It’s been a long time since I was really, really sick. Even before the pandemic, I had not had a cold in over a year, and when news drifted across the ocean that a super virus was infecting thousands in Wuhan, China, my husband and I did everything in our power to avoid it. We picked up our groceries curbside. We limited our time around other people and kept a generous distance between our bodies and the bodies of others. We wore masks. We swallowed vitamins like they were M& M candies. With careful planning and a little work, our game plan seemed to work. Neither of us got sick … until last week.
We made the trip to Tattnall County to attend my Aunt Gloria’s funeral on Labor Day. Held at Cedar Creek Primitive Baptist Church, the service was lovely and well attended by a small crowd of friends and family members. After the funeral, we walked together in a procession behind the hearse into an ancient cemetery that hosts the remains of many of my people. My husband, my mother and I walked alongside my brother, my nephew and his three young children. After the burial ceremony, we congregated in the dining hall where a large spread of delicious food had been prepared for our family. We sat together at tables, ate, talked, laughed and loved before saying our goodbyes.
The following day, I felt tired, but thought nothing of it. I thought it was grief — grief can make you tired emotionally and physically. But as the day began to close, something happened that got my attention. I coughed. It was a dry cough, but something about it didn’t feel normal.
The following morning, I rose with a familiar raw, scratchy feeling stretching back into my throat.
“My throat’s sore,” I said to my husband.
Hours later, I was in bed curled up in a fetal position and sweating in my sheets and drooling all over my pillow.
“Your cousin, Lou, has the flu,” my mother told me on the phone that night. “I think some others in the family may have it, too. I sure hope you didn’t get it while you were down here.” A severe headache. Body aches. Fever. Cough. Runny nose. I knew it was bad when I couldn’t stand the sound of the television on low in the bedroom, realized that reading made me feel dizzy, and noted that the tiny hairs on my legs were aching and throbbing. I managed to eat a little here and there, but nothing delivered flavor to my tastebuds. “These shrimp taste like cardboard,” I said to my husband.
“I’m really sorry you can’t taste them, because they are delicious,” strong, healthy Gene said. Wednesday turned into Thursday. I opened my eyes.
“Did you know Queen Elizabeth died?” my husband asked. “No,” I uttered. “So I guess Charles will be king now?” “He already is,” Gene replied. And then I rolled over and went back to sleep. Thursday melted into Friday, and I think I actually sat up for a few hours, but horizontal was my favorite position — horizontal in the quiet, dark bedroom.
Over the weekend, I thought I was coming out of the fog, but still, I had no energy and retreated to the softness and isolation of the bed or sofa several times during the daytime. I tried to wash my hair. I also tried to wash a load of clothes and failed. I walked to the end of the driveway and didn’t think I’d ever get back to the house alive. I collapsed back into a chair — heart pounding and sweat accumulating on my forehead.
Six days in, and I’m still not right. “I feel weak … and pathetic,” I said to my husband a little while ago. “Thank you for taking care of me.” “You’ll be better in a few days,” he said with enough energy to run a marathon, then he turned and hopped up the stairs taking two steps at a time like a giant.
When you’ve gone for years without illness, you forget how bad being sick feels. It’s not just feeling unwell and as my mother says, “puny,” but also the loss of hours, days and time while not being able to be productive. It makes you grateful for good health and robust immune systems and Nyquil and Tylenol and flu shots.
As for me, I sure hope I feel better tomorrow. But for now, it’s time to go be horizontal again.