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My life as a bug

The kindness and severity of being knocked off my feet


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On Nov. 16 at 7:08 in the morning just after waking I suddenly became violently dizzy; the mirror, dresser, and chest of drawers were flying around the room. This spinning was accompanied by nausea, and I heaved (mostly water) into the trash can that my husband hurriedly swung to my side of the bed. I say dizzy, but the disorientation was such that it seemed some physical connection at the base of my brain had been severed, so that the correspondence between what our eyes report and what is really there was no longer to be taken for granted in this life.

There were no reasonable explanations or precursors—I hadn’t eaten too late or dined on food that disagreed with me; nor did I have a cold. The very strangeness of the onset immediately made me think there was no reason why this may not be a permanent condition. One hears such things: My friend Heidi lost her hearing in the left ear with no warning whatsoever and has not regained it nine years later. And so I started to consider how I might adapt myself to being bedridden for the remainder of my life. I would need a laptop for my writing. Subject matter would be limited, but I was open to the notion that God could provide a rich vein of material in the new (to me) kind of suffering.

My husband suggested going to the hospital, but there was no question of that because I couldn’t raise my head even a few inches without being pulled into the centrifuge again. The only way would be a stretcher manned by ambulance drivers, and I adamantly ruled that out, which my husband did not fight exceedingly since our experience with hospitals has been disappointing.

I occasionally tried to sit up, in order to satisfy myself that I was indeed bedridden and not pretending.

After the first hour of retching I found that if I remained perfectly still on my back I was OK, even happy, so that when my neighbors paid visits to the patient in the course of the day, they were surprised to find a woman looking hale and ready at any moment to make dinner. The force keeping me immobilized was, as it were, an invisible cage, or like those electronic fences running the perimeter of people’s yards that keep the dog from straying out of bounds.

Behold then the kindness and severity of God! (Romans 11:22)—severity in restraining my stiff-necked penchant for busyness and task completion; kindness in accomplishing it without resorting to pain.

My daily Bible reading time with David (who was given leave from his boss to care for me) was much extended on the first day and subsequent days also, which I could not help but see a divine hand in, for many were the mornings I had protested my spouse’s requests to linger longer over some Old Testament passage, or had thrummed impatient fingers at his prolonged prayers. It was I, not David, who made the connection to the 70 years of Sabbaths that God forced upon the land during the Babylonian occupation in compensation for Israel’s equal number of Sabbath years of neglect of the command to give the land repose from its yielding of crops.

I wasted the afternoon of Day 1 listening to the radio. At the start of Day 2 I lifted my head to see if the glass ceiling was still in place, which it was. Thereafter throughout the hours, while I read the Bible and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, about a man in Germany who awoke to discover he was a large insect, I occasionally tried to sit up, in order to satisfy myself that I was indeed bedridden and not pretending. By Day 3 in the same pajamas I was wondering if I should start dressing in day clothes during the day and reserve pj’s for the night, like permanently paralyzed people do, to make a distinction between times and seasons (like God) and perchance to feel a little perky.

I am feeling better now. A nurse friend explained the workings of the inner ear and how a renegade microscopic calcium crystal may temporarily float inside the labyrinth to foil a precise equilibrium and what we take too casually as our ability to stand and walk. If Darwin had been in the room, the man would have repented.

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Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.

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