It’s not easy being sick in the 21st century. Sure, we have all kinds of medicines, treatments, machines to keep us alive. But there’s the rub. Suppose there’s nothing to be done? Suppose you just have to be sick? What do we do with that?

I’m not dying. In fact, I’m a lot better than I was. That’s not saying much, as I spent the better part of two weeks burning up or shaking with chills.

I had a fever. There is nothing to be done for a fever but the usual: drink plenty of fluids, take Advil or Tylenol, eat chicken soup. Rest, rest, rest. As if you are capable of anything else, right?

Fever is an unfamiliar experience for me. It must have been the gold standard for illness in my husband Paul’s family when he was growing up. Every time I feel a bit under the weather, he demands to know if I have a fever. I always (until now) responded, “I never get fevers.”

I think vomiting was regarded as the ultimate sick indicator in my childhood home. It is something that both Paul and I avoid at all costs.

Fever, though, is not so easy to escape. My adventure started on a Friday afternoon when, suddenly, I felt like a burlap bag had been placed over my head and torso. Since it was Halloween, a time of especially high spirits in the school where I work, I thought perhaps it was just time to go home.

That night I developed body aches. I felt terrible in the morning. At Paul’s insistence, I took my temperature. Wow. It was 103 degrees.

I pretty much slept for the next three days, then roused myself to go to the doctor. My concern was that I had a headache, sore muscles and joints, and a fever, but no obvious reason for it. No upper respiratory problems. No, thank goodness, stomach issues.

Well, I had something, that was for sure. I would live. It wasn’t the flu I’d been vaccinated for; I guess that was a relief of sorts. I’d hate to think my inoculation had been ineffective. I was told to go home and rest. And rest. And rest.

Wait — I hadn’t been to West Africa recently, had I? No, I work in education. I haven’t left the state since July.

Resting wasn’t always possible. If I was feverish, and closed my eyes, I would “see” a giant skein of tangled yarn. I knew I had to straighten it out, and get it into a neat ball. But how? My mind fought the yarn, or maybe just itself. This was exhausting.

As the days passed, I started feeling somewhat better. I’d awaken with a fever, take some Advil, go back to bed and by late morning my temperature would be normal. I had a few hours in which I could read a book or watch Rachael Ray.

Then darkness would start to fall and our house would grow cool in the afternoon. as we had switched back from daylight savings time. I would get a chill. A teeth-rattling chill of the sort I’d never had before in my life. One memorable afternoon, I donned a big sweater over a fleece top. Paul piled four blankets on top of me as I huddled on the living room couch. Then, as the pièce de résistance, my 35-pound pit bull mix, Martha, hopped on top.

In one of my healthier moments, I researched fever and chills and learned that fever is a way of ridding the body of infection. If the fever goes down, but the infection is still present, the body develops chills as a way of provoking itself to heat up again. At least, that’s my layman’s take on it.

Sure enough, though, the chills would turn into fever, and I’d start the whole process again.

Some people think you should let a fever run its course and not take pain relievers. I tried to limit my consumption with that in mind, but I needed help with the body aches. I hoped I could reach a happy medium between controlling the fever and allowing it to do its job. Whatever that was — it was still a mystery to me.

Meanwhile, I drank at least three cups of green tea a day. I took extra vitamin C and sipped lots of orange juice and water. Ate soup and more soup. When I could finally swallow a little macaroni and cheese, I was ecstatic.

Then, one day, just shy of the two week mark, I woke in a mad sweat. The thermometer read 97.8 degrees. I felt like my old self. I felt like the sickness was gone.

And it was, as quickly and mysteriously as it had come.

Two weeks seems like an eternity in the 21st century. Then I read of a young man in the early 19th century who had a fever for a month. That reminded me that people used to just get fevers. They often appeared during epidemics. Many people died. I doubt their last thought was, “Gosh, I wish I hadn’t had to waste the last two weeks imagining giant skeins of yarn.”

From that perspective, I shouldn’t rue my two weeks “away.” I did survive, to tell the tale.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


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