Believe it or not, there used to be a time when I relished being sick.
Back in college, at first sign of weakness or itchy throat, I'd clear my schedule for at least a week and commence to watching daytime television in my jammies, going days without a shower, happily unplugging from any and all social-professional-educational activities. When it was the case, I'd wear a diagnosis of bronchitis or pneumonia as a VIP badge.
I remember one particular bout of pneumonia oh so well. I was living on Pacemont with the roomate that was never there, attending college classes like Dickens and Art History (such deliciousness is ever-wasted on the young) and flirting with a boy named Joe who gelled his hair into a rock-a-billy coif and smelled faintly of mens' clothing stores. I remember being out for the better part of a month with this relentless illness. It was the holiday season.
It must've been a doozy. But since my only memories of that period consist of watching classic holiday movies (that Joe dropped by) and polishing off a handful of memorable art projects—the dress that I still wear to this day, the hodge-podge quilt for Chris, the clever mobile crafted with scrap wood and a dissected poster of a man climbing Mt. Rushmore—I'm required to recall this time as more of a respite, a self-indulgent retreat from the harried throws of work-a-day life, than any kind of forced recovery time.
It's exceedingly different now. Sickness is accompanied by caring for a tiny child and missing work actually means missing the income. I'm a bit more motivated to fight back, or better, be proactive in not getting sick in the first place. My little medicine cabinet overflows with the latest and greatest of recommended potions to stave off even the nastiest bugs: Vitamin D3, Elderberry, Echinacia, Umcka to name a few. I sleep well, I eat well, I exercise and am committed to yoga even when the room gets sweaty-hot in the afternoon sun.
My downfall, admittedly, is a tendency to overdo, to not quite know when to say when. Where the tedious stuffs of to-do lists are concerned, I'm a gobbler rather than a sipper. The vitamin I've consistently been lacking for the entirety of my adult life is open, untouched, unplanned space and time. And although Opal gives it to me in scrumptious short stints—tea while perching leisurely in the front yard and coloring pictures of Snoopy and Woodstock, anyone?—it is a rarity to do it on my own for any length of time.
Now, when sickness strikes, the days of closing the curtains and reading O magazine until either nature or mealtime calls, or a body part has gone numb from lack of circulation, is a thing of the past.
The reality of a sick-mama consists of continuously rallying oneself to give, play, care, clean, fix, entertain and feed until the time comes—the blessed nap and bedtimes—when full and complete crashing can occur. Especially during the acute symptoms, any gap is filled with rest. Forget laundry, grocery and correspondence considerations, forget writing, forget work. Even these gross-level actions take a back-burner to survival.
I've lost track of how many times I've caught cold since Opal started going to daycare. Every few months, at least, she and I both catch some sort of little bug, but they usually disintegrate in a week or so, winding up to be more of a nuisance than any real problem. We both caught cold following 4 out of the 5 times we've flown together. Opal was sick off and on through the entire month of May—though looking back now I think some of it was teething—and after returning from an exhausting flight to Ohio I readily picked up what she was carrying.
She quickly healed. My cold, rather, lasted more than a week before morphing into a nasty sinus infection leaving me frail, nauseous and covered in a shell of hot-ache. It took another solid week (dosing up on good ole' western antibiotics) to begin to feel human again. Days melted into one disorganized mass. Even now, my energy isn't near what it was and I need to implement copious rests throughout the day. A few hours of work is a maximum and being with Opal for any decent stretch exhausts me. I am forced to play catch-up at a snail's pace and the whole dizzying situation has left me totally humbled.
(Jesse requires a merit badge for his indispensability during these sick-spells, especially the most recent one. Upon returning from a long day at work, he swoops in and tirelessly neatens up, makes sure I'm fed, monitors that I remain horizontal. During the weekend, he plays with Opal, allowing longer chunks for me to rest. At night, he sends me downstairs to sleep while he stays in our bedroom with the monitor, taking the role of caring for Opal if she wakes. If it weren't for him, it would have taken exponentially longer for me to heal and the dishwasher would not have been emptied for 3 weeks.)
I sat down with my computer to write yesterday for the first time in weeks and it felt like meeting a lover for a feverish rendezvous after an involuntary hiatus. This morning I went to Costco, which fared to be much less grand, but the free brownies and spring rolls were appreciated and it feels good to no longer have a gaping void in the freezer where the blueberries are supposed to be.
As I sit here getting well, I think of how sickness wipes life perfectly clean, heavy handedly, to be refilled only with what is needed to recover along with the absolute necessities of the day. Then little by little, as one regains their health, the open-gaps are more tempted by the pending demands and mountainous heaps that had been cast aside to heal. But by then, a sort of little relationship and affection has developed for the gaps themselves (separate from the illness). As a mediation practitioner, this is a notion I study in abundance but find it extremely difficult to embrace and implement.
Must I be sick to read 3 books in 3 weeks? Must I be reeling and horizontal to leave my to-do list so severely neglected? In this moment, I confess that I'm feeling protective of the forced-openings that the last three weeks of illness have cultivated and I am tentative to fill them back up again as quickly as the momentum requests.