"Our greatest illusion..."
Reality Check and Cramps
“Our greatest illusion is to believe that
we are what we think ourselves to be.”
There was a time, admittedly long ago, when my wife and I made a handsome couple. She’s taller than average, and funny, and she has a contagious laugh. I remember one time when she joined a coed volleyball game at one of the hospital medical staff picnics. A couple of my friends who did not know who she was kept looking at her with some longing. I was not offended: I found this flattering and far from threatening.
Many years ago we went out to eat with some friends. Nice restaurant; good service; inventive food. Vibes of friendship abounded. Shortly after the main course was served my wife began to experience a leg cramp. We’re very familiar with these. Usually they happen in the middle of the night, or shortly before bedtime. They begin in one or the other calf; they gradually intensify until they become unbearably painful. After years of marriage I had learned not to be startled if she woke up, and woke me up, screaming.
I’m the doctor. The treatment of choice is gentle stretching of the affected muscle, which often is hard to do because to the person who’s in pain it feels as if the stretch will make things worse. I got used to trying to reassure her at the same time that I knelt on the bed and tried to grab the ankle on the affected side so that I could pull her toes in the direction of her mouth. When the cramps happened on both sides we were in deep do-do. Then we somehow had to get her up on her feet while she was screaming in pain. It would be funny if it didn’t hurt so much.
So now we had to find a way to stretch the ankle without drawing any attention to us (she hates it when she feels that everyone’s looking at her). She slowly extended her knee under the table. Once this was accomplished she tried very hard to point her toes in the direction of her mouth.
As Fate would have it my friend was seated diagonally from her, and there was no other direction that she could have stretched her leg in. When she bent her ankle she rubbed the side of her foot against his foot. At first he was surprised, but within a second, when he realized that this was her foot against his, he grinned. The silliest, most self-congratulatory smile that I have ever seen.
I didn’t know who to feel sorry for the most. My wife in pain or my deluded friend who thought that his good looks had seduced her. I decided that this was a moment of great happiness for him, and that I was not about to deprive him of his illusion. I whispered to my wife to try to further extend her ankle. This of course provoked more rubbing against his foot. I could almost see tears of gratitude in his face. He looked like one of those little angels that one sees bordering many Renaissance paintings.
My wife turned to me.
“This isn’t working. I have to stand up.”
Shame on me, asking my wife if the pain was really that bad. But that’s how heavenly his smile was. I quickly realized that yes, she was sure. I stood up.
We need to go to the bathroom, I said.
I helped her up. When we reached the restaurant’s reception area she almost collapsed.
“I can’t walk anymore.”
There was a small couch, almost like a bay window, right next to the front door. I steered her there; fortunately no one was waiting for their table and the sofa was empty. I had her lie down, then I reached for her ankle. The receptionist, a very elegant, sophisticated woman who wore a long dress and spoke with a foreign accent quickly came to join us.
“What is the problem?”
She has a cramp. I need to stretch her leg.
The receptionist has a problem. This is a fancy place; people are likely to come in any minute; they want to have a perfect evening. They don’t want to see a sick woman as soon as they come in. A woman who, for all they know, has been made ill by the food that they are about to pay handsomely to eat.
“Has she had a lot to drink?”
Now I’m married to a drunk. I bristle at the suggestion.
Of course not. She’s having a cramp; that’s all.
“I will call an ambulance.”
Anything to get us out of her reception area.
You will do no such thing. I’m a doctor. I know what to do. She has a cramp. I’m sorry to inconvenience you, but believe me, she will get better soon.
“I can’t have her stay in the sofa for long.”
Agreed. Give me five minutes.
All this time I’m putting upward pressure on her ankle. The cramp began to subside. Good thing, because she’s mortified no end by this brush with negative celebrity.
Within three minutes she was able to stand. We joined our friends at the table. I still don’t know if he found out what was really going on. I’ve never seen him as happy as he was that night.
For cramp sufferers: stretch your ankles as described before bedtime every day. Hold the stretch as you count to 20. Three times. Take four ounces of tonic water mixed with a teaspoon of yellow mustard and a teaspoon of sour pickle juice, by mouth, an hour before bedtime. This regimen works most of the time.
Lastly: it’s OK to have illusions. Never be in any hurry to dispense with them.