Saturday night fever
I never saw it coming.
It didn’t catch me off guard like a snowball in the back of the head. Or like being rear-ended. Or even like an alien abduction. No, it really blindsided me.
The “it” in question was the Plague of 2016, which descended upon our household, felling both its occupants with a merciless hand.
When John announced on a Saturday morning in March that he wasn’t feeling well, I didn’t pay much attention. Just the night before, we had been swilling martinis and slurping oysters at Scales. How sick could he be? Frankly, my greatest concern was for our plans that coming evening: Would we have to cancel dinner with our friends?
Yes we would.
By noon he was prostrate on the couch, alternately sweating and freezing, unable to move except to cleave to or hurl his blanket. While I felt sorry for the poor guy (well, sort of; we Yankees are morally opposed to suffering non-life-threatening illnesses), I figured this would be a quick-mover. A couple weeks earlier I’d had my first cold in several years, a two-day snotfest that came and went like that. I figured, like I, John would go through a box of Puffs and be over it. I fed him some broth and ibuprofen and went on a two-day cleaning jag. (Toiling around those in repose is my people’s idea of fun.) It never for one moment occurred to me that I might be in for Round II.
Until Monday morning arrived.
When I awoke, I discovered someone had encased my skull in a cast-iron helmet, the interior of which was studded with jabby bits, as though I had an inverted mace clamped on my head. It was probably the same being who was driving a tank back and forth across my forehead, creating a sensation akin to a moonshine/grappa/Asti Spumante/Colt 45 hangover. (Don’t ask me how I know this.)
My lungs and ribcage had been filled with concrete. (How did they get all that construction equipment in my bedroom?) I couldn’t imagine how I was possibly going to lift all that weight out of bed, but it turned out to be a moot point. Each of my limbs weighed at least 100 pounds. Rolling over wasn’t even an option. John was still leveled, so I would get no assistance from him. I whimpered and went back to sleep.
As luck would have it, my only real obligation for that day was a 2 p.m. phone chat with a theater manager about booking my show. It took up until the appointed hour to muster enough strength to sound human over the phone, and when the call was concluded I collapsed into bed thinking the worst was behind me.
Then night fell.
The construction crew was back, and they brought their hot pokers and razor wire with them. Teeth and talons, too. There was a great deal of rending of my ribcage, at both the bone and muscle. Mad Max might have made a drive-by as well.
Lying down was agony. Sitting up was agony. I propped somewhere in between. I made animal noises. Mewls and moans at first, then full-out bellows. John limped to my side and placed a red-hot iron on my back. I yowled. He took the iron — which turned out to be his hand — away. We began an operatic duet: “Do you want to go to the emergency room?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I keened. “Do you want to go?” “I don’t know.” “Do you?” “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”
Well, of course I wanted to go to the emergency room, assuming they would put me under and leave me that way until summer. I thought I was being pretty brave, in light of the fact I was clearly dying of (I had already self-diagnosed) spinal meningitis, but it did not appear that way to my husband, who, sick as he was, was freaked. In fact, the next day he told me he’d had a plan. He said he was going to dress me and fireman-carry me to the car. He decided he would forgo my socks to save time. No socks? Take me into the cold night and then a germy hospital with no socks? While I was appreciative of his concern, it was clear to me our household needed a better emergency evacuation plan.
The next morning brought with it blessed rain showers and a clearer head. My fever had broken, and I was feeling pretty chipper, considering my prior night’s induction into the Hell Hall of Horrors. But what now? I wasn’t well enough to resume normal activities, but shouldn’t I be doing something with this found time? A gentle voice in the back of my head purred, “Oh, relax. You need to take it easy. Rest.” But the Yankee voice barked: “Get to work. Empty your inbox. Crack that new book. Organize your files.” I thought I might compromise and go make pho (the Vietnamese noodle soup), but the kitchen seemed so far away, and wasn’t all this thinking and all that barking exhausting?
When I woke up several hours later, I wanted some sympathy. John was back at work, so I did what I often do in times of need: I texted Joycie. “I tick,” I typed. She answered instantly. “Do you have soup?” When I told her I had only soup potential, she threatened to drive down from Bethel and make it for me, but her daughter had a science fair that afternoon. She next prescribed putting my head under a towel and over a pot of boiling water, and drinking turmeric, though not at the same time. I was relieved she didn’t offer her usual cure-all, to come drink with her, because beer had all the appeal of ground onions and Aqua Velva. (Don’t ask me how I know what this tastes like either.)
As luck had it again, John and I had been on an Indian-food jag recently, and we had a big bag of turmeric in the larder. I Googled “turmeric tea” and found a recipe that called for turmeric, grated ginger, cayenne and honey. Miracle cure, here I come.
Those who have not handled turmeric might not know that it stains yellow everything it comes in contact with. And those who have never seen me perform in the kitchen might not know that there is no ingredient I am incapable of spilling or burning. I made my tea (yes, it is possible to scald water, if it has stuff in it) and proceeded to slosh it over the stove (white porcelain) and the sink (white porcelain) and the countertop (black porcelain tile, but stainable all the same). I tried to mop up my mess with a — you guessed it, white — dishtowel, but the turmeric left yellow ghost blobs everywhere in its wake. The tea also stained the pot yellow, as well as the spoon and the cup. And now I am supposed to put this hippie crap in my body? Still, I choked down the vile liquid in burning gulps, as the grated ginger gathered in the gaps between my teeth like krill. I returned to my sickbed, convinced I had done my part and that this thing would now be on its way out.
Part of the package of being a Yankee is the belief you can will yourself well. You try to reason: Look. I gave into you. You had your way with me. Now get lost. But reasoning with illness is like trying to have a conversation with a meteor before it creams you. Hey, hold on there. I mean it…
I was down another day. And another. When I finally got up and walked past my office, I paused, as though looking at a room in a museum that should have a velvet cord draped across the entryway. “Exhibit A: The place author Elizabeth Peavey once worked before she was felled by the crud.”
For days I declared I was better when I awoke. But then I’d try to do something reckless, like pick up my phone or wash a dish, and I would be undone all over again. It was well over a week before I stopped breathing like Darth Vader and walking like Herman Munster. My appetite slowly came back, and a good thing, too. My capacity for soup, gruel and turmeric was running out.
As a rule, there is never one day that I take my usual health and strength for granted. When I walk in the morning, I thank my legs. When I swallow great gulps of air, I thank my lungs. I am grateful for my hearing, my sight, and my taste buds, which normally register the deliciousness of beer. I didn’t have to be reminded of these blessings, but even a Yankee can stand to take a whack in the back of the head every now and then.
You never know what it will dislodge.
Elizabeth Peavey coughs up a column here every month. Visit her website at elizabethpeavey.com to learn more about her comings and goings.