Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
2 - 8 December 1999
Issue No. 458
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Sick leave

By Fayza Hassan

Fayza Hassan I was quite a healthy child as far as I can remember. My illnesses were few, far between and rather predictable: a bout of influenza in the spring, another in autumn, none serious enough to even keep me out of school for more than a couple of days.

With my brother, on the other hand, it was a different story. He used to come down quite suddenly with the most peculiar afflictions, which always seemed life-threatening. The look of worry on my parents' faces unsettled me completely. They appeared so vulnerable. I hated them for not remaining as steady as rocks. Weren't they supposed to make everything better at once? What were parents for, if not to protect their children from every danger? What if my brother died? Maybe they would not be unable to stop him. Just the thought of something like that happening to us made me positively feverish. I loved my brother, and I also loved our cosy routine and the feeling that we were all safe; during the days when my brother ran very high temperatures, things went topsy-turvy; my mother barely spoke and a deep line would develop in the middle of her forehead. Sometimes I would noticed that her eyes were red, as if she had been crying. The concept of one of my parents crying was too awful to contemplate. While this was going on, meals were not served on time and I was allowed to read in bed as long as I pleased, a good thing considering that I had a great deal of trouble falling asleep. It scared me to think that things might never return to normal. My utter terror at being bedridden one day probably dates from these years.

Many of my friends felt differently about illness, however, and I knew several girls who feigned being unwell to avoid going to school, especially during end-of-term exams. I could not quite understand how they managed to bring themselves to do that. They always came back with stories of having been pampered and fussed over and couldn't wait, they said, to pull the same trick again.

Recently one of my friends mentioned her childhood illnesses. She had adored every one of them, she said. She only remembered them as a time of great happiness, with lots of new toys and books to enjoy freely. "I never told this story to anyone," she added, "but one day my mother took me to visit a cousin in hospital. She just had her appendix removed, and her room was filled with teddy bears and flowers. Families and friends sat around her bed and a nurse kept popping her head in the door, saying 'and how is our little darling now?' with a strong Italian accent and a large smile. Of course, I did not realise that it was still a big deal to have an operation then and I thought my cousin was incredibly lucky. Sitting in a corner, unnoticed [I had to laugh to myself at this point, never having known her to go unnoticed for long], I heard all about the acute pain my cousin had felt in the middle of the night, how her parents had called the doctor in the wee hours of the morning and how she had been rushed to hospital. That sounded like a fairytale, and I decided there and then that it should happen to me too. I waited a few days, in order to give the necessary credibility to my act, then one Sunday night when both my parents were at home, I began screaming, telling my mother that my tummy hurt terribly 'just here'. I managed to bend over double for a while, and generally carried on so much that my parents, seriously worried, called the doctor, who confirmed that I needed an appendectomy. Detecting that I had almost reached my aim, I cried even harder and, sure enough, I was bundled up in my night clothes and driven to hospital.

When I woke up from the operation, the surgeon was showing my parents something pink floating in a jar. "Look how infected it is," he was telling them seriously, "I am happy that we caught her in the nick of time." My parents looked properly relieved and thanked the doctor profusely. I had a good laugh, thinking how I had fooled them all. I felt some discomfort in the first few days, of course, but it was largely compensated by the fuss that was made over me, and the splendid presents I received. I often regretted in those days that I had been born with only one appendix."

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