It is not your Fault

In writing, the medical industry is a very cold place to be.

It’s just not very nice.

It’s filled with numbers and terms that only your doctor can understand, or even pronounce and you’re really a little to shy to ask. It’s filled with frantically filing things in the back of your mind to Google later because you have no idea what it means, but you think it might be important. The numbers and the probabilities and the averages do not care for you. They don’t mind if you’re stressed, if your appointment is messing with your schedule and your head. The numbers are completely indifferent to your son’s first day of school or your partner’s birthday. The numbers do not care about you. But you care about them; you’ll be caring about them until you’re dead because those numbers are trying to predict your future, and your kid’s future and your partner’s future and the future of your friends. And you care about them.

In writing, the medical industry is not a very good place to be.

But then, there’s a photo on your doctor’s desk of his kids, and there are drawings in grubby crayons on the back of his door and as soon as you walk in he’s analyzing you, he’s trying to figure out what’s wrong, he wants to help, because that’s his job and he loves his kids as much as you love yours and even if he doesn’t know it, he wants you to be able to make that meeting and get that promotion and he wants you to get better.

And to get what he wants, he needs to hurry you along.

When mum first got cancer, or at least the first that I heard of it and acknowledged it as a thing that was going to have to be in my life, I didn’t go to the hospital much, I only went to chemo once and I never went to any of the appointments. I never even really met my mother’s oncologist or any of her other doctors. I distanced myself from the medical industry, partially because there was not nearly as much food involved as I had once thought and I did not like to be there when a blow was inflicted, with me or anyone else. I don’t like blows.

I was only good with recovery.

When mum was going through chemo she would sleep a lot, during the day, during the evening and morning. Her body was so decayed that her legs could barely lift her and her face was more weathered with age than I have ever seen before. And during this time, it was my part to play; I just had to be there. Confused and hungry, but present all the same. Dora, my older sister, wasn’t home a lot, she liked to be a person out in the world, but she was there when the blows were inflicted, she took care of mum when she first felt the effect. Her tough, but gentle love was no good for recovery, and Harper, my younger sister, was too loud, and too anxious, and when I wasn’t there, my dad was.

I never did much, in these moments of recovery. I would emerge like a fog from my room and waft about, with half open eyes and holding my laptop or a book. The truth is, the only reasons that I ever come out of my room were three reasons: I’m hungry, I’m cold, or my dad tells me to. Usually when I came out, mum would be asleep, curled under blankets and letting herself be small and poisoned, and I would sit down beside her until she woke up and solved my problems. So when she woke up; I would be there, and I would abstain from asking for money or food because there were circles under her eyes and I loved her and she loved me. All I was good at was just being there.

I never had anything against hospitals or people in hospitals or the poison that they were injecting into mum’s veins, or at least I understood that they were all necessary. I researched all of them; I Googled poisons at two thirty in the morning and tried to figure out what the hell was going on and why. I did, in many ways. My mum found it comforting to read about other people’s experiences, to adopt their practices and find solace in their scrawlings.

I didn’t.

I thought they were nice, I mean they were heartwarming, but I found no comfort in their imprecision. I wanted facts, cold, hard and uncaring, they would give me no sympathy, they would not pat my head or ask me how home was, they would just tell me the truth.

I had no need for anything else.

Humans are imprecise things, in general. We make exaggerations and manipulations and narratives, we make it too big or we make it too small, and we use words that make no sense and have no reason to be in the sentence. The large majority of our languages are based on what sounds good, not what’s true. We delight in rhythm, rather than accuracy. And a doctor with a photo of his kids on his desk can’t give you that any more than you can give him all of the specifics of your life.

Both of you, in this attemptedly precise relationship, make vague generalizations and shrug.

The human half of the medical industry is almost entirely shrugs, good intentions and guesses.

And that isn’t your fault.


  1. Karina · August 10, 2015

    ‘The human half of the medical industry is almost entirely shrugs, good intentions and guesses’.
    Wow, that hit right where I didn’t even realise it hurt.
    Add to that, phrases like ‘Let’s give this one a try and see how you go’ and “These test results are in normal range (translated: you must be all better now)” and you’ve also basically got the medical profession’s attitude to chronic illness in a nut shell.

  2. Rachel · August 10, 2015
  3. a · August 12, 2015

    I had such an intense dream about you last night. You were crying and I was crying and we both knew we needed to perform some ritual of “saving” — the boat was sinking, the plane was crashing and we had to cling and swim simultaneously. I don’t know. It was a dream. But there in that world you and me decided as things were spinning downwards, that we would rescue and be rescued together. We were stronger and better and could swim up, between the sobs and with great fury and I imagine if the dream went on, with great vengeance. Thanks for your writing, Clem. That’s my life vest, I know. Writing. It saves. Love to you — you are bigger and stronger and I know how hard it is to be the most open and real and vulnerable and fierce.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s