May 11, 2014 - “Lord, I have no one” – the most profound experience of illness

May 11, 2014
Sunday of the Paralytic

“Lord, I have no one” – the most profound experience of illness

Sickness is a foreign kingdom, an unrecognizable neighborhood. We might prefer to stay home, but sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to spend time in that other place. …If illness is like going to a different, disturbed country, then the experience of illness – the experience of moving through that land- can be thought of as a kind of travel. It is an odd sort of journey because the sick person receives no invitation; he is suddenly, involuntarily, taken there. The sick person wonders with mounting anxiety: What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to think? How long will l be forced to stay? Who can I talk to? Why am I here? Where do I go next?

Illness puts him in contact with a primordial innocence that is dangerous during travel. There are many risks apparent. Some are obvious. Death is always lurking in the forest. That the outcome of the travel is by nature ambiguous -one hopes for the best- in itself causes patients to live with vulnerability. Yet patients many times wonder if there is any point in focusing on illness when they're just passing through. They're not settling here; they're just visiting, moving on, with their return ticket sin hand…

Illness is far more than a diagnosis to be treated-or not. There is a particular alienation that illness brings… The ill person's distance from others is the most profound experience of illness, and that this sense of other-ness - of loneliness - is more common in illness than any other emotion, and more dangerous and disturbing. And yet, perhaps, loneliness may also be alleviated.

Michael Stein, M.D.
From his book
The Lonely Patient – how we experience illness
Harper-Perennial, New York, 2008, p.10-11