Last Thursday was a tough day for me. Yes, it was even harder than the previous Thursday. It was the day we were supposed to be on our way to Origins, a huge game convention where we see a bunch of our best friends, but instead I was sick in bed. That “coming down with something” feeling had unfurled in the center of my skull while I was writing about tie-dyed socks during my lunch break Wednesday, and by the time I admitted that a cough drop was not enough to vanquish it, I’d finished all the work that really had to get done before my trip, so I went home early for a nap . . . and I loaded up my dinner with infection-fighting raw garlic and various vitaminous vegetables . . . but in the early hours of Thursday morning, the illness abruptly shifted from just a nose-and-throat thing to the kind with hourly violent vomiting of horrifying fluids that are not supposed to leave the body.
Not only did I feel absolutely awful physically, not only was I using one of my scarce vacation days being sick instead of playing IceTowers with my friends, but I was gypping the other two members of my family out of a day of Origins, too!!! It was a huge bummer. I felt so rotten that I couldn’t do much reading or anything to distract myself. I was asleep at least as much of the day as I was awake, but when I was awake I felt a lot of regret and anger and worry about how long this would last.
But there was one lucky moment that improved the whole thing as vastly as it could (which was not very much, but enough to be worth writing about!): a tiny instant of pleasure as I gazed out the window at the neighbor’s ivy-covered brick wall against the blue sky reminded me of how my dad keeps saying that he tries to treasure each day.
My first reaction was, “Yeah, and that’s the one treasurable moment I’m going to get out of this day!” but I went on to recall some advice I’d heard about childbirth: No matter how much it hurts, by this time tomorrow it will be over and you will have survived. Well, that wasn’t necessarily true of my illness–it’s possible to be that sick for several days straight–but most often the “can’t even keep down water” phase lasts only a few hours. I remembered another game convention, GenCon 2003, at which I attempted a recycling project that was way too huge for one person; I remembered sitting in my office on the Tuesday before I left for GenCon worrying about how it would go and then thinking, “Well, no matter how it goes, next Tuesday I’ll be sitting here again and I’ll know how it went,” and making a conscious decision to work with each moment as it came. Sitting on the bathroom floor last Thursday, shuddering and suffering, I reminded myself of all the moments of GenCon that I treasure six years later, some of which have nothing to do with recycling because there are always other things along the way.
I also thought about my secret journey on this summer sick-day that felt similar to that one. Having once endured feeling queasy for two whole months, I could get through this one little virus! But that argument just felt preachy and annoying to me in the midst of this misery–and at least pregnancy nausea was worthwhile, whereas this nausea was perpetrated by some evil germ bent on spoiling our vacation for no reason! I fell asleep angry and had another episode of the day’s recurring nightmare about a really big centipede wearing a jacket–a satin windbreaker-style jacket–the nerve of him, following me around!
In my next rational moment, I talked myself back to thoughts of life’s journey and treasuring each moment and the unexpected lessons and blah de blah, and since I wasn’t receiving the miraculous gift of hearing in my mind the perfect song for my situation, I consciously chose to “listen” to the song “Every Day Is a Winding Road” . Lay back; enjoy the show. Everybody gets high; everybody gets low. . . . I had no choice about whether to catch this illness or not; all I could do was see what was around the next bend. Yeah, I’d rather be at a high point, but crossing the valley is an experience too. There was no knowing how long I’d be sick, but it couldn’t go on forever, so with every moment, every breath, I get a little bit closer to feeling fine. I’ll get up high again soon, and then I’ll be able to look back and see where I’ve been, and the contrast will make my happier days all the more enjoyable.
This all sounds a little trite, but it was surprisingly effective. I mean, having a crushing headache and an all-over clammy feeling and a nose full of slime and regular bouts of violent digestive revolt is AN ABSOLUTELY MISERABLE WAY TO SPEND A DAY and all the more so when you have a specific place you’d rather be! But accepting it as part of life and just riding along looking at the scenery made me about as happy about it as I was going to get. Instead of raging about where I ought to be and how my body ought to work, instead of frantically laying plans for every possible contingency, instead of feeling guilty about failing to fill my role in the family vacation or in the day of life with a four-year-old that was proceeding downstairs, I was just there on the winding road, soaking up the experience for whatever I might get out of it, thinking only one bend ahead. Next step is to rinse my mouth. Next step is to pull up another blanket. One step at a time, I get a little bit closer to feeling fine.
Really, it all worked out very well. By Thursday night I could eat a little bit. By Friday morning I was up and about in a fairly normal way, although still feeling clammy and blowing my nose and coughing. We got to the convention by late afternoon Friday, and the hotel didn’t charge us a cent for cancelling the first night of our reservation (we called, but pretty late on Thursday), and they gave us a room with a refrigerator, which we hadn’t expected to get. I didn’t have my usual stamina, but I managed to do most of the things I wanted to do, including staying up really late Saturday night. By Sunday I was skipping and jumping around with my kid. I’m still not fully healthy, but many moments of my weekend and today have been brightened by marveling at how much better I feel.
If I’d spent my sick day wallowing in negative emotion and insisting that everything was ruined, would I have been sick longer and missed the whole weekend? I don’t know. But even if the duration of this viral infection was preset, I’m glad I found a positive way of enduring the experience, of treasuring even a day that was hard to treasure.