I am a normally healthy person by nature. I eat right, run regularly and visit the my local health club often enough to use the equipment without risking personal injury or the likelihood of progeny. All these factors combine to give me a confidence and clarity in my daily life that certain of my less motivated friends have identified as an air of annoying smugness. Sure, I indulge in the occasional cronut and a few times a month I spend enough time and money in my local pub to talk to myself in the men’s room mirror, but we all have our minor faults. Some people can’t sing, I can occasionally be ego-centric and hypocritical. No one’s perfect. In any case I have come to take for granted my daily sense of physical well-being and, like most healthy people, assume that if someone else doesn’t feel well it’s their own fault.
Then, as so often happens, reality tipped her little finger ever so gently onto the scale.
The first symptoms appeared after I had completed a twelve mile training run. That evening I had felt great, vibrant, almost preternaturally alert. This was, I assumed, no doubt due to the endorphins that were coursing through my body. In retrospect it was more likely a delirium caused by a low grade fever. By the the next morning I felt the expected aches and pains that accompany a long run, but started to worry when, by late afternoon, I didn’t feel any better. By evening I still felt sluggish and my worst fears were confirmed when I began to notice an undeniable Fuddiness to my voice. Being the holistic, new millennium, type guy that I am I decided that some herb tea and a good night’s sleep were all that was needed to defeat some contemptible germ. It was probably just some 18 hour virus that I would, of course, recover from in half that time due to my robust good health, careful diet and condescending attitude. Alas, such was not to be the case.
When I awoke the following morning it was to the sound of my own rasping breath. My throat hurt and my nasal passages felt as though they had been paved over. I felt horrible. My body ached everywhere and it was painful just to lift my head. I bravely climbed down from my loft bed, immediately collapsing into a chair from the effort. Some time later I summoned the strength to totter into the bathroom and look at myself. It wasn’t pretty. My eyes were red, black-rimmed and watery and stared out of a puffy, distorted face. I felt disoriented, debilitated, flushed, drained and dizzy. (If you just added cramps and dementia it would not be dissimilar to how most women say they feel one week out of every four.) I immediately brewed some more herbal tea, took several times my body weight in vitamin C and went back to bed.
I awoke sometime after midnight and after urinating a rather alarming shade of green decided that I felt a little less dizzy, although my lungs were beginning to feel like they were slowly filling with oatmeal. After yet another cup of herbal tea I realized I should eat something. I decided that my best bet would be carbohydrate rich pasta, besides I could hang my head over the water and inhale the steam as it boiled. For sauce I used my emergency jar of Ragu, to which I added, using the same careful measurements I had employed with the vitamin C, about 20 cloves of fresh garlic. It should be obvious by now that I am a disciple of the Vaguely Remembered Huffington Post Article school of holistic medicine. After finishing my meal I didn’t feel any better, but felt I should at least be safe from vampire attack until well after summer. Running a hot tub, to which I added my last few bags of herbal tea (and a few more cloves of garlic for good measure) I soaked myself in the steamy water until my bathroom smelled something like what I imagine the kitchen at Becco does. Resisting a perverse urge to sprinkle myself with Parmesan I once more returned to my loft, where, after five or six minutes of deep meditation, it became clear that what I really needed to do was utilize creative visualization to ensure a full and speedy recovery. As far as I could remember all I had to do was imagine my natural immune system as an army destroying the invading germs and I would be healed. The best I could do, however, was to picture a tiny man with a zamboni machine vainly attempting to clean out my sinuses. As I drifted off to sleep I didn’t feel much better but I could faintly hear the distant but stirring strains of “Oh Canada”
By next afternoon I felt just as bad, though I now had the periodic expectoration of masses of greenish mucous to amuse myself with. About that time my mother called. Hearing my voice she asked if I had a cold. Summoning up all the good humor I usually manage to muster in times of stress I said no I had decided to stuff kleenex up my nose and wear a bucket over my head all day. She ignored my petulant tone and offered the same sound advice that she has for years: gargle with salt and water, take aspirin, drink a lot of fluids. Advice I have, of course, faithfully refused to follow for years. Before hanging up she reminded me that I had promised to visit that weekend.
