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.

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