The worst part about being sick is that you think there’s a lot of good television to watch until you have unlimited time to watch it all. The second worst thing about being sick is that you can’t stop having stupid thoughts but you can’t stop thinking.
Wednesday, February 4
My flu began during the 3:30 p.m. showing of Birdman at the Sierra Cinema in Grass Valley, California. As the film began, I felt the stirrings of illness in my temples and sinuses. By the time Ed Norton and Emma Roberts started to make out I felt truly awful. I found an Alka Seltzer in my wallet and chipped at it for a while but I worried I was going to dissolve my teeth, so I got a free tiny cup of water and did things properly, sort of. By the end of the movie I felt better but I could still feel something lurking under the Alka Seltzer, so I got myself into bed. I woke up shivering, with a massive headache, but relieved to finally have definitive proof that Alejandro González Iñárritu films cause the flu.
Thursday, February 5
I woke up starving. I ate four pieces of toast, drank a bunch of ginger ale and then realized, with almost tearful relief, that I had not seen Season Two of The Fall. I didn’t love Season One, but it was fine. Plus, I will watch any British mystery– if there were a show about a detective wandering around the Tesco in High Wycombe looking for a rubber band, I would totally watch it.
Anyway, as far as I’m concerned The Fall is a show about Gillian Anderson — as Inspector Stella Gibson — murmuring endlessly. Something bad happens and she’s like “Mmmmmm.” Something worse happens and she’s like “Mmmmm,” at a lower octave. Once in a while she’ll murmur, “Mmmm, it of-ten occurrrrs to me that men are horrrribullll,” and that’s why everyone loves it.
You know what I’d like to see? I’d like to see a show about Stella Gibson’s dry cleaner. In the first scene Stella Gibson’s dry cleaner says to his wife “I got a new customer today, she has ten million silk shirts and they’re always perfect.” The show ends with him retiring early and moving to the Canary Islands.
As I watched I multitasked, and by multitasking I mean watching The Fall (and I am fully aware this has much to do with my being indifferent it) and also Googling “pink velvet blazer” and “how to put on eyeliner when your eyes are too close together” and, because I live with a one-year-old (not mine, long story, and he was — as much as a one-year-old can be — “on vacation” during my illness) “How old do kids have to be before you start yelling at them?”
All this search unearthed were articles about how to stop yelling at kids or how to never yell at them in the first place, but not one reasonable article that was like “We know you’re going to yell at kids, just make sure they’re at least two and a half because that’s when they know they’re being yelled at and by the way try not to do it too much but you probably already got that from all those other articles refusing to answer this question about something everyone does.”
Eventually it became night. I ate some more toast. I ate one of the one-year-old’s miniature yogurts. I was freezing, so everything I did I did trying to remain wrapped up in a comforter. I didn’t want any part of my body, even one hand, to not have comforter around it, so even when I drank my ginger ale out of its two liter bottle I held it with two comforter-wrapped hands, like mitts, and lifted it to my mouth. (Think of a bear and a trash can and you’ll get the idea. Also. This is probably a good time to mention that I do have people in my life who care about me but none of them could remotely afford to get sick and I knew I was livid with contagion so I forbade anyone to come near me.)
I woke up at around 10 p.m., burning with fever and too cold to get out of bed to get aspirin. This was a big problem and one I remembered from the last time I’d been sick but was somehow repeating: I’d fall asleep well-medicated and warm and wake up un-medicated and freezing, too cold to get out of bed to get the medication that have made such a trip not a big deal. Even if I had to pee when I woke up I could lie there for two hours avoiding the horror of getting up.
I somehow managed to make the lengthy trek to the bathroom and got aspirin and took care of things. Back under the covers, I waited to stop shivering and scrolled through Twitter. Rosie O’Donnell was getting divorced. Hadn’t she just gotten divorced? And hadn’t she been divorced like a thousand times? I wouldn’t let myself Google the answer, not when this was such a wonderful opportunity to while away these miserable hours traveling to the most remote corners of my mind for everything I’d ever known about Rosie O’Donnell’s romantic history. I thought about Englewood, New Jersey for a few minutes, because I was pretty sure she lived there, or had. Then I thought about Russell Simmons for a while, because I was pretty sure he lived there, or had. I tried to remember if I had ever been there. I was able to take up at least fifteen minutes trying to remember who else famous lived there and finally remembered it was Chris Rock, and this gave me the confidence to believe I could get to the bottom of this Rosie thing.
I knew that some very famous lesbian had an ex-wife or girlfriend that wrote mean, revenge-filled poems about her. I was pretty sure that was Melissa Etheridge and I was confusing her ex with Rosie herself because I knew that Rosie also wrote poems, and then I started thinking about Emilio Estevez’s ex-wife and how I’d been, in my fever state, grouping her with Rosie which was all wrong. It dawned on me that Melissa Etheridge and Rosie O’Donnell were in completely different, non-intersecting lesbian neighborhoods and that if I weren’t sick I would have been deeply offended by my thought process.
