Two weeks ago Dave brought home a cough, not that we needed one. It was pretty annoying. To him, probably, too. Mine came in a few days later and before long we sounded like the TB ward. Nothing dry about the cough, either. It was long and juicy, chest-deep, and tailed off like cans rattling behind the Trans-Am at your cousin’s wedding.
That was entertaining for a few days and then we peeled off into specialties. I got head congestion resembling concrete for a day or two and then it subsided into something blowable. So that was an improvement. I developed an odd, rippling, lackadaisical, old-lady flatulence that (since I was eating nothing) I put down to my gut bacteria working over the gallons of phlegm I was swallowing. And then, a week in, and rather abruptly, and after noticing that I was on the floor for some reason, I realized I needed to get into a more comfortable position from which I was unlikely to fall further. I threw kibble at the cat without even making her roll over for it and got into bed.
I don’t know what my temperature was. The next morning, which arrived against all odds, I felt pretty decent and took my temperature, and it was above 101. So I’m pegging the previous night at 109. I got up a few times in the night and ricocheted all the way to the bathroom on spherical feet. I had it together just enough to assemble a wastebasket in front of the toilet but I couldn’t work out the essential problem: if I was going to throw up and I was going to faint, didn’t it matter which order I did those in? I was pretty sure it mattered.
Somehow I got back to bed using a path that would be represented in The Family Circus by hyphens, and continued enjoying my fever. I was engaged in the endless arrangement and re-arrangement of blocks of type from the Gutenberg era, and the lighting wasn’t good. Chinkity chinkity chunk. Chinkity chinkity chinkity chunk. Periodically red lights would appear. They would invariably turn out to be eyeshine from the left eyeball of someone quite recognizable. Rasputin. Katie Couric.
The upside of the delirium was I didn’t have to hear Dave cough. Since he had never worked up much in the way of a fever–a brief flirtation with 99–he had decided to double down on the coughing. Now he spent every night and much of the day working out phlegm, chunks of lung tissue, vermin, items of furniture, and the like, culminating in a little sob. He’d pared his sleeping time down to nothing. I was sleeping twenty hours a day. Whereas before we had been able to take turns doing each other the occasional small favor–a plate of sliced apples here, a poached egg there, a refill on the vaporizer–now we peered at each other with quelling hostility lest the other deign to ask for something.
My coughing could not compete with Dave’s in degree of difficulty or style points, but it was still plenty persistent. By the third day of my 102+ fevers, I began to feel my ribs snap, one by one. One of them poked all the way through the skin, but it was in the back so it didn’t show. A friend came by, flang rescue groceries onto the porch, and peeled away from the curb with a honk.
I’m pretty sure Googling the symptoms of Ebola is one of the symptoms of Ebola.
That night I abandoned the type rearrangement project and instead examined busy little white strands of DNA, masses of them, motoring away on the world’s ceiling six inches above my head like processionary caterpillars. Later I couldn’t remember if I was making boulders or little haystacks, so made little progress. I woke up with my face sealed shut. My eyes were breaded and I spent the morning chiseling away at a new cement installation around my nostrils.
And I discovered that the entire inside of my face now tasted and smelled like nothing I had ever encountered before. But it wasn’t anything you’d associate with a person who’s still alive. I went to our doctor. She confirmed I had the flu.
“I don’t get the flu,” I explained patiently. “I’ve never gotten the flu.”
Did you get the flu shot?
“I did get the flu shot.”
Oh, that’s right. This year’s flu shot didn’t target this year’s flu.
But I had a deal. The deal was, I get strep throat and everyone else gets the flu. I’m the strep queen. I might have had it thirty times. You feel like shit for two days, you go to the doctor, you get a bunch of pills, you start to feel better. I was happy to take the strep throat burden off my fellow citizens. Proud, even. But this–this is bullshit. This is the stupidest idea ever. There is no point to it.
I’m home now enjoying my recovery, with a few new features. My ears finally got off the train and said they’d check back with me in a few stations. Every time I lie down I hear doughboys marching endlessly in the snow in the trenches where they used to be. I feel like shit. But now it’s shit I can see over. A few days from now, I hope, I’ll be able to cremate the bed linens and start anew.