1. You will not get sick at a convenient time. You will not have cleared your calendar and scheduled six days in which to experience feverish mucus-filled cough spasms uninterrupted. You will find yourself sick two days before a non-negotiable work trip, three days before your beloved dog has to be put down, a fact you will process from afar in a DayQuil-NyQuil induced haze, and you will return, still sick, to news that your daughter is currently detained after being denied entry into the UK and your husband’s toothache that he finally went to the dentist about is actually a gnarly abscess that needs surgery yesterday — but no one can do the surgery till the month after next. All these things will make you appreciate that all you have is a case of the flu, but then again taking care of everyone’s needs feels impossible as the fever rises through your skin like a hundred icy insects nibbling on your flesh and you can’t stray too far from the box of Kleenex because your nasal passages threaten to burst open at any moment and you’re coughing so hard you actually pee in your sweats. So when you get sick, you will have to just do the best you can. And accept that your best might not be very good.
2. You will tire of pharmaceuticals that make you dizzy, spacey and dehydrated, so you will revert to your faith in garlic, ginger, lemons and hot tea. You will drink approximately 108 mugs of tea in the span of six days, all of which help, none of which cure. You will transform onions, garlic and ginger into a broth, add chile peppers when you have them, lemon, too. The concoction will feel so good, so warm and healthy and pungent on your throat — you will be sure that this time you are on the mend. Five minutes later, you will have your worst coughing fit yet. You will continue to believe that the food helps because you must have faith that something will bring this greasy, sweaty, phlegm-ridden chapter of your life to a close. You will ask your husband to buy raw honey because you read that it has antibacterial qualities.
3. You will find reading novels too exhausting — you have to stop and cough, stop and blow your nose, stop and make tea, stop and pee from drinking so much liquids. Magazines and short stories are a much better fit. You will attempt the North Coast Journal’s crossword and find it too taxing. Maybe you should just watch 30 Rock on Netflix for a while.
4. You will notice, from your forced exile, that life goes on without you. You will be relieved at first, as this epiphany means you can feel slightly less guilty about curling up under your germ-laden blankets and demanding someone else to please feed the cats. But from the fetal position, you will worry that perhaps your light has dimmed, your value peaked. You’re just some old, sick thing now. Have faith that this, too, shall pass.
5. You will get restless and wonder if you’re using your sick time to the fullest. As long as you’re stuck at home, shouldn’t you at least reorganize the bookshelf or purge your closet of all those sweaters you’re never going to wear? People are cold! Homeless! You’re sick, but you’re sick from the vantage of privilege. Lying around all day will infuriate you after a while. You are not designed to be useless. You will channel your frustration into scrubbing the bathroom sink and toilet — you would’ve done the shower, too, except the exertion has triggered a coughing fit that felled you, so now you’re lying on the bathroom floor, trying not to heave your lungs out, remembering the good days when you were merely puking and hungover. At least that had an end in sight.
Some practical advice (I am totally not a doctor!):
1. Try to avoid the sick! Follow all the usual advice: Get enough sleep, eat healthy, slow down, exercise and wash your hands. Eat your garlic. Dose yourself with immune system boosters — ask about specific recommendations at Moonrise Herbs or Humboldt Herbals.
2. If you feel it coming on, hit the grocery store right away and stock up: garlic, ginger, onion, lemon, chile peppers, raw honey, broth, several boxes of tea. I like the Yogi Teas, especially Breathe Deep and Egyptian Licorice. You can also get some excellent bulk teas at the herbal shops. Chop up all the veggies and throw them in the broth. Heat and eat/drink as often as possible. Don’t heat the raw honey, I’m told — I just take a teaspoon now and again. If you have enough energy — or help — I love these soups, especially the Greek Avgolemono.
3. Fever making your eyeballs ache? What a great time to catch up on podcasts. Just close your eyes and let yourself be entertained away. I’m old-fashioned and still a fan of This American Life and Radiolab, but a world of funny/thoughtful options is out there for the discovering. You know.
4. Ask for help. If you don’t have a live-in person obligated to care for you, text your friends. People like to help. And seeing how sick you are will make them feel better for not being you. You’re reminding them how great it is to be vibrating with good health and not encased in sweatpants with unwashed hair stuck to a perspiring face. The least they could do is drop by some soup and magazines.
5. Ride it out. Make lists of what you’ll do when you feel better. Read about people whose plights are worse than yours. Fuck around on Facebook. Write in your journal. Request songs on the radio. You’re sick. You get a pass from productivity.
Bonus: If you can’t take to bed and need to pop the cold medicines, do it. No shame in utilizing modern medicine when you need to. I find that whatever dries up all the runny nose mess also dehydrates the hell out of me, so I advise lots and lots and lots of water and also a teaspoon of honey helps to coat a dry throat. Good luck.