by Linda McIver
The year 1994 was a big one for me. I started working on a Ph.D. in computer science. I got married. My husband and I bought a house. And I came down with CFS — Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
For the next three and a half years I was frequently housebound, often even bedridden. I was always tired. Doing the smallest things, like making myself lunch, would cost me more energy than running a marathon. I constantly came down with other infections on top of the CFS. I was sick.
One of the most difficult aspects of CFS is that you mostly don’t look ill. People who see you during an “up” time, when you’re able to move around and function relatively normally, may think there’s nothing wrong with you. They have no way to know that in half an hour you’ll be bedridden feeling awful. CFS is a relatively new diagnosis, too. People don’t know much about it, some don’t believe it exists. Some people are even openly hostile if you tell them you have CFS — they tell you you’re lazy, or that it’s all in your head. There were times when I almost wished I had a “normal” or “well understood” disease — even something dreadful like cancer — because then people might be understanding.
Because I was housebound a lot of the time, I ended up very isolated. I am a people person, and being stuck at home alone all day every day was not my idea of fun. I am fortunate to have an amazingly supportive husband, but somebody had to bring home the bacon, so he wasn’t around much during the day. Enter the lemon chicken crowd.
Before I got sick it was a tradition among some of my fellow postgraduate students and staff to have lemon chicken for lunch on Wednesdays. When I became housebound, the lemon chicken crowd swung into action. Every Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. they turned up on my doorstep bearing lemon chicken. We had lunch together for an hour, then they all headed back to university. They soon knew their way around my kitchen, so whoever arrived first would make tea for us all. I never had to lift a finger.
Week in, week out, come Wednesday the lemon chicken crowd arrived. Not always the whole crowd, but always someone. It’s hard to describe the amazing difference it made to me, having that extra hour of people contact. It was a reminder of the caring friends I had around me, and of the world that still existed outside my fence. Even when I was too tired to interact much, just having my friends there helped me get through the week, and provided the support I needed to begin a long, slow convalescence.
Now, five years later, the lemon chicken lunch doesn’t happen much anymore, but I’ll never forget the love and support that came my way when I was sick.