Relative wellness

Feeling like crap is subjective. The point at which one person waves the white flag, calls out sick and crawls back to bed might be someone else’s idea of a “good day.” Those of us who grew up in guilt-laden religious traditions sometimes have a harder time admitting, to ourselves or others, that we’ve reached our physical limit.

Those of us that always had to eat every last bite on our plates (even if that bite was disgusting or our stomachs were distended — because some kid somewhere was starving, and somehow our gluttony made that better) also had to get out of bed and go to school when we were sick because look, a fever is not an amputation and a cough is not consumption and schoolwork is not going to do itself. Contagion be damned. I’m sure many an outbreak has been fueled by the Protestant work ethic.

So as a kid you learn that “not feeling good” isn’t going to cut it as the excuse in life. And to an extent that’s true, and kids who learn that lesson will do better in life than those who don’t. Right up until the point where they don’t realize that they don’t have walking pneumonia, and they are about to die of pneumonia on their feet.

When I had swine flu, it was the one time in my life that I was able to be reasonably convinced that I was indeed Very Seriously Ill. From a cell phone on my mile-long walk to the office, I described my symptoms to my doctor. She told me to Get In Bed Now. I said fine, but for how long? She said, for as long as it took — weeks if necessary. And I said, but I have a job! And she asked me if I wanted to go to my job or be alive in three weeks. I had not considered that it might be an either/or sort of situation.

I chose not to maybe die and spent the next two weeks in bed reading Tolstoy. And subsequently thinking, here I am being a wuss when these guys marched through the Russian winter without shoes. I should totally go to work. Russian lover convinced me that there was no need, no need, to compare myself to the nineteenth-century Russian infantry fighting back Napoleon’s forces. Because among other things it was a pointless comparison instilling unnecessary guilt.

Pointless comparisons instilling unnecessary guilt? But I’m of Protestant descent raised in a Puritan nation and did I also mention a woman. As soon as I get done berating myself for being so weak in the face of a life-threatening pandemic, I’m going to go look at my ass in the mirror and drum up additional self-loathing for not looking like Giselle in a thong. That’s what people like me do.

In trying to learn to evaluate my ailments on their own merits, I’ve developed a sort of scale for how crappy I feel when I suspect I might feel like crap, based on my behavior:

  • Stage 1. Not wanting to imbibe, even socially. Is the party over there? Then I’m not. (Illness is probable; immanent.)
  • Stage 2. Forgetting to brush my teeth, then remembering that I forgot and not caring. (Illness has arrived.)
  • Stage 3. Not washing my face. (Illness has settled in a for a nice long stay.)
  • Stage 4. Not bathing. (Time to queue up movies for the next day or so I’m going to be spending in bed.)
  • Stage 5. Reading Russian literature (I’ve given up hope of returning to the office for at least another week.)

At some point I hope to be able to judge my illness like a normal person, who simply asks themselves if they feel well enough to go to work and doesn’t go if the answer is “no.” There’s no medal of honor for showing up at the office with the flu, and I should stop doing it.

Which is to say I’m at Stage 4 today and deciding between a Lethal Weapon or Alien marathon for tomorrow.

The current temperature is not 98.6 degrees

After almost seven years in a corporate job, I’ve learned that modern-day office buildings are just glorified petri dishes. I know a lot of people feel that these are prisons or tombs or whatever metaphor reflects their existential paradigm. But my job has treated me pretty well, all things considered, and while there is plenty I could criticize there is little I feel obliged to complain about.

Except the rampant disease,

Growing up, I was one of those kids with perfect attendance at school. Almost never missed a day, can count on one hand the number of times I had to go see the nurse. Even in high school, when I was catching the bus in the dark at 6:30 and not getting home from my after school job until 9:30, it didn’t seem to matter if I was run down and stuffed into school buses and classrooms with other germ-ridden kids. I was always, always healthy. Even when I lived in a college dorm for several years, I only got sick twice. I was proud of my immune system.

Then I graduated and got a “real” job in a downtown office highrise. A life of cubicles, windowless offices, and highly suspect recirculated air. That first year on the job was the first year of my life where I got sick during the summer. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible. I remember it vividly because I made my new boyfriend sick too, and we spent the 4th of July curled up in bed shivering and listening to the fireworks.

I got sick several more times that summer. And every year after that, I continued to come down with a flu or cold several times during each season. I learned to know when it was coming; so-and-so would be out sick — they sat three cubicles down. I could safely assume that within three days, after each of the co-workers between us had had their turn, I would be the one out sick.

It didn’t matter that I ran 4 miles a day on my lunch breaks; it didn’t matter that I ate fruit and vegetables and yogurt instead of lunch truck cheese steaks; it didn’t matter that I drank 8 glasses of water a day and never touched an ounce of soda. It didn’t matter that I got plenty of sleep and plenty of, um, affection. I was a poster child for “healthy living” and here I was, eating up my sick time like someone who had spent the first two decades of her life on antibiotics.

I’m sick again this week. My head aches, my throat hurts, and my body is on strike with the prevailing, pervasive ick, the ick that puts the “ick” in sick, that grossness that saturates your limbs and makes you feel tired and weak. Yeah, probably some kind of flu, In August!

If our ventilation system had a motto (and why wouldn’t it, I have a fever, right now the cat has spectacles), that motto would be something like: Making the well sick, sooner; making the sick sicker, faster.

Hah hah. Maybe the current administration can borrow that one.