Invalids and Nurses

— James Abbott McNeill Whistler

My troublesome, months-long recovery from a broken ankle would be much more vexing were it not for my wife’s ministrations. If I’m able to paint and write while being laid up, it’s all her doing.

I’m an invalid.

The Cobbler. James Whistler. 1855.

That means I’m deadweight. Useless, demanding, disheveled, lethargic, timorous, sullen, burdensome and routinely irritable.

In short, a charmer.

While I loll on the sofa most of the day, my wife cooks and cleans and counts out my pills.

When I set up in my studio to work, she fetches the canvases, paints, brushes, knives, solvents and paper towels; adjusts all the furniture and electronics; brings me my coffee; and later helps with the cleanup.

The British painter Walter Sickert once described his teacher James Whistler as a nurse—a description a  careless writer transmogrified into an apocryphal Whistler saying.

As Sickert described him, Whistler was “a beacon of light and happiness to everyone who was privileged to come within its comforting and brightening rays.

“If, as it seems to me, humanity is composed but of two categories, the invalids and the nurses, Whistler was certainly one of the nurses.”

Nurses certainly are a godsend, as we invalids know.

Without their careful attentions, we’d be sunk.

Above: The Artist and His Model. Alfred Stevens. 1885.