Being sick when it’s hot outside is… sick. I mean, it makes you feel more sick than you are, because you feel like you have a fever even if you don’t have a fever. And you sleep all sweaty and you get tangled in the sheets and you waken at 4AM hocking up a lung, you’ve got this cold wetness around your eyes but your eyes themselves, the orbs are dry because the maximum-strength nighttime decongestant you took (Warning: May cause marked drowsiness!) is drying out all your cells and you have a coating of slime on your lips and you just, plain, feel sick.
So you lay there (lie there?) and try to get your mind to stop running around in the tight circles it has found itself inwhich I shall revisit momentarilyand drink the now room-temperature ice water sitting inside it’s ring of moisture on the nightstand and you hear yourself gulping because your ears are blocked and there’s a snapping and popping going on inside your head that you can’t account for and ignore anyway because, you see, you’re sick.
It was Wednesday afternoon when I felt it approach in the back of my throat. This is where all my illnesses begin, for some reason. There in the back of my throat where my nose empties its salty goodness to coat my stomach with more mucus. Perhaps it is the small bacteria announcing their growing brood by scratching at the raw, wet flesh. I don’t really know. But I can feel it there and no matter how I might want to believe that I will not get sick “this time,” it is inevitable. The only question is: How sick?
Wednesday, then, was another common day at work for me. Thursday, however, I knew something was up. But I had a meeting at 9 (which didn’t occur until 11) and another meeting out at a client’s offices 20 minutes West of my own offices at 4PM so I had to go to work. I managed to make it through the first meeting, got in some sarcastic quips as is my job, and then told my boss and the organizer of the 4PM that I was going home because I realized at that point that I was dizzy. Dizzy equals bad, if you’re ever wondering about that. No matter what the situation may be that causes this effect, chances are what will follow will involve fainting or vomiting or moaning or any combination thereof.
After getting into the heatlamp of my car and trying to get the A/C to pump its glorious faux cool breezes over my seating carcass, I was in no mood to stop by the drugstore to pick up some medicine to fight the coming onslaught to my bodily functions. This was mistake number one.
I was still in the self-denial phase of my illness. “Tomorrow,” I thought, “I’ll be all better. It’s some 48-hour bug that I picked up from God knows where…”
And then I thought, “where did I pick this up from?”
When mankind meets its eventual doom, and it will, the final nail will not be hammered in with a nuclear blast or a race war or economic downfall. Do you know what will kill us? Oh, don’t fool yourself, of course we end up killing ourselves, but it is our fear of germs that will do us in. And would you like to know why? For one thing, it’s because doctors started prescribing antibiotics for everything because they seemed to work on everything. Antibiotics were a miracle drug, but it looks like now that all they did was kill a select class of bacteria that was too weak to fight. What that leaves, of course, is room for a whole different class of germ stronger than the antibiotics which, at this point, nothing we can make kills. But that ain’t all, kids. Can’t just blame the doctors!
We can also point the finger at ourselves, for just as antibiotics were being carpet bombed into patients in the hospitals, we were all buying Dial Antibacterial Soap and Lysol Shower Spray and Pledge Full-Strength Industrial Germ-Fighting furniture polish. And, in the same way that the antibiotics only killed the weak bacteria, these household cleaners with which we thought we were ridding our personal spaces of icky germs are only killing the weakest germs. The strong germs are still there are all we’re doing is making more room for them!
Think I’m making this up? Sorry to say, I’m not. However, it does give you something else to be paranoid about to distract you from the Y2K problem, doesn’t it?
I had a very strange dream that night.
I dreamt I was a clothesline hanger. You know those big, rickety things in backyards? Look like huge TV antennas or metal trees, and there’s wire or twine string between the branches to hang wet laundry on? I was one of those. And on each thread hanging from my arms was a problem. Or sometimes not a problem, maybe just a thought. Or an idea. A challenge. A dream. All the things tangled inside my head. The things I consider, the things I worry about. The things I know and the things I think I know. Images of people, like drying photographs. Threads of thoughts, woven into thin fabric fluttering in the breeze. What I wanted to do was collect all these things and eat them. I wanted my arms to bend so I could bring all those things back inside me. I wanted them not to be outside, although there was no one around to see them, to take them from me. But I was empty, you see. There was nothing inside, which was why I was a pole. A metal pole with straight metal arms and no hands, with wires strung between from which were hanging everything I was inside and therefore everything I was.
I woke several times during the night, and each time it seemed that it was both light and dark in the room. It seemed that the darkness had fragmented around me, that the sheets, too, were both soft and stiff, both cool and hot. The pillows would not behave, falling flat when I wanted them tall or folding themselves in half when I wanted them flat. All around me, it seems, the sheets mimicked my dreams, floating and falling and drifting and hanging. My back hurt, my mouth was coated with muck, my eyes couldn’t blink they were so heavy and dry.
I woke up Friday in my sweaty sheets. The A/C unit in the window was still pumping cold air at me. Outside, a truck that seemed like it was pulling sheet metal behind it across the asphalt rumbled by shaking the windows. Some impatient driver honked and I could hear some low moaning, some high creaking. Machinery had invaded my house, but it was outside. Peering through the slitted blinds I saw that, for some reason, a backhoe had taken up residence in the intersection in front of my house. Traffic was backed up in all directions as some stupid policeman attempted to direct the morning commute around the huge yellow machine occupying the exact center of the road.
“If this isn’t screaming at me to stay in bed,” I thought, “nothing else will.”
But of course I couldn’t sleep. The backhoe, the police whistle, the car horns, the traffic, the sheet metal. A cacophony rattled my dreams and I simply got the hell up and lay on the couch, drowsing half in and half out of sleep, wishing I could be one or the other but insisting on both.
I did not call in. No one would miss me anyway.
My dreams were revisited by the spectre of the clothes hanger again last night. It was a rewound replay of the video of my dreams. It was all exactly the same, even though I had managed to get to the store to buy TheraFlu Nighttime Formula. I bought it specifically because it said on the package that taking the two green pills would, in so many words, knock me flat on my back. I figured that would send into a blissful coma of black sleep, but it was not to be. For pills wear off, you see, and thoughts and plans and worries and idea are ever vigilant in their war within. So I shook my metal arms again and found myself just as impotent as the night before. The hot winds threatened to rip me from myself, this time. The fabric was worn and torn and ripped. Veils of silk only slightly more resilient than a spider’s thread. Gossamer sheets imprinted with my every hope, my fears, my desires, my confusion. Flapping in silent threat, wanting to be gone from me and leaving me…
So now I sit here typing this and wondering what tonight shall bring. My head no longer throbs and I bought real tissue so I don’t have to unwind a roll of toilet paper to blow my nose. I’m downing aspirin three at a time and drinking “fluids,” which has a horrible name. Fluid. Fluids. Drinking fluids. “Are you drinking plenty of fluids?” Fluids. The back of my nose is trapping all sorts of ghastly, viscous matter and my ears pop every hour on the hour. It’s 100 degrees outside and I can see things moving through the hot winds. Pollen and bugs and leaves shaken loose.
The whole world needs fluids, I guess.
July 17, 1999