Literally. And no, not with that illness, just a cold that someone brought home in time for Christmas that’s been making its rounds. A pretty nasty one, but just that nonetheless.
But when I’m sick I tend to be pensive. And when I’m in the shower I tend to be even pensive-er. So when I was sick in my shower, allowing that sweet sweet steam to de-clog my sinuses, I was ruminating on the larger implications of the statement, “I’m sick.”
Because I am.
Or, rather, I have been.
When I was young(er), I averaged about one ER visit a year. It was just something that came to be expected. It was often due to injury, several of which I’ve written about already – here a broken arm, there sixteen stitches, off to the side a sprained thumb – but it was almost equally due to some miscellaneous malady.
When I was about seven (exact age unclear and subject to the haze of childhood memory) I woke up in the night unable to breathe. My throat was inexplicably closing up, and I was somewhat disturbed by this. I woke my mom up, wheezing and panicky, and she drove me to the ER where I was nebulized, diagnosed with asthma, and prescribed an inhaler.
There were countless ER trips. I can delineate my childhood, which house we lived in, and what grade I was in by which ER visit happened which year. A really bad fever that wouldn’t go down, ovarian cysts, kidney stones – twice. A lot of abdominal pain. (I would always go into it sure it would be appendicitis. Still have never gotten appendicitis. …Knock on wood…)
But in general, I tended to just get sick. And when I did, sicker than average. I was a somewhat delicate child. Colds took me out at the knees and took several days to get over where the rest of the household was over it in a day or two. I was sick with the chicken pox almost a week longer than my brothers. Vaccines have always made me bedridden-ly ill for at least 24 hours – the MMR caused a fever and really cute Rubella rash spots. I’m the queen of the rare side effect.
I have also – and I don’t know why I’ve violently remembered this fun fact about myself on this evening in particular – been sick in other peoples’ houses crazily often. Maybe not crazily, but more often than one would expect or be prepared for in life.
When I was little-little, and I know it must have been somewhere in the realm of 3 or 4 because the memories are dim and filled with that pinky-blue haze of early childhood, I spent all Thanksgiving afternoon and into the night tucked into the den’s hide-a-bed watching Babes in Toyland with a throw-up-bucket cradled in my arm and all alone. This was after I (violently) vomited all over the kids’ dinner table – something which I am sure was of great shock, disgust, and ensuing perturbation to my siblings and cousins, but which I didn’t care to worry about at the time, as I was being hauled bodily to the tiled bathroom and feeling distinctly miserable.
I have two other memories of being sick at my Nana’s house, with illnesses that evade my memory. Both involved me tucked into the huge master bed and watching movies on the master suite TV (luxury of luxuries – Flushed Away and Tangled, respectively) during whatever Thanksgiving or New Year’s celebration that was buzzing away in the house below me.
When I was eight, I was having a sleepover at my friend’s house. She was an out-of-towner, and it wasn’t her house, really. It was her Grandma’s house, a nice lady I knew from church. This friend and I only ever saw each other when she was in town to visit her Grandma, and this time, it was for a family reunion held at aforementioned Grandma’s house. I was invited for a sleepover, per usual, and we kids ended up in bed by the time the bulk of the adults arrived for the first night of the reunion. We dozed off to the sound of grown-ups talking about whatever it is grown-ups talk about, and that sound of that one, particular, really loud laugh that some uncle always has in every single family in America.
Well, my friend did. I lay there feeling worse and worse as I came down with something; I didn’t know what illness it was then, and I still don’t know. All I knew, and continue to know, is it made me feel awful. I felt like I was going to throw up, so I took deep breaths like I’d been taught. (I was a very vomit-prone child). And I was too hot – way too hot. I kicked my legs out of the blankets. But it was scary and dark and a monster would eat them, so I put them back under the covers. But I was burning up and I really thought I was about to throw up now and it was dark and scary and the bed didn’t feel like my bed and the reunion happening outside the guest bedroom was loud and I was starting to feel like I was going to cry.
