A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.
Mark and Jim had been sick for almost ten days, between the two of them,—long enough to run through two big boxes of daytime/night-time cold capsules, five boxes of Kleenex, and six big bottles of ginger ale, which is our go-to comfort drink for colds and flu. I hit the vitamins, meanwhile, and made some pots of soup, and I gave sympathetic but long-distance hugs, and I had just been congratulating myself on my remarkably healthy constitution. And then last night, it hit…a little tickle at dinnertime that quickly turned on the faucet, jiggled on the coughing, and scrambled up to pound on the inside of my forehead. My nose turned red and my hands grew cold and I pulled on my warm purple hoodie that says “Washington DC” on it, and I admitted the fact: indeed, I had a cold.
So today I took a sick day, crawling out of bed at dawn to realize, “Oh, no way.”
I have read that the way we handle common illness is more of a marriage-buster than the way we handle money. It is true, I think, that, when Mark is sick, he appreciates it when someone listens to him describe how he’s feeling. It is also true, that when I am sick, I mostly want a warm blankie, a book that is not too taxing, and to be left–oh, bliss– alone.
And I hate, really, to admit to being sick. It make me feel wimpy; it makes me think I am allowing some tiny microbe to undermine my strength. The worst part of the day is always calling off. I think about all the big and serious things that have happened this month: some colleagues have been hospitalized with real illnesses, others have lost family members, and some are contemplating surgery. In the greater schemes of things, my head cold isn’t even on the charts. But this cold clearly was not a walk-it-off kind of incidence; it was a snuggle-up and stay at home one. I texted my understanding boss, and I ground some coffee, and I tamped down the guilt of giving in.
Mark, sympathetic but wise to my ways, packed his lunch and his lawyer things, wished me well, and departed into a blast of frigid Ohio air. I waved him off and let the quiet of the house settle in around me.
There really is nothing so precious as an unexpected day off, even when it’s earned by incubating some vermin-y sort of virus. I poured myself a glass of juice, drank a steaming mug of rich black coffee, and put bread in the toaster. I made some cinnamon toast. I checked–quickly–my work email. I bypassed thoughtful, hefty tomes, and I grabbed a silly book–one about a women with a bad boyfriend and a stupid job and fractured relationships. And then I snuggled into the Reading Chair. I plunged into the book, knowing full well she’d dump Bad Boy, find her true vocation, fix those funky fractures separating her from her parents and her daughter, and finally discover true love in the bargain. I made it to about page twenty before I sank into a lovely, warm, and cozy morning sleep.
By the time I roused, at almost noon, Jim was up and had put the dishes away and done his other morning chores, and the little dog was dancing in a clickety circle on the hardwood. I pulled up my purple sweatshirt hood; I pulled on my old cloth coat with the flannel plaid lining; and the dog and I plunged outside. She wanted to do merry circuits of the backyard; I had forgotten to put socks on. Snow seeped into my low-rider Duckies. No point in rushing the little dog, however; if the rites are not performed properly, they’ll need to be repeated. It’s one of the benefits of a dog in the house, actually; she makes me hoist myself out of the comfy chair and move about. She makes me stretch my legs and breathe fresh air; she makes me realize, after all, that this is just a cold.
Oh, and then lunch–and sick day conventions must be met. I heated a bowl of soup and let the fragrant steam bathe my ragged nose. I crumbled crackers. I opened my book and I read at the table, kleenex box at the ready.
And after lunch, Jim and I rummaged in the freezer and we found two frozen confections. I grew up secure in the knowing that frozen confections are a necessary part of being home and sick. I dutifully devoured mine. I took my daytime medicine, the kind that is supposed to perk one up, so one can be a happy employee. I thought about grading papers.
And then I took my book back to my chair.
And the snow fell, and James took care of his laundry and juggled his finances and the little dog snuggled on the back of the couch, butt pointed toward the hot air vent. The furnace juggernauted on, and the dog sighed and settled in. Soon she was snoring.
I sighed and settled in; I opened my book. Soon I was snoring, too.
The light was purpling by the time I awoke, in the quiet warm house, cocooned in my blankets, comforted by my undemanding story, appreciative of the boy, who came to ask what he could get for me. Mark came home and we cooked an omelet dinner, and I took the dog out for a little longer stretch of her legs in snow as fine as glitter. I came home cold and happy for the warm kitchen. The boyos were bundling up; they had a list for the grocery store. The list included a fresh supply of cold capsules and another big bottle of ginger ale. And I bet they’ll bring a frozen confection, too.
The reason we have sick days, a wise boss once told me, is so that when we are sick, we can stay home. Stay home and rest. Stay home and keep our germy selves away from susceptible colleagues. Stay home and regroup, and remind ourselves that all of us, no matter how tough we think we are, need a day of R and R now and then.
The night is dark and cold, the house is quiet, my book is flung, upside down, opened to Chapter 37, on the dining room table. I’ll take my steaming bath; I’ll take my night-time cold meds; I’ll take that book to bed.
Good thing, I think, the common cold is really not all that common. And thank goodness for the luxury of a sick day, a quiet day to rest, to snooze; a day to gather in. Tomorrow the hurly burly will, no doubt, begin again; but tomorrow, I’ll have today’s rest and peace and quiet–all the fortifications a sick day brings–to carry forth to meet it.
Be well this week, my friends!