It wasn’t until Tuesday that I really started to believe I might be sick. Tuesday, coincidentally, was also the day I needed to travel to North Dakota for work. “But,” I reasoned aloud to myself, throat like a sandpaper tornado in a gravel pit, “I don’t have to actually do the work stuff until Wednesday. And I’ll be better by then.”
These are the kind of decisions you make when you’re running a high fever. When you can barely whisper because of the pain in your esophagus. When you simultaneously want to die and explode. Times like these, you just pop a few baby aspirin, take a swig of water, and whisper to yourself, “I’ll sleep on the plane, it’ll be okay.”
I guess it was okay. To a degree. This being a business trip, I used my quote-unquote “business money” to purchase a wide variety of vitamin-infused beverages without the usual psychic grief that attends such frivolous investments. Drown a sore throat, right? Or maybe it’s “pee out a sore throat,” because that’s what I did. It’s hard to sleep on a plane when you’re climbing over someone’s lap to urinate every twenty minutes, but at least I felt reasonably fine.
North Dakota, though, is the kind of destination that makes you more sick. I mean, if you go there and you’re healthy, you’re not gonna spontaneously come down with malaria or anything. But if you’re already sick and your plane descends through a golden sky onto that vast, endless, merciless flat plain – you’re gonna feel like ten layers of shit in a dirty gym sock. It’s not a place of healing.
I found my ride, somehow, and managed to maintain what felt like a coherent conversation. Another passenger prattled on about how stupid it was that he had to live in an apartment complex with a rooftop pool which was always closed because they were filming some dumb MTV special up there. And how like, the building manager refused to come clean their patio hot tub even though that was like his job. And how one time they had a party and the college girls in the apartment above them kept coming to the full-length window naked and they totally knew that everyone below them could see and they were really into it and wasn’t it just awful.
Maybe that’s what made me sick. That fucking guy.
At the hotel, the front desk clerk offered me a complimentary glass of wine. I took a sip and discovered a flavor that can only be described as “rat offal.” I doubt it was the wine, more likely the constantly sloughing of the contents of my throat. That wine went down the drain vaster than I could whisper/cough an anguished curse.
The hotel room, in some misguided North Dakotan attempt to be hip, had replaced the normal couch with a kidney shaped dias that rested uncomfortably in the middle of the room like the last loaf of bread at a looted post-apocalypse grocery store. I sprawled my withered corpse across its rigid surface as best I was able and pulled up Frasier on Netflix. Apply liberal doses of Frasier to a sore throat, right? I couldn’t tell if I was hungry or just desperate for the black veil to fall. That business money was burning a hole in my pocket, but contemplating food only reminded me how much I don’t love swallowing glass shards.
Two episodes of Frasier passed and I began to grow concerned. The fevered assertions of Tuesday morning, that the illness would certainly pass by Wednesday, seemed ominously absurd. I hadn’t yet reached peak illness, but I was close enough to see what it might entail. It wasn’t pretty. It was something like watching a candle melt in fast motion. Bubbling and melting and vague gaseous outbursts as the proud white stick succumbs to the fire.
So, like a baby chick recently freed from the egg, struggling with the concepts of light and sound, I staggered to the nearest drug store. Tea. Cough drops. Soup. Ginger ale. More baby aspirin. I dropped these items unceremoniously on the check-out counter. “Flu kit,” the clerk noted. I think she was praising my efforts? I wanted to fall down very bad.
Hotel room again. Peak illness cresting. I managed to fire off a missive to my ride and my on-site boss, letting them know I would probably be a little late in the morning. Just a little late. Not like I wouldn’t come in. But I had to, you know, maybe see a doctor quick. Have my throat surgically removed. Minor surgery. Outpatient procedure. Real quick. In and out. Not gonna be a problem.
Somehow I got the laptop into my bed, all plugged in, wired up. Quaffed the ginger ale, baby aspirin, tea, I don’t know, maybe some water, maybe the bible in the bedside table. I was moving through air like it was water. Butterfly stroke. Frasier on the laptop again. Daphne had two tickets to Mongolian throat singers for her and Niles, while Niles had purchased two tickets to Bruce Springsteen. But the concerts were on the same night! God, it was hilarious. I remember angels singing and a dim point of white light slowly spreading, broadening, lighting up the room like a magnificent spotlight. I wanted to go into the light but it was just out of reach. So close, though. Just needed to stretch a little further. Just…a little…further…
And then my alarm went off at 6 AM so I could wake up, shower, and get downstairs to meet my ride.
Which I did.
The guy hadn’t even received my email. “I have a little sore throat,” I choked out with a shrug. We drove off to the hospital, which, all things considered, seemed like a pretty safe place to go when you’re dealing with a case of the bubonic plague.