Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Magic Bullet

The only thing I like less than being sick is talking about it. I don’t like others to regale me with details of their bodily woes, and I am committed to not over-sharing stories of my symptoms. (except with Kevin- he has to hear every gory description.) So let me start by qualifying this blog as one that is not about illness. It is about the cure, the fix, the answer-the magic bullet.

I don’t get sick often, normally every other year for 3 days. Sore throat, fever, cough, runny nose, bla bla bla, then I gradually get better by taking it easy and staying hydrated. Within a week, I am back to normal, and usually only miss a day or less at work. I pride myself on not missing much work for illness and for my ability to plow on through despite the minor inconveniences of congestion and aches. I have bragged more than once that “if I were bleeding out of my eyes, I would slap on a bandaid and show up for work.” I offer as further proof of my steel constitution the fact that I don’t have a regular doctor, and have not sought medical treatment outside of a thrown back in over 25 years, when I went to the infirmary at college. I’m a health insurance company’s ideal customer. Always pay but never use.

It was only a matter of time before this ego-based bravado was destined to spiral into an unhappy ending. A bragger must always eat their own words in the end. I had mine forced back in my mouth rather unceremoniously this week when my normal 3-day illness morphed into a 10-day cluster. I was at a slight disadvantage on day 1, which happened to be the day of our big holiday party, forcing me to crank out a 15-hour shift with a fever. I assumed that if I left work early the following day and rested over the weekend, I would be rock-n-roll back-to-normal by Monday.

Monday came, and there was no rock-n-roll. Symptoms clung to me like the smell of stale beer in a college-town bar. I tried to band-aid through each day with new fixes- if I just hydrate with Fresca and Gatorade, I’ll be fine. If I just NyQuil at night so I can sleep, I’ll wake refreshed. If I ramp up on citrus fruits, I will get back on track. The coughing got worse; I often erupted into outbursts so violent that I frightened and disgusted my co-workers in equal measure. My appearance at work each day was deteriorating. My voice was a crackly, raspy mess, when it showed up at all.

On day 6, I googled my symptoms, as any doctor-averse sick person would, and signed up for every possible therapy to help what I was now describing as “glue in the lungs”. Kev bought me every kind of herbal tea, fruit and OTC cold medicine that internet posters swore by. I consumed them all, and the glue just laughed in my face. I turned the entire master bathroom into a peppermint sauna, with tea bags in the garden tub, hot shower on full blast, and me on the floor with damp washcloths inhaling deeply, desperately trying to get the glue to surrender its stubborn ransom on my ability to breathe.

The time for the white flag came later that evening, sitting among a symphony of discarded treatments, after each one had in turn betrayed my hope that it would be a magic bullet of healing. I worried I might even have pneumonia and tried to calculate how I was going to find the time to shop for Christmas when I couldn’t even make it 10 minutes without coughing myself into piercing headaches. Kevin, who always lets me come to inevitable conclusions on my own schedule, concurred that it was time to break my 25-year-no-doctor streak.

The doctor visit was like everyone always describes them: 2 hours of waiting followed by 5 minutes of assessment, ending with a prescription. I did not have pneumonia. I did not have glue in the lungs. She offered a steroid pill and a narcotic to help me sleep. She said that the steroid will feel like a “magic bullet”, but that the effect was only temporary. She said all I really needed was to let the body heal once and for all, allowing the immune system to do its job. The true hero, she said in her heavily accented voice, was sleep. The one medicine I had not fully embraced in the past 10 days would be the real magic bullet.

I think it’s time for a nap.

For the record, I did not cry in Target

There is a brief moment when you know you are on the verge of crying but you decide not to surrender. You feel the emotion simmer to the surface, the moisture wells in the eyes, and the face begins to crinkle. It takes a conscious effort to send the tears back to their source, and shake off the tingly feeling that could easily betray your cool demeanor. You normally only have this kind of control for the “easy cry” moments, like when you see that commercial for Budweiser where the Clydesdale horse recognizes his trainer.

In case you didn’t respond normally to this famous Super Bowl spot, I will tell you that the facial twinges should start occuring as soon as the parade is over. You don’t have to cry, but you know you want to.

It is this exact same twinge that hit me at 8:30am yesterday in Target while shopping for a child I don’t know, an 8-year old boy named Chris who was part of the Salvation Army’s “Angel Tree” program. Kids in need tell the Salvation Army what they would like for Christmas, and the information is put on a card so that people can “adopt” them for the holiday. If you take an angel card off of a tree on display at any participating company, you are essentially agreeing to take ownership of that child’s Christmas morning.

So in the case of Chris, I had ownership of his holiday happiness and the card informed me that his happiness hinged on my decision to sport out a train set . Target had a starter kit, but upon close inspection, I realized that it only included the track and depot. I had to invest more for the trains and other accoutrements essential for a fun Christmas morning (including 9 AAA batteries).

This was no problem for me, as I was prepared to spend whatever was necessary for Chris, although I knew nothing about him outside of his affinity for trains. After these decisions were made, I picked up an outfit, careful to find something that looked cool, although I was unsure of his style. Somewhere in the process of selecting these presents in the early-morning quiet of my favorite Target (aka “the Mothership”), I got so wrapped up in what his story might be, that I started to become sad. Why is Chris in need, and have I done enough to help make this Christmas special? Will he like what I have selected? Will he be elated that there is so much, or sad that there is not more? I picked up a couple of smaller items, including a board game he could play with his family, in the hopes that there is one who would be willing to participate.


Train set for Chris

And then the facial twinges started and the tears leaked into my eyes. I quickly pushed them back, so that nobody would know that Chris had snuck into my heart, just a bit, just like the Clydesdale horse. This has happened before during Angel Tree shopping, which is a different charitable experience from donating to “Toys for Tots” or similar toy drives, because you have basic details regarding the child for whom you are shopping. And because I’ve coordinated enough of my company’s Angel Tree programs, I also know how to tell if Chris has a sibling. I often try to make sure siblings have the same number of gifts, the way my mom did for me and my sisters when we were little and easily jealous of one another.

Even a little bit of information is just dangerous enough to make you feel involved. This emotional connection, however brief and slight, is not necessarily good or bad, but certainly is an integral part of the holiday experience for many donors. This is certainly true for me. I would no more let the month of December come and go without buying toys for kids like Chris, than I would let it come and go without buying a gift for my mom. I just have to be sure to be on the alert for the signs that I am about to start crying in Target. For the record, on this occasion, I was able to hold it together. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.