I have never liked the word “nausea” because I can never remember how to pronounce it. When I first learned that “nauseous” could be pronounced two different ways, I assumed that all the nausea words were like that. Of course I was wrong, as I discovered in my ensuing life of mispronouncement, so when I was in my twenties, I stopped using “nausea” and all of its derivatives except “nauseated”. Nauseated I could remember. I’m very good at using “nauseated” in spoken sentences that I intentionally structure to accommodate it. “I’m feeling nauseated,” I will say, never nauseous, nor do I ever simply have nausea. I am always nauseated.
I sit in an exam room at my doctor’s office, thinking these thoughts as I wait for her to come in. I wonder if I should mention the most recent waves of ickiness that have been roiling invisibly under my rib cage, but decide that various inflammations, the exodus of my hormones, and weak blood is enough for this time. I decide not to bring up the urge to tiny-vomit in the shower before work, or the same feeling at the gym after hummus for lunch. I don’t mention feeling nauseated on an empty stomach before dinner, or waking up at night desirous of retching, but physically not being ready. I am sure that everyone must feel like I do at least some of the time.
Later at the gym, I am lifting weights when an unsettling squeamish feeling wafts through my abdomen. After sitting on the bench for awhile, I know I’m not going to puke because my mouth isn’t watering, but still the feeling grips my jaw and sends yellow signals up my throat, a warning. I leave the weight room and go to the treadmills to walk out one more calorie than yesterday, my own private challenge.
It’s Silver Sneakers Day and there are elderly people here and there. There’s an older gentleman walking on a treadmill to my left, an older gentleman on a weight machine in front of me, and another man down the right on a cycle. There are younger men and of course several women around too, but the three older men stand out because they are all regulars, and they are all so different. One always reminds me of my dad because he has two big tattoos, one on each forearm. So does my dad; he got them in the Navy sixty years ago. I remember when I was a kid, I would see sleeveless men without tattoos and think less of them—their arms weren’t finished yet.
I look up at the overhanging TVs and it’s news time. Images from the Syrian beheadings video are being broadcasted again, with newscasters talking, but the sound is muted. I see the spoken words show up on the screen all garbled; if there was ever a profession that needed me, closed-captioning is it. I try to understand what is really being said. I know that these men were mainly in Syria looking for work. In one shot from the video, they are standing in a line on the beach, some pushed halfway onto their knees. A thought crosses my mind: They don’t look too thin.
I look down the line of men, at the ones in orange jumpsuits already kneeling in the sand. I wonder what could have been going through their minds, and what would go through mine. Would the mother who lives inside me tell me I was going to be fine, that I would be free in just minutes? That I just had to hang on? Would the insides of me scream so that the mother inside would become frightened too? The lingering yellow feeling swirls in my belly and presses against my throat, causing a new wave of sweat. I give up trying to walk.
In my car on the way home, I chastise myself for wondering what the beheaded men in orange jumpsuits were being fed during their captivity. I decide to start keeping a nausea diary. I will force myself to remember how “nausea” is pronounced so I can take my diary to the doctor next time and tell her exactly what was happening before each episode hit. I can at least do that.
I want to be able to communicate intelligently about what makes me sick.