Growing up, our father, a doctor, made house calls on patients and worried at night about them including late night phone calls to their homes just to assure himself that they were recovering. But, at home with us, barely anything ever qualified as being sick, let alone sick enough, to merit serious consideration. Dad’s philosophy and famous sayings to us were (and still are):
1.) “Suck it up, you aren’t sick.”
2.) “Bleeding always stops.”
3.) “You’ll live.”
“You’ll live” was his go-to phrase, and applied beyond physical ailments. Minor life disappointments also fell under the you’ll live umbrella. (Dad also said, “you go where the driver goes”, “if frogs had wings”, and “we’ll see.” All of which could be the subject of a separate post.)
As for our complaints of maladies, the general pattern was more along the lines of: Fever? Don’t even bring it up until you are sweating as if you are in the Sahara desert. Coughing? Go to a different room where he couldn’t hear you and just deal with it. Headache? It will pass. Sore throat? He occasionally used his tongue depressor and the flashlight to look in our throats, then palpate our neck glands, before declaring, “Suck it up, you aren‘t sick.” These phrases also conveyed with them the unspoken credo of not missing school or other obligations due to inconsequential complaints. Go forth, work hard, and be productive.
This is not to say that Dad didn’t express love and concern for us, because he did. But, Dad rarely saw a looming disaster, and minor ailments were just that – so minor that they were trivial and not to be worried over. He applied these principles to himself as well, and I can recall only two times in his now seventy years where he was ill: once when his eye was seriously injured by a tennis ball and once when his white cell count mysteriously dropped to near fatal levels. So, because of Dad’s outlook, if he ever declared you to be ill, then, by golly, you were in bad shape.
On the other hand, if Dad was a minimalist, then Mom was a fatalist. Mom, a nurse, subscribed heavily to the certainty of imminent death. Mom was years ahead of the reality t.v. show “A Thousand Ways to Die” in envisioning how the end will happen. But, mostly, Mom extrapolated from the most minor of events straight to the worst possible outcome. A cold was merely the first step to pneumonia. An abrasion was the opening for a nasty staph infection. A fever was the gateway to seizures. A stomach ache was undiagnosed appendicitis. And, so on.
My father, sister, and I who were just a tad dismissive and cynical of her doomsday outlook developed a habit of sardonically saying, both to her and laughingly behind her back, “That could kill you.” Which, Mom laughed at but ignored. She knew she was right, even if we mocked her. As Mom saw it, the Grim Reaper’s feet were propped up on our coffee table, his hooded cloak hung in the coat closet, and his scythe rested in the umbrella stand by the front door in the foyer. Mom was the sort of parent that if she was cold, then we had to put on a coat. If we were driving on the interstate, at full speed, our doors had to be locked just in case a super-human reprobate tried to run up beside us, hi-jack our car, and kidnap us. (We called this inconceivable hypothetical criminal Fifty-Five Mile Per Hour Man, and much like Big Foot we never saw him, but our mother‘s belief in him was unnaturally strong.)
One weekend we took our toddler sons and infant daughter, my sister, and Mom and Dad to the lake for a family picnic. As the boys teetered out of the mini-van, one of the boys turned and stuck his hand in the doorway just as the automatic sliding passenger door began closing. The door mechanism contained a safety feature to prevent smashing little ones’ hands. But what did Mom say? No, not a gentle warning. Mom screamed, “STOP! YOU‘LL CUT YOUR ARM OFF!”
And, well…that could kill you. Or, as Dad would see it, since you would still have one good arm, suck it up, you aren’t sick and you’ll live. Who needs two arms anyway? And, eventually all bleeding stops.