Becoming somewhat desperate I dragged myself down to the local drugstore and loaded up on sprays, rubs, decongestants and antihistamines. Yes I am fully aware that most of these products have no real value besides making one somewhat light-headed, not to mention light-walleted, but I had reached “the kill it or cure it” stage of self ministration. On the way home I picked up a quart of Jaegermeister for good measure.
Settling in for the evening I had a light supper, the handful of over the counter drugs I had taken having made me somewhat queasy, and decided this would be a good opportunity to watch some of the BBC series “I Claudius” I’d discovered on Netflix. I poured myself a modest shot of Jaegermeister. After a couple of episodes, and a corresponding amount of liquor, I noticed that the combination of alcohol and decongestant not only made any thought of operating heavy machinery out of the question it also made the use of anything more complicated than a spoon a pretty iffy proposition as well. I slowly fell into a trance-like state as I watched the spectacle of the royal family of Rome’s diabolical and lurid behavior, reassured that while people in power don’t act much better today they at least have better haircuts. Several hours and 14 poisonings later I drifted off to sleep feeling somewhat better but harboring grave doubts about the liver that my grandmother had always insisted that I eat and her motives for doing so.
The next day found me still stuffed up and slightly hung over but ambulatory. I resolved that I wouldn’t feel any worse if I dragged myself off to work. I tend bar in a Jazz club. This is a wonderful occupation for someone like myself because: A) I get the chance to listen to great music, B) I get to share my artistic aspirations with other similarly motivated people (I’ll sit through your play if you’ll read my manuscript) and C) it pays the rent. I managed to get through the evening though I’ve decided that being overwhelmed by wracking coughs while producing, and tactfully discarding, great gobs of phlegm is probably not behavior that is most conducive to the patron’s appreciation of music. I also found out that it is difficult to deal effectively with problem drunks when you sound like Horton the Elephant. (“Ib you done cub thab oub you’ll hab noo leab!”) I managed a few such evenings without significant improvement in my symptoms and although I was willing to bravely wait this thing out it was suggested by the sympathetic management, not to mention ten or twelve health conscious customers, that I see a doctor. That weekend’s visit to my mother seemed a good opportunity to see our old family physician, not to mention a chance to implement that other age old curative: torturing someone who loves you. The next morning found me on the LIRR, sniffling and wheezing, speeding my way to our ancestral suburban home.
I spent that evening responding to all of my mother’s attempts at conversation with a variety of monosyllabic grunts. My 18 hour flu had now extended to what seemed closer to the length of the Eisenhower administration, with about the same entertainment value. I had made an appointment to see the doctor the next morning and had convinced myself that he would diagnose my illness as some particularly virulent strain of influenza, marvel at my ability to have fought it to a draw and prescribe some wonderful drug that would clear things right up. I cheerfully grumbled good night to my mother and went to bed early.
Arriving at the doctor’s office bright and early I was led to an examination room where I dutifully took off my shirt and waited. I hadn’t been there in some time and I realized that I had never actually been to the see the doctor very often in my life. The reasons for my good health record as a child were two fold as I recalled. One was that if you went to the doctor chances were that he would give you a shot with a NEEDLE. The other was that my grandmother would take care of us children while my mother worked during the day. She had her own remedy for virtually every illness known to man. And it was always the same thing. Whether you had a cold, a stomach ache or a planters wart the first thing my grandmother would say would be “Young man, you need a good enema.” (A “good enema” being the mother of all oxymorons) This applied to anything short of a lost limb. As I recall this threat was almost never actually carried out but it did deal effectively with malingering minors. Needless to say I spent an extremely healthy childhood, at least on weekdays.
My pleasant reverie was cut short by the entrance of my doctor. He asked me what was wrong and I listed my symptoms. I “ahhhed” and he thumped and poked and listened. He then told me I had a cold and suggested that I gargle with salt and water, take aspirin and drink plenty of fluids. Seeing my crestfallen demeanor he quickly added an expensive prescription for some antibiotics and sent me home. I found myself feeling much better, especially after shelling out fifty bucks for the visit. Returning home I somehow managed to avoid relating the complete prognosis to my mother, although I did promise to take her to dinner as soon as I was once again able to act like some animal closer to the top of the food chain.
So, after careful reflection, I have come to the conclusion that the moral to this heartrending story is twofold. The first is don’t get sick. The second is if you do get sick listen to your mother. They seem to know what they’re talking about. On the other hand, with grandmothers you might want to get a second opinon.
Published in New York Perspectives