Friday, February 27, 2009

The Disease

I know my current ailment is not as bad, or tragic as other peoples’, perhaps even people you know and love. I know this disease is not the worst I will ever suffer, assuming I live long enough. But all suffering is relative. This illness is worthy of note because of two significant factors: 1. It is happening to me. 2. It is happening now.

Some would call it a head cold. I won’t give it a name. A name, a label reduces the thing to something seemingly manageable.

It started last Saturday, I think. It started subtly, as a mere feeling of lethargy. Since it was a Saturday, a day I usually welcome and treasure lethargy anyhow I didn’t immediately notice. I only recall it as different now because my usual one to two hour weekend nap turned into a full blown three hour hardcore and deep snore-fest. From the time I awoke from that pseudo-coma, I felt even more tired than I usually do. Then came the sniffles, the congestion. Unending streams, nay, rivers of head fluids sloshing and banging against the back of my face. Every attempt to lessen it just angered it more.

“Could be sinuses” I told Angel. She shook her head at me. She didn’t show a lot of pity at the time. She explained her complete lack of love, sympathy and concern as merely payback. Apparently she had been suffering from a cold for over a week, I even sort of recalled her having mentioned it once, or maybe a dozen times, as if this were any excuse.

Sunday morning followed a fitful night. I originally assumed I had not slept well because of Saturday’s uber-nap. I awoke unrested, sniffling, a little wheezy, but mostly just tired. Not all that different from most other Sunday mornings.

I needed to make my weekly HBA run (Health and beauty aids) and I forced myself into the shower and into the car. Wal-Mart seemed like a mountain climb. My legs were heavy, my mind wandered, the simple chore took on the feel of heavy labor. My sniffles had accelerated. As I exited the store the sunshine hit my face, kicking off an ear popping, jaw–locking sneeze attack. My ribs ached form the onslaught. There were barely enough napkins and shop towels in the car to keep the blasts contained.

“Okay, this is it, the real thing” I announced to my car’s interior.

I arrived home, longing to crawl into bed to sleep it off, but realized I was in charge of the dogs in Angel’s absence. She was selfishly away at PetSmart trying to get some rescued dogs adopted.

I had two shifts of dogs to process. Our lot of four, and then the others, our newest acquisition Deedee (Deirdre) and her best friend Casper, one of the current batch of fosters. These two, like all new arrivals in our house are kept separate form the established pack for a good while to avoid mishaps and misunderstandings.

So out the basement door and into the rear fenced area went Casper and Deedee, and the ever-affable George. Bailey and Blue got the nearer fenced area, Myster got to go for a walk in the woods. Myster is my dog, and Angel left me in charge. I can’t be held responsible for her misjudgments.

I felt awful, but this was my responsibility. As the dogs ran, barked and played I retreated into the house and pretended to work on my computer. I had things to do with it, but the part of my brain responsible for solving computer problems was MIA.

I watched the clock, the dogs needed to stay out for at least an hour.

Finally I shorted them a few minutes and bribed them back into their crates. I plodded up the stairs, sipped a small glass of some stuff that helps me relax, and climbed into bed.

Another too-long, too heavy nap. Even after I got up I was still half involved in a vividly colorful but weak-plotted dream about squirrels, blimps and tuna sandwiches. I took Myster for another walk to try to snap out of it. I think I had something for dinner, Not that it mattered, at some point my taste buds abandoned their posts. Banana pudding, fish, chili, it was all the same. Frankly I’m real fuzzy about the subsequent eighteen or so hours. Let’s just say I went through the motions, Dinner, TV, sarcastic and brilliantly witty conversations with my family, some moreTV, then bedtime.

Monday morning was tough. I awoke feeling tired and unrested, sweaty, and my nose was sore yet runny. My mind wouldn’t focus. In other words a typical start to a typical workday. I showered, caught up on the weather and traffic and drove to work. Usually about halfway to work things clear up and I start to come alive. On this day, that was not happening. I got to work, settled into my chair, fired up my computer and started going through the paces of checking the dozens of systems we are responsible for. I was still not really fit for duty. I managed to make it through by popping Ibuprofen and snorting nasal spray, but it was noticeable to all around that something was amiss. Abby noticed and was sympathetic in her own coarse way “Dude you look awful, go home already!”

