Saturday, October 10, 2009

fever dreams

I'm not feeling feverish or anything but this little infection I have, if left to its own devices, could theoretically spread to the kidneys and cause all sorts of problems. (Never fear, Mom, I've got a doctor's appointment first thing Monday morning and will get the proper medication!)

I would not claim to have 'the constitution of an ox,' as my friend Lauren describes herself and her Herculean ability to ward off the germs of a roomful of first graders year after year, and am somewhat prone to headaches and colds, but in the grander scheme of things I know these complaints are small. I have not needed antibiotics since the spring of 1986 and I find it slightly unnerving to need them now.

What I remember most, if fuzzily, about that last course of antibiotics is actually the year leading up to that spring of 1996. What I remember is being sick. On-goingly sick, spending the better part of an entire summer on the west coast in a haze, dazed and burning or vomiting and chilled to the bone. I remember shaking with cold, in the midst of a hot July, in the loft at my grandmother's house in central Washington. I remember shivering in the August sun at the end of the dock at my grandparents' cabin, huddled in a towel and miserable while all the cousins went swimming and water-skiing and motor-boating around the lake. I remember being dropped into a large inner tube in that cold cold lake water, my parents and grandparents on the verge of panic as my temperature crawled upwards of 104 degrees in that cabin on Lake Coeur d'Alene, an hour's drive from the nearest hospital.

I remember finally (and to everyone's relief) being diagnosed that September with nothing more than a particularly virulent (and atypical, given the complete lack of sore throat) form of strep throat. I remember spending much of the following year dutifully taking my penicillin, camouflaged disgustingly in a bright pink cherry-flavored viscous liquid, being healthy for a few weeks, and then getting sick again.

And I remember the fevers. And the fever dreams.

I remember hours (days?) spent lying in bed convinced that my ankles and wrists were pressing up against miles and miles of concrete; that I was swimming through lagoons filled with garbage; that snow fell constantly down on me from all those white ceilings. I remember sitting hunched in the armchair at the head of our dining room table, wrapped in a much-loved pink and green crocheted blanket and trying to drink lemon tea with honey, crying because my arms, gone all elastic-y and long, kept escaping my control and tangling, Gumby-like, in terrifying pretzel-like knots.

I remember those out-of-control knots, that garbage, the concrete and snow, with a certain marked dread, and also a certain relief that they are just far-flung disturbances, rising up out of long-ago childhood fevers.

After nearly nine months of antibiotics and nearly a full year of getting sick every few weeks, my doctor finally decided to take out my tonsils. I haven't had strep throat, or any other infection or illness requiring antibiotics, since.

The antibiotics I will get in two days' time will, I have no doubt, remedy this infection of mine right quick. And yet there is a lingering dread, an ever-present if subtle distrust, in the medical establishment, in the resiliency of my own generally healthy body, perhaps even of bodies in general. I was complaining to a friend earlier this evening about having to (oh the horror) visit the doctor on Monday and he said if it was him he'd probably forgo doctors, diagnosis, and medication, and just hope he didn't die. There is a certain blase comfort in this attitude, a certain faith in one's own survival, that I kind of wish I had.

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