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The Worthless Worm: A Guest Post by Nora Olsen

May 3, 2012

Readers who have read my book Getting the Mercury Out are quite familiar with this week’s guest poster–Nora Olsen aka “my girlfriend.” She featured a lot in my story because mercury poisoning doesn’t effect your body and mind in a vacuum. It takes its toll on your ability to connect–your loving relationships. Nora and I had a hard time when I was sick, but we held our ground and pulled through. Here’s an insight she had recently on mercury poisoning from a partner’s perspective…

The Worthless Worm

When Aine was sick with mercury poisoning, she used to talk about what a worthless crumb she was. She said that she was useless and had nothing to contribute to our household or relationship. I didn’t really get it. I figured she was just depressed. Now I think I understand.

About two months ago, I got sick. Not epically sick with mercury poisoning or anything interesting like that, just regular sick. I had the norovirus, sometimes called “cruise ship flu” because it’s so contagious that it can spread easily in semi-closed communities like cruise ships or first-grade classrooms.

The way I caught it was doing something called a Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for the Special Olympics. It involves a few hundred people jumping into an icy cold lake. The first time I did it was last year, and it was really fun. The actual jump into the water is rather invigorating. And it’s for a really good cause.

This year there was a brutal wind at the lake. Aine was there to cheer me on (she doesn’t like the cold or jumping into water so this is not the event for her) and she said she was freezing just standing there in her coat and scarf. For some reason there was a lot of standing around outside waiting to jump into the water, whereas last year it was nicely timed so that we could wait indoors and then sprint over to the dock. I’ve never been so cold in my life. The ground was slushy so that clumps of muddy snow stuck to my socks and made my feet extra frosty. The only thing that made it slightly bearable was bagpipes howling in my ears. It really does warm the blood. Once again, the jumping in the water part was fun, but next year I’ll just send them a check.

I’m not saying it was coldness that made me sick. I have heard about this germ theory. I believe I got sick from the school bus that transported the Plungers to and from the lake. But it caught me at a vulnerable moment. That night I broke my twenty-three year “No Puking” streak. It was days before I could eat. I hadn’t been so sick since I was a tiny child.

Aine was an angel. She cleaned everything up for me, bought me all kinds of different drinks, did my laundry, and ate her meals in a faraway corner of the house where I couldn’t smell them. She washed her hands incessantly and did not get sick. Aine commented that she could tell I was seriously ill because I was being so nice. Usually when I’m sick, I’m pretty cranky. (“The light is too bright! Hurry up and turn it off!” “Stop bothering me!”) This time it was all, “Could you possibly bring me some ginger ale? Thank you so much.” I was a model patient.

The reason I was so good was because I felt like a worm. I was so worthless. Aine could do all these unimaginable things like go from one place to another or sit up for a long time. I had nothing to contribute. Except vomit. It was horrifying to me that she had to do stuff for me. I felt like a monstrous burden. I never realized how much being “well” is ingrained into my sense of self-worth. Strangely, Aine didn’t think it was that big a deal to go buy me some Gatorade. The worthlessness can only be perceived by the sick person.

Being sick strips away the feeling of humanity. In his blog Rolling Around in My Head, Dave Hingsburger has talked about how having a cold is so much more disruptive and life-destroying than having a disability, something that doesn’t bother him at all. Yet he’s constantly hearing people say dumb stuff like, “I’d rather be dead than use a wheelchair.” Nobody says “I’d rather be dead than have a cold.” That’s because a cold or norovirus doesn’t last that long. But mercury poisoning lasts for years. Being sick for a week gave me a tiny window into how Aine might have felt.

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