From Shaun: “Wow that sounds pretty bad what the h*!! are you doing here?” And so on.

I left at the very earliest second after my requisite eight hours, drove home slowly, nearly dozing off several times. I limped and thumped into the house, snorted, groaned and slumped into my chair. No one seem to notice. I snorted and sniffed, moaned louder. “Something wrong?” asked Angel. “You wouldn’t understand.” I replied, snorting and groaning more.

“Oh that’s right, you’ve got a cold” she replied with all the enthusiasm one would apply to finding a dust bunny under the bed.

“You call it a cold, you are most likely understating it.” I snapped back.

“You’re such a baby.” She muttered as she left to do more dog related stuff. “By the way. . . (something, something something)” she added.

I medicated a little and planted myself in my recliner. I attempted the daily crypto quip, jumble and crossword puzzle, though I found it more difficult than usual what with the words and letters floating off the page and shifting hues.

By bedtime I was reasonably sure I wasn’t going to make it to work on Tuesday, but I set the alarm anyway. Just before collapsing I slurped down a heaping portion of Nyquil, the green goddess, the liquid time machine.

Nyquil is one of creations’ greatest achievements. Though not very tasty, it has the ability not to cure your cold, but rather to let the cold take its course as you slip in to what can only be described as a very pleasant coma. Alas, as much as I had wanted it, planned for it, the deep slumber came only in fits and starts. Waking up with my face flooding in pain and brain fluid. Victoria Falls on one side of my head, the driest, most coarse Sahara on the other. Turning over from one side to the other only yielded pain as the internal substances shifted from one side to the other, pausing briefly to mimic hard core suffocation.

The alarm went off, I knew it would as I had been staring at the clock from blurred, pained eyes for over an hour. I got up after the third attempt, called in to my workplace’s voicemail, then kicked back in the recliner. No point going back to bed, there was simply no comfort to be found there.

Angel eventually got up and saw me. She harrumphed sympathetically. I promised to try to stay out of her way.

I sent most of the day medicating and sleeping it off. By evening I felt no better at all, mostly medicated, but I felt no worse either.

“You know when I went through this last week (something, something). . . ” Angel related.

“You’re comparing this major, life threatening health event to that case of the sniffles you had last week?” I scolded.

“Oh I see, I couldn’t have been as sick as you are now” She replied.

“If you were this sick, I would have noticed!” I slammed.

She laughed, the same cold, hard laugh you might hear from an executioner between blade drops.

Wednesday I felt no worse, it was harder to determine if I felt any better.

I went to work on the theory that this cold had lingered long enough to be gone. I was wrong. Fortunately the workload wasn’t too heavy or too challenging. I struggled through every simple task. I went through several paper towels, sneezing fits that could level forests if properly focused. I felt better in one respect, I had to be getting closer to the end of this siege.

Thursday morning. I’d sworn off the Nyquil, believing mixed signals were scrambling my brain. My medication was reduced to Ibuprofen and Zicam, liberal applications of both. Still sleeping in one or so hour sweaty chunks, interrupted by sinus dam bursts and torrential flows of thick nasal stuff. Surely this nightmare was near an end, off to another day of work that I would likely never recall.

Friday morning. Still waking up too many times but not so many. Breathing a bit clearer for a bit longer. I could see the light at the end of my nasal passages. Friday afternoon, relapse. Pain, general discomfort, cold sweats, wheezing, and now making a surprise appearance, a booming, liquid thudding cough, tearing chunks out of my inner chest. With each painful bark, my head would expand like a balloon in outer space, then collapse back onto itself. “What was I thinking?” I thought to myself, realizing that even the voice in my head sounded nasal and rough.

As I drove home, i realized that I was finally breathing through my nose without the gurgling and whistling that had become my soundtrack. My chest was still heavy, still coughing up parts of unknown organs, but I could breathe.

I assume its going away now. I certainly hope none of you get thrown down by this vicious bug. I really don think a lesser person would survive it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I am haunted with some inexplicable, though genuine sadness.

