Remember that scene in the movie, You’ve Got Mail, where everyone is stuck in the elevator? Joe Fox hasn’t yet admitted to himself that he’s an unhappy bookselling conglomerate that has put the only person or place he’s cared about out of business. Instead, he’s sitting there with his very New York girlfriend. The elevator boy says when he gets out of there, he’s going to propose to his girlfriend. Another woman insists she’s going to call her mom because she hasn’t been talking to her in a long time. Tom Hanks’s character starts to say something just as his rummaging girlfriend interjects anxiously that when she gets out of there, she’s going to have her eyes lasered. The scene is quite telling. Within hours, Tom Hanks has moved out of his shared apartment with his girlfriend and on to a simpler life.
Well, I get that.
Right now, I’m locked out. Not only am I locked out but I have a dozen bags of heavy groceries with me. I was standing outside, watching the rain roll in and wondering what I was going to do while I waited for Stark to get home from work before a nice neighbor I’ve never even met before came and opened the door to our main apartment building. So now, at least I get to wait in the basement and I have a jacket to brace myself from the cold.
I’m sitting here thinking about what it is I’ve done to myself, though. My first instinct was to take out my phone or my laptop, close enough to connect to our Internet and see what kind of work I could get done. Luckily, I’ve found myself here instead – in that far off corner of a digital world that I leave ignored and alone far too often.
There go the motion sensor lights…
This isn’t my first wake up call as of late. Three weeks ago I lay in bed coughing so hard I was sure I was going to burst a vein in my head. I had never felt a constant, throbbing pain like that from coughing. I was ready to tear out my lungs and leave them there, dissipating into a blob on the floor. I felt I was more likely to survive without them. Who needs to breathe anyway? That was then. And back then, I had already been sick for three weeks. The cough crept in, went away, and then revisited in a way that let you know it had no plans of leaving anytime soon. So eventually, I went to the doctor.
The doc said at first that it was likely just an asthma or an allergy I developed relocating to Australia. Believable. The only thing that didn’t make sense to me, someone who has had asthma in the past, was the nature of the cough. My cough had always been try. Allergy-based coughs are chunky, for lack of a better term. Even the doctor was a little perplexed by that, but she was certain that was all it could be and that I had developed an infection from it that could be rid by a simple antibiotic. Then she heard me break down into a coughing fit. I couldn’t breathe. I looked at her bewildered and started waving my hands as if to say, “Can’t you offer a girl a drink!?!?” Between frantic gasps of breath, I eventually got the words out. She brought me water. In tears, I tried to drink it all without spitting it back in her face.
At that point, she mashed escape a few times on her computer and started a new prescription for something stronger. She snapped on a plastic glove, grabbed the world’s longest Q-tip, and stood back about three feet waiting to see if I would cough and spurt all over her before she asked me to say ahhhh for a brief second. As she swabbed, she said, “I don’t expect this to show anything after three weeks. It is just too hard to detect. Based on the way you sound, which is unfortunate but good for me to hear, I would say the likely case here if it isn’t asthma is that you have whooping cough. Have you been traveling? Around any children?”
Ummmm, yes and yes.
She sent me away with a script for a stronger antibiotic, which back in the States is still a puny little excuse for medicine. The rest of the world isn’t as prone to overmedicate as we are. I didn’t think much of it until I went over the directions she handed me while I waited for the script to be filled. With a little more seriousness, the pharmacist actually came around and talked to me about ensuring this medication worked for me. The directions said to rest, stay clear of people, and to not go into the office for at least a week. I didn’t have an office. Based on what she told me, the main concern was infecting other people. “Well,” I thought, “bad timing for that.”
I had guests in town. They had only been around a week. At this point, I was taking time out for the doctor just so I could get rid of this annoying thing that was disrupting any chance of actually speaking to my friends about their day and their adventures. I had work to do; people to see! It was only when I met back up with them and we had boarded the train for Blacktotwn to go visit the Featherdale Wildlife Park when it hit me.
“If I have whooping cough, I’m going to kill every child at that zoo!” I thought! I was overcome with guilt and a little bit of panic. It was one of those moments where I had no desire to say a word, but needed someone desperately to speak to. Stark was unavailable, so I texted my best friend. There I was, sitting right next to someone I’ve known for over 10 years and I couldn’t even say words out loud. I wasn’t sure what to say! I thought about how I would bring it up. “So, umm, I guess I have this kind of cough that actually kills people. I could die. I mean, I probably won’t die, but I could.”
I walked behind everyone at the zoo. I was eyeballing around each cage for children as much as I was there, looking at the unique animals Australia has. It was after work and late in the afternoon. Thankfully, not a single child was there roaming about the public area. I eventually relaxed, but even then, I wandered off on my own while my friends took their own tour around the park.
Rest. Don’t go into the office. Stay clear of people for at least 7 days.
I knew I wasn’t going to die, but it is the first real conscious time that it occurred to me that I could. I mean, I’ve been in accidents. I’ve been in the hospital. I’ve done a real good bang up job to my head half a dozen times. Those were different though. This was the first time I felt a deep “oh shit” moment and knew I had done this to myself.
