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The maligning of the 'malingerer'.

As a rule of thumb, when asked the question 'how are you?' one is expected to respond with a 'fine, thank you', bouncing the question right back to the inquirer. What one is not expected to do is catalogue one's illnesses and proceed to describe each at length. However, there are some among us who take the latter approach. These are the ones we usually avoid like the plague.

But a change of season sees even the hardiest succumbing to maladies such as the flu and fever or a general lack of well being. That's when it becomes a free-for-all, with everyone contributing their two bits' worth to the discussion on health. Let a normally hale and hearty individual walk in looking under the weather and the invariable questions follow. As the person walks down the length of the office, he is greeted with cries of "hey, what's wrong," or "are you all right?"

Unnecessary questions considering the fact that he looks like death warmed over.

He manages a feeble nod of the head as he waits to collapse in his seat, hoping against hope that he will be left alone for a while. But, alas, his visions of peace and quiet are shattered as, one by one, the inquirers come up to him, demanding a dissection of the symptoms, followed by suggestions for the speediest cure.

But what is perhaps the most common is the solidarity of experience. All the sympathisers will tell him they too have suffered the same and then go on to explain in minute detail how they managed to overcome their affliction. Just in case he harbours the illusion that his is the worst case scenario, they will come up with sordid stories of their illnesses. After listening to their graphic descriptions he will be made to feel he is a mere pretender to the throne, a malingerer who has made a mountain of a molehill.

As the knot of people warm up to the conversation, each tries to outdo the other, making their account of suffering seem so horrendous that his own seems to pale in comparison. And, as their descriptions become more and more colourful, he is left with the not altogether unjustified impression that his all too obvious illness has been forgotten by those very people who had come to him seemingly to offer sympathy. This is the moment when he feels like screaming that just in case they have forgotten, HE is the one who is unwell and that this should be about him, not them.


This upmanship exists through the different stages of one's life. I remember the rare occasions when one was unwell as a child and, feeling a fever coming on, asking a sibling to touch one's forehead to ascertain the onset of a high temperature. Somehow this request was taken as a challenge.

A cold, clammy hand would shoot out, press itself against said forehead and then a prognosis would be made. The person making the humble request would be told he or she was making a fuss over nothing and, in fact, his (the owner of the hand) forehead was much hotter. This declaration was followed by a touching of that forehead and a hasty withdrawal of the hand as if he had touched a boiling pot.

Believe me, this wasn't an attempt at sick humour but a genuine belief that one shouldn't indulge malingerers. For who knows what they might imagine they had next!

So, the sufferer gave up any pretence of seeking sympathy where there was none. Instead, one went to the matriarch of the household and complained about not feeling well. The most convincing proof was expressing a loss of appetite. This was the ultimate test. If one appeared listless and said the dreaded words "I'm not hungry" then it was a serious matter. Of course, there were cries from some unfeeling siblings of "I bag his share of (whatever delicacy the next meal had in store for them)".

And if even this failed to rouse any signs of combative response, one's assertion of illness was taken seriously at last.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 12, 2008
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