One day, you tell some of your friends in a gleeful tone, “I have five whole days off from work at my part-time job.” Excited about the prospects of five whole days, uninterrupted, to prepare for your upcoming recording studio time, polish off some writing you’re close to done with, get some training sessions for your next upcoming kettlebell competition under your belt, catch up on the articles you need to turn in for the newspaper on deadline, you tick off the days on your calendar.
Oh how much you will be able to get done, you think. Those queries you’ve been developing can be finished, your short story polished up, a poem sent out, your songs perfected for the studio. You’ll be able to jam with your friend, do all your kettlebell training down to the general programming exercises and the ten-minute sprint/run at the end of each workout. This time is much needed.
One night, after a particularly busy day, you notice a faint tingle in your throat, but you ignore it. Headed to the kitchen, you bypass the Vitamin C and the ginger. It will pass, you determine as you crawl into bed.
But when you wake up, it’s bigger, the ache in your throat. You guzzle home-brewed ginger tea with lemon by the jugful, grab some broth at a Vietnamese restaurant (running serendipitously into your friends at the same time, one of whom is also fighting off a sore throat) and try to take it easy.
As the day progresses, your thoughts are more and more vague, and you are prone to spacing out while people are talking to you. It’s almost…painful to think. You call to tell your manager at the part-time job that you will not be in tomorrow, due to a cold, “or something,” you explain, that has rendered you incompetent thus far into your own personal day at home, a day which, normally, you would spend catching up on everything from freelance project hunting to grocery shopping.
You figure you’ll be fine, that if you force yourself to spend the day in bed, whatever “this thing” is will run its course. The next day, you wake up feeling horrid, hack up green crud, have to go to the doctors to get checked out. Your husband schleps you around and you collapse in bed, being told you “probably have a cold,” by the county doctor, since you don’t have a fever and it’s only day two.
“Come back if it’s still here in a week,” says the doctor. She gives you what she calls a handy sheet telling you all the useless over-the-counter drugs you can buy for each symptom as if you’ve never heard of a Walgreen’s before and you leave mumbling about wastes of time.
The next day, you have to call in again, using up the last of your minimal sick time. You try to catch up on some writing, but find yourself unable to think clearly, your head throbbing, creeping malaise replacing the goodwill and excitement of the earlier week.
It’s as if overnight you’ve been replaced by a cantankerous ghost who roams around the apartment with no direction, no meaning and no purpose. You spend the day in bed, with aching skin, your heart rate pounding with some unshaped doom lurking in the horizon, all endorphins, dopamine and positivity wiped out of your brain, probably fleeing in search of sunnier hosts. You blend the crap out of every green thing you find in the fridge in hopes of healing your body, to no avail.
Day 4 of the illness, whatever it is, and day 1 of your anticipated 5-day stretch of You Time proves a little better. You still feel horrible, but since you cobbled together the last of the food in the house to try to trick your body into righting itself, you need provisions.
You dash from store to store, stocking up, happy to simply be able to do these simple errands you could not do for the past three days, three days in which you realized just how flimsy the walls of your apartment were as the neighbor’s baby screamed and pounded the wall connected to your bedroom day and night while its parents yelled at it, the old man downstairs on the oxygen tank rattled, hacked and rasped outside the living room window and another tenant’s daily ride to the local bar pulled into the driveway of the apartment complex twice a day, honking loudly right below your window each time, scaring the bejesus out of you.
When you get home, you can’t do a thing except lay in bed and re-read a book you’ve read before. Since you know what will happen, it’s easier to concentrate, you don’t have to think. You manage to go out to dinner with your husband and friends, clutching a snot-soaked Viva paper towel (they really are super absorbent) to your nose the entire time, trying not to say horrible nasty things every two minutes simply because all happiness and energy has been siphoned out of your bone marrow and all that’s left is a bitter, empty phantom of a person filled with rage and meanness toward all humanity because it takes so much effort to simply exist.
The next day, for your attempt to redeem normality for yourself, you pay dearly, spending the entire duration in bed with a cough rattling your chest, a headache, sore from head to toe, like your very nerves are bruised. You’ve lost 5 days of your life to this “cold.” All of the tasks that you did need to do have been pushed back and pushed back, now they fill the rest of your week, the pressure to get better now hanging over your head. You must get well so that you can be PRODUCTIVE, damn it, so that you can MAKE MONEY and GET AHEAD and not be lost in the shuffle, just some person who ate and slept and dreamt, gotta leave your mark.
But you can’t even sing, your voice is gone. You can’t sit up long enough to play guitar. This is not a vacation. It’s a nightmare.
As the minutes tick by, you let go of the idea of “five days of me-cation!” and instead surrender to the reality that the universe has sucked this simple joy out of you and given you the stress of a compressed week filled with necessary activities you suddenly are unable to do.
No, not I.
Something about being sick reminds me of dark times, whether when I was young and into stuff or when I lived in the mold house and was sick every other week with one thing after another.
It strikes my very soul with ennui, fills me with dread. If I can’t produce, what am I? If I cannot create, am just passive–my husband walking the dog and making me dinner in between his garishly overbooked schedule–what worth am I to the world?
Who will notice me? What will have been my point?
And since the world goes on with people moving, buying, creating, purchasing–not, for the love of all that is holy, merely sitting still–there pervades this deep fear that it will all just go on without me. And it does. If you can’t join the constant production stream, you are quickly and easily forgotten.
And…if it can all be wiped out by a virus–your brain, your desire, your happiness–well, that’s just a terrifying thought.
Sometimes, when I’m forced to face my mortality, like I do when I’m sick or otherwise woefully detained, I wonder if we are all connected, if even when completely, seemingly alone, we have some thread winding us together, and if this thread has meaning or if it is just complete random chaos.
Everything then unravels in a series of what-if’s and the world is stripped away as I ponder my worth in a society where my only worth, it seems, is my ability to produce babies, ideas, labor or money. If none of these things, worth equals nothing. Endless zero. And not in the Buddhist enlightenment way.
Boggles the mind. Makes the old head turn sideways.
And in spite of being still sick with god knows what, I am also in awe at all of the things I am normally able to do on a weekly basis: work part-time at a library, come up with freelance ideas to pitch and finish articles on deadline, write for my own personal projects daily, work on music almost daily, grocery shop, cook meals, walk the dog multiple times a day, wash laundry, clean the house, go to appointments, go out to eat, walk to the market and back, update the blog every night, interview people for the local paper every week…
Boggles the mind when I can barely do one of those thing (update the blog) without having a meltdown, because of this pesky, lingering thing called a “cold” that will not vacate the premises no matter how much hippy BS I throw it at, from greens to herbs to rest. Like all entropy, it has to run its inevitable course.