Seldom do I miss a day at work; in forty working years I don't think I've missed more than a dozen or so, and usually it's for some reason like "Are you kidding me? I wouldn't send a hockey team out on those streets. Well, maybe the Texas Stars."
And then came Thursday. ("I never could get the hang of Thursdays," grumbled Arthur Dent.) I had come in Wednesday, suspecting nothing; about an hour and a half into the shift, I came down with chills far beyond what one can reasonably expect from working in a machine room, and everything that had had a history of hurting decided to start doing so again. I finished the day, barely, but advised the sysadmin on the way out that I'd be late Thursday, owing to a doctor's appointment that morning. No problem, he said. I went home and suffered, and wondered how it is I could retain so much heat inside me if I'm sneezing every 90 seconds or so.
Actually, I'd scheduled this appointment three weeks ago, mostly for routine bloodwork and such. But the routine was swallowed up rather quickly once the intake nurse had determined my temperature: 102.1°F. A whole lot of Not Good. (Surprisingly, my blood pressure was not off the scale.) A standard flu test, which consists, apparently, of gathering a snot sample, was administered, and enough blood was drawn to determine a white count. No flu, and no excess white cells, declared the tests. The doctor reviewed these findings, wrote me up scripts for a Z-pack and a liquid antihistamine that bore a distressing similarity to snot, and bade me go home for two days. I called the sysadmin. No problem, he said. I did get a couple of emails from the backup crew, but nothing wholly unexpected.
Now normally I take some sort of perverse pride in my solitude: it's an environment largely of my own making, and I function pretty well within it. But that Thursday night, the shivers started in, and they weren't the same shivers that come with working in a cold office with dubious airflow.
What triggered this, I think, was a perfectly innocent remark that happened to bounce off this grim vision I had in my late forties:
Some day, more likely some night, that "finite number of breaths" will be reached, everything will come to an end, and no one will know until two or three days later because some mundane task wasn't performed on time, some phone call wasn't returned, or, most absurdly, because this goddamn Web site wasn't updated.
As it turned out, the post I'd had scheduled for quarter to seven that morning had actually failed to publish, for reasons known but to God and/or Matt Mullenweg, and someone noticed. It did not help that I haven't missed a day of posting in over 14 years, so if a time slot goes unfilled, something must clearly be wrong.
So yeah, I should have been grateful that someone noticed. But no, I remembered that off-hand prophecy, and plunged into the Slough of Despond, alone with my own thoughts.
There are times when this is not the best place to be. P. G. Wodehouse once wrote:
"A man's subconscious self is not the ideal companion. It lurks for the greater part of his life in some dark den of its own, hidden away, and emerges only to taunt and deride and increase the misery of a miserable hour."
You may be absolutely certain that my subconscious self can taunt and deride with the best of them. (Heck, my conscious self is actually pretty good at it.)
And so the two days of Not Really A Quarantine dragged on. There was plenty of food in the house, but I had no great urge to eat; Wednesday I'd pulled an 8-ounce New York strip from the freezer, late Thursday I tossed it onto George Foreman's handy little grill, and somehow it was no treat. When something selling for $13.98 a pound is no treat, something is askew somewhere.
A tendency I'd noticed before waking up several times in the middle of the night with mind racing out of control was exacerbated. Some blame for this must go to the vast quantity of water I'd been drinking to fight the fever; but for every time I had to drag myself to the throne, there were two or three times when I didn't.
Still, the oddest sensation was a feeling of disconnectedness. It made no sense: all my usual communication channels were open and intact, and surely no one was spurning me in my hour of need, but then I never use phrases like "my hour of need." I was on the brink of yelling "Shut up and let me die already!" while no one had said a word. This is, to say the least, suboptimal.
Saturday, I'd hoped to be able to let some sunshine into this place. What I got was eleven hours or so of sub-San Francisco-level fog. I imagine it's bearable there, with that whole romantic by-the-Bay thing going on, but not so much on my little street. And if there's anything I don't need to be thinking about right now, it's anything romantic, in pretty much any sense of the word. I did bestir myself enough to do two loads of wash, mainly because I figured that same set of sheets I'd slept on since Sunday night might be a source of reinfection.
The part that bugs me most, I think, is the fact that Friday was my last day of work before two weeks of vacation. I'm in no shape, and in no mood, to go anywhere. And that slime that's passing for cough medicine? Word to the wise: do not attempt to administer while working on an article. It took me roughly an hour to clean it out of my keyboard. By then, it looked exactly like snot.
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Copyright © 2014 by Charles G. Hill