Sick Sick Sick

Sick, sick, sick.
Everyone has suddenly come down with some kind of illness. 
After having yesterday off, I find that several of my co-workers, who have been fighting various bugs, called in sick yesterday. My wife is hacking up a storm. I’m fighting it myself – AND we all had flu shots – where I work, it’s mandatory.
Our friends
I suspect a lot of upper respiratory illnesses are circulating. Right now I think (hope) I just have a head cold. One of my co-workers undergoing chemotherapy, is avoiding getting close to anyone and I don’t blame him.
This, of course, brings back my fond memories of being sick as a kid.
My mom was an elementary school teacher who had some basic training as a nurse. It was very difficult to get anything past her in the wake of faking an illness, but God knows, I tried. Especially in the third grade when things were . . .um, kind of tough for me socially. 
‘Don’t eat the pudding in the fridge’
If my mother had to stay home with us when we were little, she would have to call in and arrange for a substitute teacher for her second grade class. So we REALLY had to be sick in order to stay home. Dad never stayed home with us. He just wasn’t the type to bring up chicken soup and check our temperature. 
It got a little easier when we got older and mom would let me and my sister stay home by ourselves. This happened around the time I was in fifth grade. I know today that many will say that was too young but this was a different time (the 70s) and we were given more responsibility for taking care of ourselves. 
Wow, that sounded like something coming from a crotchety old man, eh? Well, it was true, dangumit! 
In fact, I remember having the house key around my neck in the first grade when the bus would let me off on the corner of the street and I would walk up the street and let myself in the house and wait for my mom to come home.
First grade – imaging that happening today. Child Protective Services would have a field day with that one. But nothing ever happened. Well, except that ONE day that I missed my stop which I wrote about earlier.
Um. . . .
So being sick usually started with a firm diagnosis made after a game of 20 questions about how I was feeling. I learned that if I really wanted a day off, careful planning the day before would make a more convincing case. If I started to hack and wheeze and complain the day before, it was easier to believe I was sick the next day. I could also make myself sneeze by picking my nose in a certain way. No I am not proud of this. No I will not tell you how to do it.
A co-worker of mine years later told me how he did it. He’d hide a glass of water in the bathroom, set his watch alarm to wake him at 4 a.m. and then to the bathroom making retching noise and throw the water into the toilet, all of this loud enough for his parents to hear. Then he’d flush the toilet before they got there. What could I say? Genius.
totally unnecessary. But I DID have to have syrup of ipecac. Ugh!
Of course, if I faked it and I was on my own, the day would be spent, first, watching CBS This Morning with Hughes Rudd (and Sally Quinn if you remember back that far) and Captain Kangaroo. Then it was a whole day reading and eating chicken soup. I had to eat the soup because my mom would check the garbage can when she came home to make sure I was eating right. 
But then there were those days when there was no question at all – I was sick and looked it. One such case I remember very well.
It was February 1974. I was getting sick at school the day before, hacking up all kinds of petri dish type gunk. I made a big tactical mistake – I went out for gym class in the snow which made everything worse. When I got back into class I was going downhill fast. I asked our fourth grade nun if I could do to the nurse and have my parents called.
Sister Mary St. Clair was a tough old penguin. She absolutely refused. “If you were well enough to go romp in the snow, you’re well enough to sit here the rest of the day,” she said.
By the time I got home, I could barely speak and shortly, I couldn’t speak. Mom came home and I was already in bed. I croaked out an explanation of what happened and she got mad at the nun which was not a good thing because whenever my mom had words with the nun, I was the one that suffered.
Mom’s anger turned to concern – my temperature was already past 101 so she knew this was not fakery. 
I would be home for the rest of the week and it was NOT that fun.
When I was dragged to the doctor after being sick for two days, he gave me a steroid shot and said I had bronchitis and laryngitis, not to mention a high fever. 
So let me tell you what the second night of my illness was like. 
