How are you - today ?

I regret that it is necessary to inform the reader of the existence of my disease. Actually not a serious disease, it should just be cured and then forgotten. However, the doctor said that it was important not to remember anything about this disease since that was the precondition for complete healing. If not, it could proceed into a chronic stage with serious sequels, and then there was nothing that the medical profession could offer against it. Which disease? Are you also beginning? This is none of your business! What I shall describe is the reaction of my surroundings while more than enough has been said about the disease in itself.

"He should take care of himself for a couple of weeks," the doctor said, and then I was reported ill. This made all friends, neighbours and the colleagues at the job aware that something was wrong. So what to do when an acquaintance, perhaps even a friend, gets ill? You ask how this person is doing; and when you have asked a couple of times, the question wins in specificity, e.g.: "How are you - today?" This is what must be expected, it would not look good if a lack of interest was felt, at least that is how the others feel about it.

In the beginning, this was probably also more reasonable: "You are really not looking good now" (the questioning person confirms that it is justified to stay away from the job today). To this remark I tried to modify the pessimism expressed with the doctors' bulletins expecting rapid improvement. But after the first polite answers to the standardized question, I found myself trying to produce creative variations in my response, e.g.: "The doctor only gave me a few weeks to live, so would you please return the book you borrowed last year?" I did not get the book back and the questioner had now become really curious.

I approached the end of my sick leave, but the persistant reminders about the disease, provoked by the never-ending questions, caused my condition to deteriorate. Therefore, I started to act as if the matter were trivial, hoping that it would now soon be forgotten with my subsequent cure: "Why shouldn't I be OK today?" or "Which disease?" Hence, the observer felt obliged to remind me that he or she was in possession of reliable information about the existence of my disease and that it was commonly known that I had been away from the job for a longer period of time. The only way I could avoid this interest consisted in my isolation from neighbours and friends. Through this method I did recover and could resume my work as planned.

Unfortunately, this also brought an end to the isolation. "I dare say, are you still alive?" said one in a feignned humorous mood. "Wasn't it a bit early to return, you are not looking quite well," meant the other. To this were added dozens of the traditional question: "How are you - today?" That caused an inevitable relapse of the disease and again, I was away from the job which, in turn, prompted new interest. I heard the postman ask my wife: "Is your husband's condition better today?"

Worse, they had begun discussing who should succeed me at the job. The position had not been announced vacant yet, after all, I was only ill, but quite a number of candidates had announced their interest and their addresses had been recorded by my boss - just in case ...

However, the defeat which caused me to abolish any further resistance in this battle was suffered at home: suddenly a couple wanted to see the house because they had heard it would soon be for sale.

I am now on the way back to my native city, together with my family. By this action, I reject the service offered by the local undertaker: it is cheaper to transport a living being than a dead one. The ill-famed question, which resulted in the adverse course of my disease, is not posed any more. Everybody can see that I am feeling so bad that it is even naughty to ask. I am on my way back home to die.

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