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In sickness and unhealth} ?> Being sick sucks.
There, I said it. And though I suspect this is pretty obvious, I still think it’s worth saying and perhaps even repeating. Being sick sucks.
It is the general consensus that if you are sick, you should be coddled, babied, taken care of, and in some cases even pitied. This is hardly the state we expect a hero to be in. When we doodle Superman on our fourth-grade notebooks (or for some of us, on the edges of the manuscripts we are currently editing), we don’t depict him in bed hugging a blanket with a bucket close at hand.
We like our heroes to be strong, and how are they supposed to be powerful if they are suffering from an unbearable illness?
Okay, some notable heroes catch the odd bug, like when Lucy comes down with a cold in Fairy Tail and Natsu makes it his mission to help her feel better, or when Buffy passes out because of the flu while fighting a vampire, but those are all short-term. I’m talking about the long-term, chronic, debilitating kind of sickness that seriously sucks and all of us dread.
The truth is, we don’t see a lot of heroes suffering from this type of disease, and for good reason. It’s hard to write around if it isn’t the main focus of the story or episode. Also, psychological disorders and pain seem to be more romantic or something (Batman, Wolverine, or Deadpool anyone?); so you will probably notice characters thus afflicted a lot more frequently.
But when I do see a character fighting a long-term physical illness, I love it.
I love seeing that particular battle because the story rings true to me. I have lived through a chronic stomach disorder for most of my life that has put me in the hospital a handful of times, and when I see characters experiencing pain on a daily basis but fighting through it, I am encouraged.
Going through a few days of sickness is hard enough, but suffering every single day—dealing with the exhaustion and psychological implications as well as the physical—that is true hardship, and I admire anyone who has to deal with it.
Fullmetal Alchemist’s Izumi Curtis is referred to a couple times by Ed and Al before you actually meet her, and you get the impression that they are scared of her. When she finally comes across their path, you understand why.
She is wise, intelligent, stubborn, and tough as adamantium. You don’t learn that she is chronically ill until she starts puking blood.
Ed and Al never mention this health problem before you meet her, even though it is obviously a huge issue in her life. Why don’t you hear about it beforehand from them? Not because they are being respectful. And not because they feel the societal awkwardness sometimes associated with discussing disease.
It’s because her illness doesn’t define her for the two boys. Her compassion, her mentorship, her rockin’ alchemy skills, her caring and strength (and scariness) is what does.
In Battlestar Galactica, Laura Roslin—the Secretary of Education who becomes the President—also faces debilitating illness. She has cancer.
Over the series, her sickness gets worse and worse. You see her gradually weaken, collapse, go on medication, have to constantly rest, and pay the toll that cancer demands from its victims.
Laura is unable to be a physically strong hero like Samuel Anders, Lee Adama, or Kara Thrace. She can’t get into a fist fight with Caprica Six and hope to win.
But she is a hero. She is my hero.
She is one of the moral compasses of the show (right up there with Helo). She fights for what she knows is right to the best of her ability. Sometimes her illness puts her out of play, but she doesn’t let that stop her from being president when she has the strength to sit up. She doesn’t give up, even though she lives with physical pain everyday.
Sometimes, illness takes over our lives and there’s nothing we can do about it. Sometimes we have to fight through the pain so that it is not what defines us. Sometimes we have to give up our independence and ask others to carry us when we can’t crawl any more (flans, unite).
Sometimes when our friends say, “Oh, you’re sick again?” we have to gently remind them, “No, I’m still sick.”
Sometimes we have to stop our shouting at God to make us feel better already. It’s not like he pointed at me and said, “Yes, she shall suffer illness for most of her life. Muahahaha.”
At the end of the day, whether or not I’ve fought the good fight or spent it all sleeping, I can be encouraged that sickness isn’t all there is. I can be an Izumi Curtis or a Laura Roslin, known for having an impact on a community. I can get knocked down, but I will get up again, whether today or tomorrow, in this life or the next.