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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Sick, and Enjoying It
January 20, 2013 - 5:22pm

I had been feeling achy and draggy for longer than I could remember. I had a chronic headache, too. I thought of these as flu-like symptoms, but not the flu, because I don't get the flu. I almost never even get a cold. I have what I sometimes refer to as "autoimmune surplus syndrome, or ASS": my system gobbles up every virus or germ that comes its way, and when it has nothing left to feast on, it turns on itself, like the Ouroboros, the serpent that eats its own tail. I worry about being devoured from within, but not about what is flying around in the air. I figured that feeling lousy was the price I had to pay for overloading myself with work, classes, and active vacations at my age.

But when I noticed discolored spots on my legs that didn't fade, the symptoms seemed to make sense in a scary way. On Wednesday, I pointed them out to my rheumatologist, and she, too, was alarmed at first. We had both had the same thought, that they were spontaneous bruising which, combined with my extreme fatigue, could indicate a blood problem such as leukemia.

I don't have leukemia. The spots are benign. And the flu-like symptoms turned out to be—the flu. "That can't be," I told my doctor. But it is. "But I haven't even been coughing that much," I protested.

"You ought to be," she said. "Your lungs are filled with fluid." Suddenly I understood a few friends' observations that they have found it increasingly difficult to hear my voice on the phone as something other than their bad hearing. She prescribed Tamiflu and an antibiotic, along with at least 48 hours' complete bed rest.

I protested that, too. I had work and an important class. "You can't go out," she reminded me. "You're infectious." I hadn't thought of that; just as I don't think of myself as susceptible to contagion, I don't think of myself as an agent.

So I have been lying in bed since then. At first, along with the relief that it wasn't more serious, I was annoyed at the enforced rest. I'm not good at doing nothing, and generally, I don't enjoy it.

I really was worn out, though. I have slept through almost the entire period. Ben is home for winter break, and he has been wonderful, checking in on me frequently and, if I am awake, telling me funny stories and tidbits of news and gossip, and running out to the store for juice. In the evening, when I am usually still at work or in class, we have been catching up with the Inspector Maigret series starring Michael Gambon. Ben goes out with his friends afterward, and Bill and I chat for a while before I drop off again.

This idyll is not going to last. I'm writing on Friday night. I am scheduled to perform in an improv show tomorrow evening, and I am determined to do it. Next week, Ben will return to his old high school, to fill in for the music teacher, who will be away on tour, and the following week he starts his very demanding BFA program. Next week, Bill will have outpatient eye surgery, and will need some caretaking himself.

I would not want to have to live this way long-term, but as a brief vacation from "real life," I must say, I can think of many worse ways to spend a few days.


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