Many, many years ago, in sixth grade I developed a crush on a girl. She was new to our school as I recall, and she rode the same bus. Bus 13 was a ‘late bus’. It made two runs each morning and afternoon, once around a nearby subdivision then another loop around a larger rural area. Every afternoon those of us on the later run would wait in an assigned classroom for about twenty minutes as the bus made it’s short subdivision trip. There were no study requirements in the late bus room, often there wasn’t even a teacher or principal. We just sat, the twenty or so of us. Some did homework, some read, some sat in small clutches whispering and giggling.
I don’t recall the first time I talked to Kathy. I seriously doubt I made the first move, that’s just not my ‘style’. I was terribly, clinically shy. Somehow we started chatting and sitting together though. Then we started sitting on the bus together, which was almost as significant and telling as being engaged. The jabs and jeers, the sing-songy “Dennis loves Kathy” burned me to the core with embarrassment. But I so enjoyed sitting next to her. She was pretty, friendly, funny, and she smelled nice. Her older sister didn’t seem to mind, her younger brother was just too young to care either way. I have no idea what we talked about, but I certainly remember the sight of her smiling green eyes, her sandy hair, the cheerful voice, the cute blue dress. I recall the feel of her warmth near mine on the bus. I remember the softness of her skin when we finally made that huge step… holding hands.
I was poorly prepared for this. I had not had a girlfriend before. I told people I had, but truth be told, I hadn’t . Kathy and I were a regular thing for a year or two. I don’t recall anything breaking us up, maybe just we drifted on to other interests.
There was (and is) only one school in the county where I grew up. It housed all grades 1-12. The difference between elementary, junior and high school was simply different areas of the buildings, not separate campuses. So throughout high school Kathy and I still went to the same school, but I do not recall much, if any, contact with her after seventh grade. It was a fairly small school so it’s not like we never saw each other, we had just drifted.
High school was not a pleasant time for me, in fact it was mostly dark and awful. Lacking social skills, being terribly shy and too easily influenced, I simply meandered from friend to friend, and almost never with girls. Up until the later part of my senior year I recall only one or two actual dates, no steady girlfriends. I just didn’t have the confidence, money, the skills, the looks, or the smarts to attract or maintain any more than casual interest.
The later part of my senior year I fell in love with a girl who would become my first wife. I won’t go into details about that whole thing due to my fears of possible renewed litigation. Suffice it to say that the week of my graduation I left for the Air Force, and in July of that same year married her. The next few years were all about building a family, struggling with financial issues and building a professional career. Seven years passed; I divorced my first wife then started all over again with a second wife. Five years passed; no kids this time, and then that marriage fizzled as well.

Sometime early into my third permanent relationship I got an invitation to a high school reunion. Seventeen years had passed since I had any real connection to the old school. There had been invitations before but they were all ignored since I no more cared to celebrate my high school days than I would a prolonged case of stomach flu.
I decided to attend the seventeenth though… (‘seventeenth’ is indeed an odd number. The explanation was that they were trying to find everyone prior to the more traditional twentieth) The jocks were there, so were their girlfriends. You know, the pretty ones. They paid me no more attention than they had in the old tiled halls. It didn’t really matter. I sat at a table with another quiet, lonely looking guy. We weren’t exactly friends in school, but he seemed safe and friendly enough. Soon others like us joined. Among them was another girl I had briefly crushed on and maybe held hands with; Teresa. She had become a psychologist in Nashville. She was married with a few kids and a good career. Together we sighed with relief that we had left town soon after school thus saving us from eternal positioning as what and who we were way back then. We were easily able to spot those that hadn’t escaped. They were telling the same jokes, their memories and behavior seemed stuck in the seventies.
At some point, Kathy stopped by, I recalled her smile. We spoke for a few moments, about kids and spouses, and trivial things, I felt happy for her. A husband (just one) some kids, family nearby, a good job as a nurse. She seemed every bit as happy, sweet, funny and nice as those junior high days. My nervousness was gone, if only I had been more confident back then… I recalled that in those late-bus days we often spoke of the future, of our family, our kids as if it were inevitable.
A few words at an off-year reunion passed quickly and were themselves soon relegated to the past. Life took over again, the relentless pursuit of the next day and the day after that. Kids, jobs, houses, hundreds of miles from my hometown.
Another seventeen years passed. During that time someone invented the internet, some other fiend invented email, and Satan himself invented social networking sites.
Yes, that’s right, the evil one himself invented I can say this confidently because; 1. I am a computer and networking professional, and 2. I know Satan first hand (we’ve worked together a few times) and this is exactly how he does things. He encourages us to do things that we would never otherwise do simply by making it so attractive and easy and self-gratifying to do so. He doesn’t force us to put our names, pictures, addresses and specific personal information out there in public for every criminal, pervert and bureaucrat to see. No, he gets us to want to do it.
Facebook allows you to search for, and hook up with people. You build a network of friends. Once ‘friended’, you can see who your friend’s friends are, and post messages to each other, etc. There is no end game, it’s just about hooking up with, networking with other people you know, or once knew or have something in common with. You can join groups based on your interests and then see who else is in those groups and befriend them, etc. I belong to several groups myself:
The St. Louis Network, The Herculoids Appreciation Society ( a 70’s Hanna-Barbera cartoon), The ABBA fan club (I’m not ashamed), and The Boxed-Wine Lovers of America (there’s more of us than you might think), and a few others, too embarrassing to mention.
These groups are listed and displayed whenever someone opens my profile. Also listed is my educational, military and professional history. I did all this not only so I could re-network with people from my past, but also to get lots and lots of advertisements tailored specifically to me, me, me.
Lo and behold, within a few days of willingly, happily turning my profile over to Satan and his minions, I got invited to become Teresa’s friend. I accepted, and sent a little note inquiring about her health and well being after all these years.
She replied within a day or two. She told me about her husband, her many kids, her dogs, etc. Then after a small story about meeting up with another classmate she dropped this:
“I went to Kathy Kennedy's funeral. Did you hear that David Sadler passed away? - I didn't get details as to why, etc.”