I had been in bed all day hacking up. . . well, I’ll spare you the gore, but I was going thorough tissues and towels at a prodigious pace. I was also in woozy-woozy land. Much flat ginger ale was being drunk as my head lolled to one side, fixated on my little black and white TV which was on from morning to evening. 
Channel 61 (WKBF for old time Clevelanders) would run their evening movie promos all day. The first day it was for a movie called ‘Five Card Stud.’ They packaged the promo in such a way to build up all the suspense and foreboding of the movies. I assumed from the promos that all the cowboys playing poker were going to get shot. I could live with that since I knew I would not be awake for the movie.
But the second day of my illness, the worst day when my temperature hit 104 late in the evening, they were promoting the movie ‘In Cold Blood.’ 
OK, I kind of got the picture from the promo – nice family in Kansas, bad guys come in the middle of the night, noir shots of the guys coming up the stairs, and everyone dies.
I was 11-years-old and that put the hook into my fevered brain bigly. For a kid who lives in a house that makes strange noises in the middle of the night in winter (the heated water pipes ran through the wooden steps or near them), this was not something I wanted dancing across my dreams that night.
Having Truman Capote in my bedroom after my murder would be creepy enough
You can imaging the night I had. The hot water heater would send the water through the pipes with an evil sounding drip and whoosh. Then the wood would start expanding and contracting. At some point, I kid you not, even you would believe someone was WALKING UP THE STAIRS!
The other problem I was having with my high fever was auditory hallucinations. I was hearing things. The news anchor from CKLW radio (from Detroit but really Windsor, Ontario)  was talking to me “this is CKLW 20-20 News!” I could hear him in my head. Other voices from radio and TV were also speaking randomly to me. Regrettably none of those were Captain Kangaroo or MisterRogers calming me down. 
And all the while, I was waiting for Robert Blake to come up the stairs and kill me. I hoped that my dad would hear him first and, as a Marine, would kick the shit out of those two punks before they could do anything. 
But I didn’t know that. My radio and TV friends were in my head talking to me and they were not reassuring. I wrapped myself so tight in the blankets that I could feel the flop sweat drenching the sheets. 
Eventually, like all good horror movies, the sun came up and mom came in to take my temperature and get me more ginger ale. My fever was better but I still felt like warmed-over dog crap. I did not tell her of my psycho-horror night sleep because, well, that’s not the kind of thing a boy tells him mom. Besides, I survived. I spent most of that day sleeping and watching channels other than 61. There were always cartoons on Channel 43 and Prize Movie was sometimes pretty good. 
Clevelanders of a certain age will remember
Well eventually I returned to school after a four days absence and there was Sister Mary St. Clair, calling me to her desk first thing in the morning. She loomed over me and spoke quietly about the previous Monday. 
Of could she never apologized for not letting me go to the nurse. She justified her actions. I didn’t care and knew better to argue. In the back of my mind, I knew it really would not have made a difference when I got home: I was going to be very sick regardless.
But I learned something about human nature which, as I am wont to do, immediately forgot it.
Nowadays, as an adult, getting sick is not some kind of magical day off from school to watch TV all day and drink ginger all – it’s a genuine pain in the ass. I’m lucky in my job to have sick leave AND the option to use my annual leave in lieu of sick. Most people don’t have that option and have to come in regardless of how sick they are.
And you know what happens then – the sickness of one person spreads around the office like Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death.
But whenever I do get sick enough to call in, I’m always reminded of those days in front of the little black and white TV, with mom bringing fluids and soup and feeling like you were being cared for in the best way. 
Now, of course, we’re on our own. Make your own tea, pop Tylenol for severe cold, drink lots of water and hope you feel just good enough to come in the next day. 
The term that’s in vogue now is ‘self-care.’ It’s important for all of us. I wish people more people could stay home when they are sick – even if it’s the often derided ‘mental health day.’ Because with more and more demands placed upon us by work and family life, people are being stressed to death.
And not everyone has someone to bring them chicken soup.
This entry was posted in Catholic school, Catholicism, childhood terror, fear, nuns, paranoia, self care. Bookmark the permalink.

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