I became abruptly aware of the sound of many frogs croaking outside. This was the first February I had ever spent in this house, and since the changing elevation in the area where I live means there are lot of little microclimates– I don’t really know, or care, if I’m using the word microclimate correctly here — I deduced there was some type of frog season that went on in this part of town, and that it was starting right now.
I wrote a text to the woman I live with (the mother of the child that I am, according to Google, never going to be able to yell at!) It read: “WTF. Frogs.” I quit thinking about Rosie O’Donnell and commenced trying to deduce just how many frogs there were outside. (Please keep in mind that every frog sounded the same.) I am not sure how long this went on but soon I found myself coming to what, in my feverish state, seemed a very reasonable conclusion, that the number of frogs outside was equal to the number of times that Rosie O’Donnell had been divorced.
At first it seemed like there were three frogs, and then it seemed like there were five, then it seemed like there might be ten, and I thought “Well, there can’t be ten frogs, because there’s no way she’s been divorced that many times.”
Meanwhile the woman I live with responded to my text: “Oh I forgot to tell you about the frogs.”
She added, in a separate, pleasingly rambling text, by far the most fascinating piece of media I’d consumed all day, that her ex-boyfriend — who had once lived here and now lived with my boyfriend, her cousin (small town, different microclimate) — had almost been driven to madness by the frogs and had on numerous occasions threatened to shoot them.
I wrote to her “He can’t shoot them until I figure out how many times Rosie O’Donnell has been divorced.”
Friday, February 6
I woke up at 2 p.m. There was a text waiting. “Are you alive? Why are you talking about Rosie O’Donnell?” I Googled Rosie O’Donnell and saw that she’d been married only twice. I thought about the frogs and felt weirdly uncomfortable, as if something unsavory had passed between us.
I was not happy that I’d slept this late, because that meant I wouldn’t sleep at all tonight, and I did not want to be awake because I couldn’t take the boredom. I thought about calling a doctor and getting a sleeping pill prescription but I didn’t have the energy to make up some stupid lie and I don’t think you can just tell a doctor “I simply would prefer not to be conscious for two days” and expect to get anywhere.
I got in touch with some friends that I was pretty sure had some high-powered pot tincture. I had this fantasy that I would take it and sleep for like 36 hours and then when I woke up I’d be better.
So they came over and, keeping a safe distance, explained to me how I should take the pot tincture so that I would fall asleep before being stoned became too much of an issue, since I hate being stoned.
So I took a shit load of it and felt nothing. I took more.
Soon — I don’t think anyone will find this terribly surprising — I found myself extremely stoned, wide awake, and, naturally, still very sick.
I lay awake panicking about my life and peeing, over and over and over again, as my body desperately tried to rid itself of the pot. I must have peed every 20 minutes. Every time I had to go I started to laugh, not a happy laugh, but a laugh dripping with cruel irony, and I kept laughing as I peed and staggered back from the bathroom. “God,” I whispered to myself as I lowered myself back into bed. “Please just let me die.“ My body ached worse than ever, from the middle of my thighs up into the middle of my back.
I remembered I’d never finished watching Mozart in the Jungle, and that Amazon had finally released all the episodes. But I was too cold to think about all the time it would take to get it going on my iPad, all that miserable time with my hands and arms and God forbid, my poor shoulders, so much surface area, out in the open air! (I wasn’t wearing a shirt, because I’d sweat on mine, and was too cold to get another one.)
I hadn’t taken any aspirin because I knew it wasn’t going to get rid of this body ache but I couldn’t figure out a better idea. It finally became clear that I would have to brave the atmosphere for painkillers. My body hurt from head to toe and for some reason there were bottles of aspirin everywhere but nothing exciting, no bottles of fat, doctor prescribed Motrin or anything like that. Then, I found a dusty bottle of Excedrin in a forgotten corner of the guest bathroom cabinet. The pills were huge. Like if mice had cheeseburgers they would be the size of Excedrin. I took two of them. Within half an hour I could not really feel my body. I was euphoric. I watched Mozart in the Jungle until dawn.
Saturday, February 7
I could tell that the very worst was over but I still felt awful. I swore never ever to go near marijuana for any reason ever and filled up the desiccated cracks of my body which was now, in addition to being flu-wracked, toxic — with more ginger ale, which — proof that I was getting a little better — I poured into and drank from a real cup, which I held with hands fully exposed to the elements. I put on a clean T-shirt, and I even put on a bra, just to be festive.
