April 11, 2015 / 2010 / March / The Face of Illness

The Face of Illness

submitted March 02, 2010 by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1>The Face of Illness</h1>

I love Roger Ebert. He has had a profound influence on the way I consume and interact with media. He is almost solely responsible for my love of film, introducing me to the great films and directors of all time through both his written reviews and his television work. He not only created an awareness about these great movies, but taught me why they are important and how to watch them. As he's often said, "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it."

Visible Illness

In our previous blog post, John Miers talked about the difference between visible and invisible disabilities. Roger Ebert refuses to spend his final days hiding from the world, ashamed that he no longer looks as 'normal' as he once did: "When I turned to it in the magazine, I got a jolt from the full-page photograph of my jaw drooping. Not a lovely sight. But then I am not a lovely sight, and in a moment I thought, well, what the hell. It's just as well it's out there. That's how I look, after all." 

It is rare to find such honesty and acceptance from anyone in today's world, let alone a celebrity. Visible illness or disability is often hidden in our society. What will people think? Will we make others uncomfortable? Will we be uncomfortable? Ebert has considered these questions and decided it doesn't matter. He still has his life and he's going to live it.

Nil By Mouth

For nights I would wake up already focused on that small but heavy glass mug with the ice sliding from it, and the first sip of root beer. I took that sip over and over. The ice slid down across my fingers again and again. But never again.

If you're not reading Roger Ebert's Journal, I cannot recommend it highly enough. He is thoughtful, insightful, and witty on a wide variety of topics, many of which have nothing to do with the world of film. His essays arguing for health care reform here, here, and here are some of the most cogent arguments I have read about the moral imperative to take care of each other. His recent reflection entitled 'Nil By Mouth' on the consequences of no longer being able to eat, drink, or talk is heartbreaking and inspiring. I can't remember anything I've read recently that's affected me more.

Ebert on Oprah

Today, Ebert will appear on Oprah to discuss his Oscar picks. He will use a computer-generated voice. There will be nowhere to hide and everyone will see the toll his recent illness has taken on his body. His appearance will be jarring to many and some may even privately think he shouldn't be out there like that (though they wouldn't dare say this aloud). Ebert, for his part, will enjoy the visit with his old friend immensely.

Matthew Ellis serves as executive director of National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM).