In Sickness and In Health


How do you get sick? Or, more specifically, how do you know the exact moment when IT has tapped you?

With me, the merest hint of a murky twilight flashes across my mind, and that’s when I know. It could be a sunny day, a rainy day, a nothing day, but when that mental twilight hits, I know I’ve been tapped.

I worked with some school children last week in a large, enclosed room for a couple of hours. Fourth graders are tricky– they’re so full of energy that a herd of them romping and chattering in a room might be easily taken as mass happiness, but I’d be willing that more than a few of them were experiencing a fever high. During the lesson, sporadic coughs and sneezes could be heard, followed by parents, students and Heritage people looking around surreptitiously: who was that?

I placed a handkerchief mentally over my mouth, and imagined Campho-Phenique spread over my nostrils. I told myself repeatedly: you never get sick. Sickness is an illusion. You are NOT going to get sick.

That was Friday.

By Saturday morning, I could sense that mental twilight approaching, but it was so far down the road that I thought I could stave it off. I felt fine; maybe it was just a warning of what COULD happen to someone so arrogant as me– someone who never gets sick.

By Saturday evening, twilight had descended. We were on our way home from a large party in Cocoa Beach and I was in the shotgun seat not only feeling its tapping on my shoulder, but feeling the clamp of its clenched wrist. I thought back to that merry Friday full of fourth graders, and I thought back to the party, where we hugged and laughed and talked loudly in one another’s faces as we ate things that we wouldn’t normally eat during the year: chocolate things encrusted with peanuts and goo, each one a meal in itself. Some people were very sweaty at that party; for once, I was rather cool and collected. I thought I’d be suave and enter with a red cotton sweater knotted jauntily across my shoulders (very Winter Park 1986) but that lasted about a minute. The sweater stayed draped over a chair back all evening, lonely.

By the time we got home, I knew that my bedroom companions that night were going to be Mr. Phlegm, Ms. Congestion and Chief Runny Nose. But I wasn’t sick.

Sunday I canceled everything, thinking I would lay in bed all day, supine, so as to allow my head to drain itself south. I read back issues of the New York Times Book Review, clipping articles about interesting books, and ate chicken noodle soup and swallowed Sudafed and DayQuil. I never get sick, but when I do I never experience a loss of energy; maybe I’m like those feverish fourth graders. I cleaned out old eMails, attended to eBay listings for work, and continued writing a history of Tildenville for a book. I drank plenty of fluids like orange juice and water, and sweated a lot– I think I probably drowned a lot of any other microbes that were trying to get in.

Monday I was still not sick– I never get sick– and so I plowed through more Book Reviews, slept a lot, and thought about getting up to put the living room together after we set up the tree early last week. But I didn’t.       I was energetic enough to get on Facebook and become annoyed– something that always raises my blood pressure– and so I went back to bed to read some more. You can really lose yourself in the Times book reviews; they are so erudite and intelligent, and not once did I come across the words “amazing” or “awesome.” Well, “amazing” once, but I think it was used ironically.

I’m a good patient when I’m not sick. I don’t demand anything, but I am brought cups of tea, and things as I ask for them: scissors; close-up reading glasses; orange juice; Kleenex; fresh socks; that book of Eastern European maps next to the Compton Atlas– no, not this one, the older one; the mail; those Christmas cards; my checkbook; my journal– please don’t look inside it; my inhaler.

And this morning I woke up about eight thirty feeling somewhat better– for someone who never gets sick, that is. Since I’d straightened the bedclothes the night before, they were still covering me neatly– I hadn’t spent the night tossing and sweating, which is always a good thing. My reviews were stacked neatly to my right on the bedside table, and I could hear Blueie cheeping happily across the house; sunlight peeked under the bedroom door. All was silent– I don’t sleep with my devices, naturally, and so I lay there under the neat covers and basked in the early morning silence. My mind, never at rest, switched into List Making mode and began lining up the things I wanted to do today. I still wasn’t going in to work, because I am always loath to infecting anyone, but there were the things I could continue to do at the iMac: the writing and the eBay.

And then the bedroom door opened, and a specter stood framed in the daylight: hunched, bedraggled, swathed in cotton flannel pajamas, it croaked at me: “I don’t feel good.”

Sheesh. Some people!

5 responses

    • Carol is so right, Jimmy, and it’s especially true of baby germs. An infant has a tiny case of the sniffles and touches your sleeve, as the proud parents show her off. How sweet. The next thing you know, you have the Black Plague—-somehow it changes when an adult contracts whatever little Baby Alfonsina had. Germ Bombs!

      Seriously, hope you and Kirk feel better soon. Christmas is almost here….

  1. Airborne! Start taking when you know you’re going to be around elementary school age children on down. Has been VERY helpful. . .other grandparents shared the secret. Who knew?

  2. I came home with a cold from our Thanksgiving travels–I only allow the cold TWO DAYS. Mind over matter. It almost always works. Also hot and sour soup. P.S. Thank you for joining the crusade against “amazing,” which used to be a perfectly good word.

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