“There, there!”

The flight to Las Vegas, where I live, from California, where I’d been visiting my kids, sounded like tuberculosis ward.
Seriously? Who goes to Sin City when they’re sick? Don’t they know you’re supposed to wait until it’s time to go home, after you’ve partied for days, lost a month’s wages, gotten a tattoo you can’t explain, and suddenly remembered you have to go to work on Monday?
That’s when you get sick _ not on your way there. Apparently somebody failed to post that travel advisory for the folks on this flight, especially a woman seated next to me, who sneezed, hacked and coughed for the entire 70-minute ride.
I almost felt sorry for her. Almost as sorry as I felt for me.
Have you ever tried to hold your breath for 70 minutes, while saying “Bless you!” 70 times, because you were raised to believe it’s better to get sick than, God forbid, be rude?
Have you ever tried for 70 minutes not to touch your face (a doctor once told me that’s the best way to avoid getting sick) only to find that every time you think, “Don’t touch your face!” you’re already touching it?
Have you ever wished, instead of flying 70 minutes, you had hitchhiked for 10 hours in the back of a pickup with a meth addict and a pack of rabid dogs?
That may be a bit overstated. Forgive me. I have a fever.
When we finally landed, I was surprised to be directed as usual to baggage claim. I’d expected to be herded into a Red Cross tent (equipped with slot machines and nurses in fishnet stockings) to be quarantined until we either went broke or died.
No such luck.
“Welcome to Vegas!” chirped the flight attendant. And with that we were free to go forth and multiply a host of rhinoviruses that would spread across the valley like a plague of locusts _ including a strain that would hit me harder than Muhammad Ali knocking out Don Knotts.
The next morning, when my husband brought me coffee (he does this sometimes even if I’m not sick and he has no major reason to atone) I looked up at him with red-rimmed eyes.
“Well,” I said, “I’m sick.”
This was his cue. When somebody you love tells you she’s sick, you’re supposed to say “There, there.”
You don’t have to say it with words, but try to say it with your actions. Be prepared to supply any and all goods or services needed or desired: Aspirin, cold cloths, chicken soup, hot tea, back rubs, household chores, shopping, gardening, whatever.
Above all _ and I cannot stress this enough _ maintain a proper attitude of sympathy and concern. Sympathy and concern are not easily maintained, especially in prolonged illnesses lasting more than, say, 20 minutes. But they are critical to “there, there” success.
My husband knows this. Lord knows, I’ve tried to teach him.
To his credit, he tried. Until he left for work. And I was left all alone with a cough that sounded like the bark of a Chihuahua at a fireworks extravaganza.
So I called up my sister in South Carolina. She knows how to say “there, there.” We learned it from our mother, who did not do everything well, but could say “there, there” like nobody’s business. She said it for us. Now we say it for each other.
“Take care of yourself, honey,” said my sister. “I’m sorry I can’t be there to look after you.”
I told her not to worry, my husband would be home soon.
Imagine my relief when he came shuffling through the door, my knight in shining khakis, bearing two bags of Chinese take-out.
“Am I glad to see you!” I said.
Then he looked at me. His eyes were red as Satan’s toenails.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m sick.”


  1. Denise Griffin says

    Dear Sharon: I just wanted to tell you how much I miss your column in our local newspaper (Dalton Daily Citizen, Dalton, Georgia). Someone wrote to say the same in the paper and the editor said they did not subscribe to some service that gives your column. How wonderful it is to find your website!!! Your column was always the highlight of my reading the paper. And I do hope you get well soon!!

  2. Mary Ellen says

    Dear Sharon,
    Your article comes out in our paper on Tuesday so that is my reason for joy on Tuesday. Last week I read about your son-in-law taking care of Baby Henry. It reminded me so much of my brother caring for his son. Matt was like Henry, would not take the bottle. Now Matt is twenty -one and he and his dad are still best friends.
    I wish you would write another book. I loved your book so much.
    Love Mary Ellen

  3. Davey Myers says

    Hi Sharon,

    I know a good nurse who is very good at “there, there” and she makes chicken soup. Come on over. Get well quick!
    Love, Davey

  4. Sterling Johnson says

    My sympathies are with you. I was recently savaged by a cold that lasted from the day before Christmas until the middle of January. The only upside to it was I coughed up a harmonica that I’d swallowed in 1966 during a “Look Like Bobby Dylan While Sky-Diving” contest.

    As I mentioned earlier, heal!

    • Sharon Randall says

      Thank you, dear Sterling. Glad you are on the mend and found your harmonica. Lovely as always to hear from you.

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