I got sick. Really sick. Not life-threatening—though if it lasted much longer I may have taken a life.
I had a cold in late September and sniffled my way through Rosh Hashanah. I clawed my way back to health, and even to spin class. The next morning I woke with my lungs feeling raw, as if I had inhaled a chemical. By that evening, it turned into chest congestion and I began to wonder if the cold had returned as pneumonia or bronchitis. By the next morning I was prostrate. Exhausted, achey, coughing. I had to send poor Fred to a Bat Mitzvah without me, his social crutch. We cancelled the babysitter for whom I had spent weeks hunting. On Sunday, I hied to urgent care. I could barely sit up in the waiting room chairs. They were blessedly quick and told me I had a virus. Thanks.
That night, I added fever and chills to the roster of symptoms. With the cough I also removed sleeping from my list of nightly activities. Each day I thought: “This has to get better tomorrow.” I made plans: Sure I could have coffee with a friend at the end of the week. Sure I could pick up Chuck and his friends on Tuesday and transport them to their community service site. But I didn’t get off the couch. On most days, my head hurt too much to read, especially anything with intellectual heft. I read Facebook and a few lightweight books. (I won’t go into the nature of those in order to preserve my scholarly reputation.) I watched a lot of television. Ted is now a big fan of season one of Mad About You. I finally watched Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually with the commentary. (The latter is worth it, the former is not.) I hit rock bottom and watched the sequel to The Cutting Edge. Another Saturday night came and we canceled the babysitter again.
The proverbial village certainly stepped up, bringing us lasagna, chicken soup, and seltzer, transporting my children, and putting up with very noisy playdates. I probably could have asked for a lot more, but I’m not very good at that. Facebook may have been my saving grace, providing human interaction on a regular basis.
I began to imagine myself living in an ornate wooden wheelchair, which Fred could wheel out onto the veranda is warm weather. We’d adopt a cheery young girl from the mountains who would teach me to walk again, just in time for Christmas.
Fred got sick for a few days as well. I began to panic about the inmates (children) taking over the asylum (our increasingly filthy house). Fortunately, Fred was not as sick as me (he never gets very sick, God bless him), and he recovered after two days. Just before the children became completely feral.
After eight days on the couch, the fog began to lift. I achieved significant accomplishments like getting dressed and doing the dishes. It was now Halloween week and it was time to feel better. In our house, Halloween is sacred. Plus, Ted had only half days of school that week and being fully sick would have killed me. Throughout the week I crawled my way back to some semblance of a normal life. Halloween was a big weekend: Both kids at sleepovers! Tickets to a fabulous circus/burlesque show! Friends coming by to enjoy Fred’s Halloween art! Instead, we had a historic Halloween snowstorm, 36 hours without power, and two days of closed schools. (We were quite lucky compared with friends who lost power for nearly a week).
The snow cleared, the power came back, school recommenced, and I got sicker. Again. Bronchitis! The only upside to this new diagnosis is that Ted likes to dance to the beat when I shake my Flovent inhaler.
Two weeks later, and I’m mostly functional. I still have a cough that makes me sound like an opera heroine with consumption. One of these nights, Fred will respond to the 4:00 a.m. coughing fit by smothering me with a pillow. I tire easily and can’t manage much more than a trip to Trader Joe’s. I’m fearful of that first return trip to the YMCA and the days of muscle ache that will follow.
Cough, fever, and aches aside, the greatest toll of Virus 2011 was emotional. I wish I could have enjoyed the break from most of my responsibilities, but for the most part I felt helpless and useless. The lack of exercise or much human interaction exacerbated the problem, as did the decrease of endorphins, the increase in weight, and the rapid multiplication of dog hair tumbleweeds. It was a glimpse into the experience of having a long-term illness, and I’m amazed at the people who have the strength to persevere for months or years.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading Geraldine Brooks’ A Year of Wonders, a novel about an English village suffering through the plague in 1666. It is good reminder that things could have been worse. A lot worse.