2006 © Bostan Alexander
The healthy have never had patience with the sick, nor, of course, have the sick ever had patience with the healthy. This fact must not be forgotten. For naturally the sick make far greater demands than the healthy, who, being healthy, have no need to make such demands. The sick do not understand the healthy and the healthy do not understand the sick. This conflict often proves fatal, because ultimately the sick cannot cope with it, and the healthy naturally cannot cope with it either, with the result that they often become sick themselves. It is not easy to deal with a sick person who suddenly returns to the place from which he was wrenched by sickness, and the healthy usually lack the will to help him: they constantly play at being good Samaritans, without actually being good Samaritans or wanting to be, and because it is only a feint, it merely harms the sick person and does not benefit him. In reality, a sick person is always alone, and whatever help he gets from outside nearly always proves merely vexatious. A sick person needs the most unobtrusive help, the kind of help the healthy cannot give. Through their essentially selfish pretense of helping him they succeed only in harming him and making everything harder for him, not easier. Most of the time the sick are not helped, but merely vexed, by their helpers. When a sick person returns home, however, he cannot afford any vexation. Should he point out that he is being vexed rather than helped, he will at once be rebuffed by those who are ostensibly helping him; he will be accused of arrogance and boundless selfishness when in fact he is only resorting to the ultimate self-defense. When a sick person returns hom, the healthy world receives him with ostensible kindness, ostensible helpfulness, ostensible self-sacrifice, but its kindness, helpfulness, and self-sacrifice, when put to the text, turn out to be a sham, and one does well to forgo them. (…)
The hypocrisy practiced by the healthy toward the sick is extremely common. Basically the healthy want no more to do with the sick, and they are put out if a sick person – one who is gravely sick – suddenly reasserts his claim to health. The healthy always make it particularly difficult for the sick to regain their health, or at least to normalize themselves, to improve their state of health. A healthy person, if he is honest, wants nothing to do with the sick; he does not wish to be reminded of sickness and thereby, inevitably, of death. He wants to stay with his own kind and is basically intolerant of the sick. It has always been made difficult for me to return from the world of the sick to the world of the healthy. While a person is sick, the healthy shun him and cast him off, in obedience to their instinct for self-preservation. Then suddenly this person who has been shed and has meanwhile ceased to matter reappers and claims his rights. Naturally he is at once given to understand that basically he has no rights. As the healthy see it, the sick have forfeited whatever rights they once had. Their sickness has robbed them of their rights and thrown them upon the charity of the healthy. When a sick person, having ceded the place that he once occupied by right, suddenly demands its restitutions, the healthy regard this as an act of monstrous presumption. (…) A gravely sick person who returns home must be treated with gentleness and consideration. But this is difficult, and therefore rare. The healthy immediately make him feel he is an outsider and no longer one of them, and while pretending that this is not so, they do all in their power to repulse him.
— Thomas Bernhard, Wittgenstein’s Nephew