I would like to say this was a big ah-ha moment for me that I had been working too hard, burning the candle on both ends, not worried enough about work-health-life balance, and that I was going to promise myself I would spend more time in the sunshine, more time writing, more time walking, and drink juice every day. It wasn’t. The thought was there, and gone…
I went on waking earlier and earlier to get my work done and my meetings out of the way by the time my friends would wake in the morning. From there, we’d walk 15, 16… 20 kilometers in a day, going this way and that to see absolutely everything Syndey had to offer. I wasn’t drinking water. I was over-exercising. I was having too much coffee. I was staying up late and waking early. I was doing everything it took to get everything I wanted out of both worlds while completely disregarding my continuing meltdowns at night, struggling to breathe each time I laid down for bed.
You know what though? I survived. In fact, I did more than that. I had fun.
My friends and I saw absolutely everything. We traveled every road on the New South Wales (NSW) map. We went hours north, hours south. We hoped on random trains to places we had only just heard about. We saw wild kangaroo. We held koala bears. We ate. We drank. We gambled. We did EVERYTHING. But you know, now that they’re gone, my body is reminding me that it is the one that is here to stay. It is just like that full-body flu you get right as exams are approaching. I. am. miserable.
The day after we came home from our last hoorah with everyone in Singapore, I ventured down to my “local” dentist to have my jaw-growth appliance adjusted. I should have known then that something was truly wrong with me. The typical three-hour adventure that is visiting this dentist, turned into a five-hour hell hole. I missed my train stop THREE times, and on the way home I went to pick up some groceries and a little chocolate to use in celebration of what would have been my mom’s 71 birthday and what did I do? I paid for everything but my milk and started walking out of the store with milk in hand until someone asked me, “You going to pay for that love?”
I would say I was flushed with embarrassment, but I’m even more sure I was flushed with fever. It all made sense. I slept 6 hours on the plane home from Singapore, which I NEVER do. Then I had gone straight to bed and slept another 15 hours which I haven’t done since the last time I was deathly ill. Now, I was practically lost in my own city and stealing milk from stores. Somehow I still managed to get home, make dinner, and survive another night of my desperate whooping sounds for breath.
The day after my dental appointment, I was in head-to-toe pain. This appliance is meant to force jaw bone growth at the same rapid pace we experience as breastfeeding infants. This time, the dentist had tightened it so tightly I swear I could physically see my front teeth crowd over each other overnight. The whole front of my face feels like it was slammed into something, from the inside. Add wretched coughing to that and the head pains are beyond my control.
To top it off, I have a mouth sore that is disgusting. It has gone from being a blister caused by being caught and pinched on these half-braces I have to actually growing new skin over the blister, creating a blister on top of that skin, and starting to grow skin over the blister again. In other words, I have a permanent fat lip that is large enough that I can’t even close my mouth, properly chew, or keep water inside my mouth when I try to drink.
I can’t even describe the full sense of misery I am in right now. My body can’t even compute it. If I move too quickly or cough too hard, I can physically feel my temperature jump sky high, threatening every corner of my body with disease-fighting enzymes that can’t quite figure out WTF is going on! I go back and forth between hot sweats and total freezing when all has calmed. Just the smallest effort, like leaving the house or taking a long shower, seem to add so much more exhaustion to my constantly fighting body that my body’s initial instinct is just to pass out. I have had some crazy spins!
So what do you do? What do you do when you know very literally that you’re killing yourself? How do you change yourself? How can you be any different from who you are even when you know you are your biggest threat? I can’t word it any other way. It is one of those total Huckabee’s moments of reality – the kind where you see your own hands in a three-dimensional way and suddenly get that video game viewpoint where the world around you is happening, moving like a first-person-shooter and while you hold the controls, you’re really not in control at all.
I’m not sure I am the type of person that knows how to take it easy. My idea of taking it easy is to quickly replace how hard I am working on one thing, with working hard on something else. Oh? I’m home in bed sick? Then, I better suddenly take up baking and do seven loads of laundry, sew up those torn mats I’ve been meaning to sew, and scrub down the kitchen.
I’m a chronic multi-tasker; a self-destructor.
All in all, I think the truest moment I have had as of late was slowly walking down a long beach next to DH, hours north of Sydney when I said, “I need to get over my American need to always look for something to do.” To him, it didn’t make a lot of sense. I was looking around at this prime vacation hotspot. It looked nothing like any hot beach in America. No fast food. No chain restaurants. No night clubs. No gift shops. No “Rent Here” or “Buy Now.” I said, “In America, we’re always looking for something to do, but isn’t the point of vacation that we enjoy doing less?” For me, it was my own internal moment. It was the beginning of getting something… something that I still didn’t really get until right here, right now, riddled with undescribable pain and annoying coughing as I rush home for groceries and to finish working late despite it being a Friday night and only being locked out, away from my office, away from the laundry, away from cooking and cleaning… did it occur to me that I should just STOP.