I got sick this week.
In Western Pennsylvania, we’re undergoing a minor epidemic of sorts. Plenty of people are contracting the flu, or at least flu-like symptoms, and are flooding the hospital rooms awaiting treatment. Now, I’m not averse to seeking medical treatment, but I always kind of wonder about people who somehow manage to get to the hospital any time a cough lasts more than two hours and yet seem to have cognitive difficulties in, say, showing up to work on time. Then, of course, I remembered that the reason all these people are hot-footing it to the hospital instead of actually being productive with their lives is that everyone in Western Pennsylvania is approximately 2000 years old and if it wasn’t for sitting around the waiting room they’d be eying up Powder Blue Tag Day at the Salvation Army.
Of course, the hospitals’ reaction to the patient overload is to weed out those who have truly life-threatening illnesses with those that simply need to drink a lot of water and maybe take a day off instead of trying to save it for being “sick” on July 5th. Thankfully, they’ve come up with a fairly comprehensive battery of medical tests to differentiate these two groups:
Patient: I think I have the flu.
Nurse: Do you have insurance?
I don’t think I have the flu. Even though the company I work for engages in the cost-saving practice of recirculating all of the air in the building instead of having to subscribe to a costly daily influx of fresh air, I have managed to successfully avoid being sick this season…until this week. I went from a small tickle in the back of my throat to grasping desperately at the imaginary blades that were continually piercing my sinuses in a matter of a day and a half. But it still seemed like a fairly normal winterish cold to me, so I figured I would soldier on and see how things turned out.
Whilst I was sick, I was trying to manage it as holistically as possible, but it just wasn’t happening. I tend to have a reasonably robust immune system, in the sense that the natural colds and bugs everyone catches are mild for me and run their course over the matter of a few days. Sure, there’s the occasional day where allusions to open faucets and Dresden would not be too terribly off target. But it’s been nearly ten years since I’ve had a drag-down, knockout illness that made me locate random objects and convert them into abstract manifestations of things I can beg to for the sweet release of death. (“Please, white ceramic toilet, crack and fall upon my head one final time to prevent that incessant throbbing interrupted only occasionally for the act of evacuating the contents of my stomach via multiple conduits.”) And that was in college, where the normal rules of health and sanitation no longer apply in any meaningful way.
Of course, I hate 1) doctors, 2) medicine, and 3) science, so I tend towards self-medication. And as far as I’m concerned the only cure anyone ever needs, from the common cold to congestive heart failure, is a healthy supply of cough drops. This masks my mental block of not actually doing anything to cure my illness; it also signals to anyone within range to realize that I smell like menthol and probably should steer clear of me lest they end up spending the week feeling like those unfortunate folks on 28 Days Later.
To complicate things, I hadn’t really been sleeping right. On Sunday night, I laid my head down for my nightly snooze, thinking there would be little else in the world to worry about except for perhaps a mild case of the standard Monday Morning Grumpy-Poos. I had yet to feel sick.
I awoke the next morning and my bedroom was like Ho Chi Minh City. I had somehow managed to ball up all my blankets—each individually—and launch them across the room. I had opened drawers, kicked over boxes, knocked over stacks of books, and rifled through my papers. And I had no recollection of doing any of this. Now, I somehow managed to make it through the first thirty years of my life without ever having a nightmare. And as far as I know I didn’t that night, either, though I had this vague sense of intensity through the night—an understatement, given how disrespectfully I treated my blankets. I wasn’t tired or angry when I woke up, but I probably would have given John Kerry a run for his money, at least in the realm of unpredictable night thrashing.
Monday night, the same thing happened. Only this time it wasn’t as bad, but that was mostly because I hadn’t bothered to clean up from the previous night.
Tuesday night…well, the less said, the better. Suffice it to say I woke up around two in the morning curled up shirtless in the fetal position on my floor. Granted, I’ve spent a lot of two o’clocks in my life waking up in this fashion, but at least this time I wasn’t crying.
Wednesday night, I said the hell with this, and took two Benedryl. Problem solved.
