remembered Savita Hallepanavar and her family and felt ashamed that her country was looking after me and my health but that my own country denied her that right. I fell asleep hugging myself tight and praying that Ireland would vote with compassion so that women did not have to continue to vote with their feet.

The following day, I was overjoyed when Ireland overwhelmingly voted in favour of repeal. I think I was so elated that I felt like the sickness could not touch me. I told everyone who would listen that Ireland did it! They had voted to legalize abortion and provide healthcare to women! But the reality was much more than that. Ireland had thrown off the shackles of its Catholic past which equated a woman’s life to the life of the foetus inside of her. Ireland had decided that the moral high ground was not a place worth walking anymore, that being grounded in reality was a lot more compassionate. Ireland had gone from a country of fallen women to a country of women rising.

It hasn’t all been a walk in the park. I really detest the cold snake of the saline drip slithering into my veins. The cannula makes me feel like a half-woman, half spider-person who can spew webs (or more likely, blood) at my enemies. Looking at the blue-black shadows of my ultra-sound scans, I found myself shaking my head. Wasn’t something missing? That’s when it dawned on me, that these images had been used so insidiously by the anti-choice campaign that they would have me believe that without a foetus inside of me, I am hollow. I am not fulfilling my God-given purpose of procreation. I fought the sudden urge to spray blood from my cannula at these imaginary anti-choice monsters, yelling “This is for bodily autonomy!” and then disappear into the night behind the flapping cape of my patient gown.

What have I learned from illness? I have learned that we must look after our bodies and be more in tune with the signs that something is not right. Checking in with ourselves on a regular basis is vital to achieve this. I learned that sickness does not wait for a lull in your schedule or a convenient break in the daily monotony of life. It strikes at any time and like death, is a great equaliser. I’ve learned that friends and family who love and support you will make the illness that much easier to bear. I’ve learned that enshrining constitutional amendments which affect bodily autonomy and medical care is really not a wise thing to do. And I’ve learned that even in sickness you have to laugh at yourself and wearing an adult diaper makes it just that bit easier.

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