I chose to deal with this overwhelming tide of physical and mental feelings by taking periodic trips across the hall to the bathroom as I watched minutes tick by on the glowing, green digital clock that was the only light source in the room. I didn’t want to go interrupt the party; I was a guest and I was scared to go out to all the strangers and I didn’t want to bug anybody. So, about every ten minutes (which seemed long enough apart to be unobtrusive to my eight-year-old brain) I would slide out from under the covers, move as fast as I could across the scratchy carpet to avoid the monsters, and sneak across the hall to the bathroom. There I would appease both my growing fever and my fear that I was about to throw up by pressing my forehead to the cold side of the toilet, sitting on the cold tile floor for a few minutes, taking deep breaths of the air-freshener air (cinnamon) and looking at the nightlight plugged in by the floor.
Being as I was eight and not very sneaky, adults did notice my extremely frequent trips to the bathroom. My friend’s Grandma came in to check on us. My friend was fast asleep. I was, very clearly, ill. Being a Grandma, this was perceived immediately. I was given medicine and soothed because I started crying (see above worries about party and guest and strangers and being a nuisance – and also, very sick child). My friend was moved to another room, I was moved to the center of the bed, and I was checked on every hour or so until I fell asleep at some point in the night and awoke very early, very unwell, the next morning.
Given more drugs, my bag packed for me, and my PJs (a pink fleece nightie with Sleeping Beauty embroidered on the chest with a little satin bow, for the curious) still firmly on, I was deposited back at my parents’ house where I immediately curled up, face-in, in the big chair in the living room and dozed off in the familiar smells and sounds while my friend’s grandparents and my parents had a concerned conference (with many apologies volleyed from both sides) at the front door.
I got worse and worse, my fever rising consistently no matter how many drugs we put in me. I was taken to the ER, where I stayed for two days on an IV and scheduled nebulization, because my wee asthmatic lungs were not pleased with being subjected to an immune system attack.
There were others, too. Another sleepover – different friend – where she led me cautiously into her parents’ room and whispered, “Emma’s sick,” and I was gently cared for until I could be given back to my parents, pale and shaky, the next day. The horrendous day in Yosemite when we were between vacation rentals and so I got violently, projectile-vomitally ill on shuttle buses and museums until I was finally allowed to be food- or parasite-poisoned in the comfort of our own van (which had been taken for fly fishing with no cell signal all day) and then the new rental home (which I think I got a minimal amount of vomit on? Anyone’s guess, I was not my best self at the time).
But none of the rest of them ended in hospitalization, so they stick in the memory less firmly.
I don’t know why I’m thinking about this so much tonight. I drafted this in my head in the shower earlier and decided to just follow through and write it, because my writing turnout has been somewhat pitiful lately; in part because I’ve been sick. So it seemed sort of fitting.
But I guess part of it, too, is that I have a lot of baggage around being sick. I always have been sick. It’s kept me from field trips and birthday parties and movies and softball games and dance class and rehearsals and swathes of days of school. I’m used to people thinking I’m faking it, or overreacting, or that I feel so bad in my silly little brain that I’m coping through mild hypochondria.
And the other part of it is that it’s exhausting, being a sick person. My annual ER visits have ceased, but I’ve just traded it in for other types of sick. This headache that will never go away, constantly standing on my left foot at work because of the plantar fasciitis in my right (but then my left foot hurts from overuse so I have to try and balance it, but now they both hurt … it’s a cycle). Anxiety that fluctuates in its manageability but is never gone, and depression that’s mostly seasonal – which makes it seem like it should be less of a big deal, but is still pretty darn lame when you have to deal with it for about six months out of the year because of something so boring as “it’s dark outside.”
Mostly, I’m probably so fixated on this because I can’t breathe through my nose and I’m tired and I don’t super want to do tomorrow, but I’ve already resolved that I will anyway.
So, yeah. I’m sick.
This wasn’t really an upper – I meant it to be more funny. Oh well.