Only perhaps too well. I’m a big fan of Benedryl, but I’m certainly aware that different people have different reactions. For me, as far as I’m concerned, given how I act when I take Benedryl, it would have been a sure way to have my draft exemption revoked had I been taking it forty years ago. I’m also fully aware that while taking one Benedryl is bad enough, two is actively making the choice to subtract actual years off of your life, but after a third night of unprofessional nocturnal behavior it was a cost I was willing to pay. (To be fair, this was Benedryl’s “pansy-strength” dosage, which is still strong enough to conquer Tikrit if the UN would let us.)
Note that this was independent of my flu-like symptoms. I didn’t start feeling sick until Tuesday night. I assumed the Benedryl would work. While it stopped the night terrorism, I was still sick.
After a day and a half, I realized that this wasn’t a common cold, but something a little stronger, and eating Vicks Vap-O-Rub out of the jar and slipping knockout drops in my coffee wasn’t going to cut it. I was starting to get sinus pressure, which, given my historical record, occurs once every never. So instead of becoming the person I used to sit next to at work who spent 100% of her effort in any activity in her entire life complaining about her sinuses, I decided to nip it in the bud. So I stopped by the drug store and bought a medication I had never, in my entire life, taken before: Sudafed.
I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.
Now, my decision to purchase Sudafed was based on less than rational premises. At the time, I was kind of stumbling through the aisles at seven in the morning, half drunk on Benedryl and half delirious from sinus pressure. (Oh, don’t look at me like that. You’ve straggled into Denny’s at three in the morning under less respectable circumstances than this.) At this point, my market decision would be based not on active ingredients or price, but on what graphical representation of generic icons destroying viruses was prominently displayed on the box. It was a tough call, because there were really only two medications that seemed to match my symptoms. One of them had a flower on it; I think this was supposed to signify that, once I took their medicine, I would be able to smell flowers with no problem. Considering at this point that I was about to demand that the medication I purchase have a dog-molesting Nazi drug fiend garroting a virus in front of its children, I was in no mood to buy anything with flowers on it. So I bought Sudafed instead.
Now, Sudafed almost lost out in the Battle of Me Making Up My mind, too, since there is a huge yellow box that says “Does not contain Pseudoephedrine.” This did not seem like a selling point to me, really, but in the end I wasn’t going to blame the manufacturer of Sudafed any more than the people that have gone out and cut off the balls of the FDA regulators that ever thought about approving any drug that might actually help someone without there being an iron-clad guarantee that anyone who has a one out of two billion change of dying is not a lawyer.
So I took some Sudafed, for the first time in my life. And now, I am an adult.
Normally, while I’m at work, I tend to not involve myself with the affairs of others. Mostly because most transactions that occur on company property do not fall within the jurisdiction of being any of my business, but primarily because everyone at work (for some inexplicable reason) considered me to be an unapproachable monster. But whilst under the influence of Sudafed, I was engaging in activities I never before knew possible. I was flirting with single, attractive girls that were well out of my league. I was flirting with married, attractive girls that were well out of my league. I was telling humorous anecdotes about doing my taxes to anyone in the listening audience of my cubicle. I think I was actually doing more work, too, though I’m pretty sure I just felt like I was doing more work but was really doing the same amount of productivity as before, only with less blatant passive-aggressiveness.
I was, in a word, high. (I type this in the past tense in a futile and deceitful manner, as if I’m not high right now.) How this thing is permitted in the open market is beyond my comprehension. My decision-making processes had been altered to the point where I was making left turns on red, buying Outkast ringtones and tipping more than 15% for merely adequate service. And I’m fairly certain that there are other, worse decisions I’ve made, since there are reasonably large chunks of time that have effectively been blocked out of my memory, either out of some sense of self-preservation or because of some chemically induced reaction.
Of course, whether Sudafed is actually making me feel better is questionable. It could simply be that I’m just as sick as before, I just don’t care now. Which as far as I’m concerned is fine. Potential liver failure is a small price to pay for the unconditional apathy about my everyday life, don’t you think? Maybe you should ask me again in six to eight hours.