First I did indeed know about David, he was in our class. Mr. Football, defensive tackle, made all-state then went on to a scholarship at the University of Alabama in the heady Bear Bryant days to make quite a name for himself. I came across David’s obit during my almost - weekly scans of small-town news. He died suddenly leaving behind a young family. Truly tragic. But this I already knew about and had already privately mourned. It was the other bit. “Kathy Kennedy’s funeral.” It was her, my first youthful love.
I quickly did a check on the net, but came up with nothing. I didn’t know Kathy’s married name so the search criteria was weak. Out of desperation I emailed my sister, who of course, knew nothing, or more likely refused to admit she knew anything, just to hurt me. She's petty and spiteful like that.

I waited a couple of days to hear back from Teresa, nothing. Then I did something I don't recall ever having done before in my adult life. I called my mother in the middle of the week.
My mother has been a part of the hometown funeral scene most of her life. Early on, when we were young she was a church pianist/organist and was often called upon to provide dirges for the somber ceremonies. (she also did peppier stuff for horse shows). Later in her life she became a minister. Funerals draw ministers like watermelon
draws flies, they’re symbiotic, so I knew she would still be an insider. Sure enough she knew. She told me that it had occured several months back. She added that as she recalled it was a prolonged and miserable cancer that took her.
“I’m sorry I didn’t know you would have wanted to know” she apologized. “That’s okay Mrs. Bentley” I replied… (snicker, snicker, I’m just kidding, I am indeed allowed to call her ‘mom’ now.) “That’s okay mom, there’s no way you could have known that I would be any more interested in this than any other of the many, many funerals that occur there.”
There was a pause; I supposed Mom was wondering about my interest in this one. “She was my first girlfriend, my first hand-hold, my first sit-together-on the bus.”
“Oh indeed, I didn’t know that!” she replied. I explained it all to her and she seemed both saddened and amused. I don’t normally open up emotionally with mom, at least not since the one time I tried to when I was in kindergarten. This was somehow different. I didn’t feel vulnerable or scared or embarrassed. I felt genuinely sad and I told my mother as much. She consoled me, she was sincere and sympathetic. I actually felt better for having opened up. Probably a fluke.
And it really was sad. Even though I had only seen this person once, and only for a few moments in the last thirty four years, I was in inexplicable mourning.
I admit that, much like yours, my brain is decaying from age, abuse and neglect. Not quickly or severely, but I have noticed more and more curious things going on inside it; Very old memories popping to life as vivid as if they were happening directly in front of me. I clearly and perfectly recalled Kathy, as she was then, at twelve or thirteen, pretty, nice, friendly, talking to me, her green eyes sparkling, smiling, the softness of her hand as she held mine. With this memory directly in front of me, for the first time in many, many years, I blushed.