The doctor recorded Francis’ vitals. He told her she wasn’t well.
“I know it,” Francis wheezed.. “My blood and bones and organs are no good.”
“Those things are fine,” the doctor affirmed. “It’s your mind that’s unwell.”
“But I like being unwell,” Francis admitted. “I like how, when I’m sick, people come to visit. Otherwise, when I’m well, nobody ever comes around.”
“Of course they come around, because they feel sorry for you being sick,” the doctor said. “But you’re squandering your life, believing and pretending to be too ill to truly live.”
Francis forced her eyelids to flutter, as if struggling to remain alive.
The doctor added, “And how can you not understand that relishing a sickness is the paradigm for being unwell?”
“But they bring me things. They bring me fruits and candies and flowers and other nice little gifts. They even listen to me when I speak, unlike when I’m well. Can’t you understand, my life is never as lovely as when I’m sick.”
“What about when you’re well?” the doctor asked. “Do you ever go to visit anybody when you’re feeling well? Do you ever go to see anybody when you’re heathy and well?”
“No,” Francis said. “I’m afraid I’m hardly ever well enough for that. As we both know, I’ve been afflicted with terrible blood and bones and organs.”
“So that’s what you like about being sick, people coming to visit?”
“Yes,” Francis said with a grin. “I like the attention. I like them coming around and giving me things, like when I was a little girl. My being sick seems to bring out the best in people, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps in them, but not in you.”
Francis’ eyes opened wide and remained so.
“But, if my sickness brings out the best in others, then all my illness are a good thing for the people giving me their attention, since their giving to the ill is such a kind and humane gesture.”
“What else do you like besides the attention from being being sick?”
“Do you mean what else do I like about being sick?”
“No,” the doctor said. “What else besides being sick do you like?”
“Oh, many things,” Francis said. “I like the radio and my garden, but they never return as much attention as I give them. And I like my birds, but they never bring me nice gifts like flowers or earrings.”
“So there’s not much of an incentive to ever get well.”
“Hush,” Francis said. “Let’s keep that a secret between you and me and the birds. Now, aren’t there some more pills you can give me to make me feel better about being so unwell?”
“You know, some people may believe you’re not trying to get well. They wish – even pray – for you to get well, but they wish it more than you seem to want it. And knowing how little you really want to get well, they will eventually stop caring about you and your health, just as you have.”
“I know,” Francis said.
“So why don’t you try to get well?”
Francis smiled. For the first time in the visit, she looked healthy and happy.
“Silly doctor,” she said. “Because I can always get sicker.”