I watched Bletchley Circle. I thought the main character was kind of a prig. That was the point, I guess, but I was a little bored by her and the show’s dreary Bluestockingness. I was like, “Ok, ladies, I get it, no one wants to listen to you and no one believes anything you say, because you’re women, but at least feminism hasn’t happened yet so we all feel sorry for you. I’d like to see a show about all of you after feminism has arrived, meaning, I’d like to see the lot of you keep your chins up when you know everything is actually your fault.”
Then I watched that Australian mystery show — about that woman with the bob who goes to bed with everyone and is generally up to no good — but her bad behavior was even more tedious then the nerdy chipperness of the Bletchley ladies. So I just lay there in my bed with that horrible empty feeling that comes specifically from being bored and disappointed by Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime. It’s not just that there’s nothing to watch, it’s the knowledge that you will never, ever, be fully entertained out of your misery, and it actually hurts.
I decided that maybe what was wrong with my last few viewing experiences was that I simply needed to learn something. I tried watching a show about Winston Churchill but realized that was too much learning. So I found my way to a documentary about yoga, which I hoped might be informative yet relaxing. It was narrated by two European dudes who were both, if not full on Asperger’s, spectrum-adjacent. One of them was young, with a sort of animal alertness, and very good at yoga, though, thirty years ago I suspect he would have been way too into the band Yes to bother with other interests. The other one was middle aged and in not so good shape and a little vague and foggy and ashamed, as if he’d just had a drink and was wandering around looking for another one but didn’t want to come out and say so.
The pair of them meandered around India with the young spry one explaining to the cloudy older one what the fuck was going on. You kept expecting the older one to say “Terribly sorry, what were doing here again? What’s this stuff called? Who’s this old fellow wearing a tunic and tell me again why they put red ink on their foreheads?”
I fell asleep at dusk. So the pot tincture sort of worked, but it was maybe on a delay?
Sunday February 8
I woke up at 8 a.m. I spent the entire day trying and failing to interest myself in Sherlock, intermittently Googling “India biryani controversy” and “best medium thick bamboo socks.”
Monday, February 9 — Wednesday, February 18
I decided to get out of bed. I found I had about two hours worth of energy. So I’d do something for two hours — work, buy groceries, drive — and then I’d have to lie down for two hours. This went on until the following Wednesday. Yes. That is what I meant to write. I panted and gasped my way through nine days of recovery.
Thursday, February 19
I felt great. I went to the grocery store. I took care of the one year old at whom I did not yell. I went on Twitter and, collaborating with “friends”, came up with the idea for a production of King Lear set in The Pines where the title character is an aging gay man who must decide which of his gay sons — the meth addict, the married, Log Cabin attorney, or the left-wing activist — deserves to inherit his sprawling summer compound. I looked in the mirror and realized I looked better having had the flu for so long and thus being unable to drink than I looked normally. Then I drank two beers.
Friday, February 20
I went to a blessing way. A blessing way is like a baby shower for people who either don’t vaccinate their kids or space out their vaccination schedule (or can tolerate being friends with people who do that.)You go around a circle and say nice things and you have to bring a bead. I brought five beads, and I got through the whole thing only crying once. People think I hate things like that because I am a bad person, but it’s really only because I cry so easily and don’t like put myself in circumstances where other people can find out. Someone with really long hair played the recorder and finally, we were allowed to drink.
I had a glass of wine and started to get really, really tired. I ate a piece of lemon tart and some cheese and felt more tired and also that horrible light tingly feeling in my thighs that had been one of the signatures of my illness. I escaped under cover of darkness before anyone could tell me they loved me and make me cry. As I drove home, carefully, since I was starting to really not feel well, I told myself that it was because I’d had lemon tart and cheese and a glass of wine for dinner but I knew the truth: I was having a relapse. I made my bed up carefully with four blankets instead of just two and put the bottle of Excedrin front and center.
Indeed, I was sick again.
I could write a account of my relapse — which was even longer than my initial illness, though not as long as the ‘recovery’ between the two — but there’s only one thing to say, which is that the very night I took to my bed again I discovered Inspector Lewis. I liked it so much I honestly didn’t care if I ever got well again. I watched it for five days.
Then, on Thursday, February 25, three weeks and one day after my flu had started, I got up for good.
I feel like my flu was a formative experience, but I’m not exactly sure how, and I don’t think you can’t have a formative experience that you could never sell as such. I do know that I am scared now to be old and ill, because I see how quickly it can become who you are. I am also more hyper aware of how quickly oldness and illness are advancing toward me, and more aware of the drought, more aware of illness everywhere, both passing and permanent. Another way of putting this: once you have set yourself up in bed and watched Inspector Lewis long enough, you start to wonder why you don’t just do that every day, forever. I had a moment of driving down the freeway the other day, my third or fourth of being healthy, listing to Chico’s Thunder 100, thinking that I was so grateful not to be sick I would never want for anything else, but it passed.
Photo by Eflon