I’m convalescing these days. Convalescence is a great word, although we hardly use it anymore. It conjures up images of sickly people bundled up in thick blankets and wheeled outside for a bit of sun. Or rich sickly people doing the same thing on deck chairs of a cruise ship circa 1923. To my stressed-out co-workers it means I’m taking the winter off. To John it means I’m his invalid wife, with the emphasis on the second syllable. In – val – id.
Convalescence is a great concept and it’s something we need in a world that tells us to go full speed ahead until we crash, and then pick ourselves up and get on with it. In our society, if you are not in critical condition, you are expected to be high functioning. There’s nothing in the middle. You can’t just do nothing. There’s got to be a pill or something to keep you efficient.
The problem with convalescing is that convalescents don’t look sick. They look like they’re lying around doing nothing. Taking naps and reading books, what a life. It’s surprisingly hard to properly convalesce in a “do it all now” world.
Ah, but convalescing isn’t about doing nothing. To my doctor, it means regaining my strength. The body is working incredibly hard on the inside to recover from an ordeal. That’s why the doctor can say, “Don’t even think about going back to work before six weeks.” I love doctor’s orders. Someone else is the boss telling me to stop.
The end of February is a lot like the end of a convalescence. Spring is tantalizingly close. Yet everything still looks so brown. The woods are full of brown sticks–big tree trunks, tiny sapling twigs, and creeping vines. Everything is brown, but there is so much going on that we don’t see.
Using both a cane and a walking stick, I hobble behind John down to the beehives. The two hives are active (hooray!) and bees are returning to the hives with pollen. Pollen? In February? Everything looks dormant to us, but the bees know that the red maples are starting to bud. A closer look reveals the beginnings of buds on the hydrangeas and the lilacs, too. It will be months before they flower, but they are beginning to wake up now.
In the front of the house, daffodils are peeking up. How many people have moaned about the early appearance of the daffodils? Don’t the daffodils know that it is not yet time? Don’t they know that showing up early means they will get zapped by a hard cold snow and be pathetic little nothings when spring arrives? The daffodils remind me to properly convalesce, to take it slow and emerge strong.
For the many of you out there who are francophile word nerds, the word convalescence comes to us (mais oui!) via late 15th century French, which morphed it from Latin.
- con–from the intensive Latin prefix cum meaning “with, together, thoroughly”
- valescere– (to begin to grow strong) from valere (to be strong) which is related to valiant and valor
So what I’m doing by convalescing is becoming thoroughly strong. And maybe courageous,too, because heading back to school is going to be scary and my Joint Journey Handbook says my strength should be at 80% by twelve weeks out. What? Eighty percent? For a high-achieving, A-student type person, 80% does not mean “thoroughly strong.” It means I will still be convalescing, even while I return to work. However, it does justify the handicap parking tag I applied for. Dang, this is going to take awhile.
Now, as for being invalid…
Both invalid and invalid have the same Latin roots. And both the noun invalid (meaning “a sick person) and the adjective invalid (meaning “of no legal force”) came sneaking into English by way of French. And quel surprise! The noun originally referred to the old and disabled soldiers at the Hôtel des Invalides, the military hospital in Paris where Napoleon’s body now rests (but is not convalescing). I assume that the soldiers all had valid disabilities, otherwise they would be invalid invalids.
John knows that I am neither a sickly person nor his not valid wife. He’s just trying to help my convalescence along by getting a strong reaction out of me. I’m thinking a sunny chair on a cruise ship might work better.