Alan and I pride ourselves on living happy, healthy lives. We eat good food, get our eight hours of sleep, and breathe in the fresh farm air. We each have our own methods of warding off adversity – Alan swears by a multivitamin, I swear by mostly avoiding humanity – and usually it all works. But when we go down, we go down hard.
The flu made the rounds at Alan’s work, and then a nasty virus that was just as bad. His fortress of health held out until the very end – by the time every other employee had succumbed, the writing was on the wall. He gritted his teeth and blew his nose.
The virus lodged itself first in his throat, and then in his head. Our eight hours of sleep were chopped up like a hibachi chef, flinging them about in bite-sized chunks. I’d doze off only to be yanked back awake by a coughing fit or a half-blown nostril.
Horseshit, said Alan defiantly as he coughed and snotted into a wad of tissues. Buckshit, I said in solidarity. (He’s the only horse I know.) The tissues tumbled onto the fragile snowy landscape he’d spent the past few days creating.
To add injury to insult, he had also sustained a blistering burn on his forearm the week before, and a gash on his forehead from an uncooperative fence post installed for an even less cooperative horse. I could gauge how miserable he was by which ailments he complained about. If the burn didn’t make the list, I knew it was bad.
By the fifth day of being sick, he was losing his spirit. By the ninth, he was losing mine. I tried to nurse him through as best I could muster, while also staying away from the Linus cloud of germs he was emanating. I held out as long as I could but by a week and a half in, I realized it was only a matter of time. I braced myself and waited.
Normally chicken soup would be reserved for moments like these, but raccoons had recently killed several of our young birds and neither of us could stomach the thought. Seeing your food deconstructed to such a degree does little to whet an appetite, especially when there is so little of it to work with in the first place. Alan took out the raccoons with an air rifle, but it takes the psyche longer to recover than the situation.
I eventually caught his cold, but not as badly. A well-timed decongestant before bed and one again in the morning got me through the rough parts. I assumed that Alan had chivalrously protected me from the brunt of it, as he so gentlemanly does so often in life. I figured I’d be through the worst of it in a few days. I’d put in my time, but only a half-ass of effort. Ear, nose and throat lip service, as it were.
And then came the plague.
Wha..??? How is this even possible, I thought incoherently to no one in particular. I hugged the cold porcelain bowl in the wee hours of the morning as I tried to discern if I was too hot or too cold or somehow both. I wiped the cold sweat off my brow in between purges, and by the time I had expelled the last demon, I was delirious. I stumbled onto the couch and tossed and turned uncomfortably until morning.
I know that getting sick is no picnic, but this was a magnitude of sickitude greater than I had anticipated. My body felt like it had been hit by a Mac truck and then lodged uncomfortably in its grill. My stomach felt like a wrung out washrag. Alan took care of me as best he could, bundling me up like a burrito and leaving tissues and fluids at arm’s length. He brought in a big white farm bucket and set it near the bedroom doorway “just in case”. That’s love, I tell you.
Alan went off to fetch the obligatory ginger ale and crackers from the closest grocer. I staggered to the fridge and pulled a ten-year vintage root beer from its underbelly and deemed it close enough before stumbling back to bed. Stout eyed me warily from the corner of the living room. I’m pretty sure he thought I was going to die, and wanted to stay far enough away from the wreckage that he wouldn’t get blamed.
I started to fantasize deliriously about it all. What if I did die? How long would it take someone to find me? Would the dogs even try to help, or would they finally take that deep uninterrupted nap that they’d been pining for? Maybe they’d compromise – nap first, help later. I imagined them sighing those full-body dog sighs and snoring, my lifeless body languishing beside them. Morbid? Perhaps – but not inaccurate.
Enough of this craziness, I thought as I shook the delusions from my head. I looked out the window in an attempt to reground myself with reality. My existence had been confined to a room and a half, a container filled with the sour smell of sickness. But there was a bigger world out there, one that smelled fresh and green and full of life. Maybe seeing just a tiny piece of it could heal me. It was worth a try.
As I sat there gazing out into the land of hopefulness, I watched as a handful of turkey vultures descended from the sky, their massive black bodies topped with shriveled red gizzards for heads. They landed one on top of each of the fenceposts that surround our side yard and then slowly looked around, peering ominously in all directions.
A handful more followed, then a whole flock descended on the pasture just outside our yard. There were forty at least, skulking about with their hunched up shoulders and long feathery capes. I’m pretty sure the grim reaper was inspired by buzzards like these. So much for optimism – maybe it really was my time to go.
I watched as they sauntered about, then coalesced into a long oval and slowly stretched out their wings, every single one of them. Was I hallucinating?? I know you don’t always have much of a choice in the matter, but I wasn’t sure this was how I wanted it all to end. I had pictured more of a musty funeral home, filled with ornate mauve carpeting and cushioned chairs. I wanted friends and acquaintances milling about, not death birds. My thoughts swirled about as I dozed off to sleep.
I awoke to the sound of Alan’s car tires, and sat up to see the turkey vultures swirling away, frightened off by the noise. He had chivalrously protected me, yet again. Pulled me from the edge of the abyss, or perhaps from the edge of having my innards plucked out prematurely.
Did you see them?? I asked, trying to describe the bizarre seance I had witnessed. Oh yes, he had. They must have found the raccoon carcasses he’d discarded, now out rotting in the pasture. The raccoons?? I’d forgotten about them completely. Well no wonder it all smelled like death around here.
I chipped my way through a sleeve of saltines cheerily, happy to be firmly back among the living, and even happier to not be a raccoon. In sickness and in health, I toasted Alan, raising half a cracker in his direction. In health, he said emphatically. But to hell with all the sickness. <