Bent over at practically a 45 degree angle, I made my way to the rear printer in near the reporter cubicles in my office with the help of my cane. I was leaning on it more than I had been in the previous few weeks. Still, I slapped a smile on my face and hid the excruciating pain I was feeling.
I collected the wire copy, video notes and background information for the stories I was scheduled to write for the noon newscast and began the trek back to my desk. I didn’t really look around to see who was talking just feet from me. Just then, I heard the voice of a co-worker who I don’t often come in contact with in person because he works the overnight shift while I work days. I tapped him and a broad smile crossed his lips.
He innocently said, “You look good,” with surprise in his voice.
“I’m sorry next time I’ll come to work disheveled so I really appear to be sick,” I joked.
“No,” he replied. “I just meant every time I see photos of you on Facebook you look sick because you’re usually in a hospital gown.”
“You’re right. I’m working on perfecting the art of making the gowns look sex. I’m not there yet so I figure I’ll make a few more doctors’ visits so I can keep trying.”
He just laughed and walked away but I contemplated our exchange. He was right. My status updates on Facebook often discuss my medical struggles so I’m either in a hospital or home in bed. Rarely do I show myself looking dressed or glammed up.
Perhaps I haven’t because the last three years of my life were consumed with a string of medical procedures: lymph node biopsies, stomach and nerve repair. Yet, my chronic illness is only part of my life, not all of it. In that instance, I realized I needed to do a better job of reflecting that reality so I no longer here that irritating phrase, “You don’t look sick.” The truth is I know I’m not the only person battling an illness who finds that so-called compliment irritating. It’s almost as annoying as “You look good.”
Why? It implies that you’re lying about the extent of your sickness. It cheapens what I’ve been through. It also seems that without visible evidence of the damage my illness has wrought people don’t think it’s affecting as much as they think it should. Or, it makes it sounds like, for some reason, I’m exaggerating my medical issues for sympathy.
What’s not understood is that maintaining a semi-normal appearance is about the only thing a sick person can control. So, I know I, strive to not let my condition steal my last shred of dignity by allowing me to look haggard, worn out or on the verge of death even if I am. For me, simply saying, “It’s good to see,” will suffice.
*originally published in the Huffington Post on 6/1/2016: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nika-c-beamon/stop-telling-me-i-look-good_b_10241754.html