Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Sick Box

A long-term illness is like living in a cardboard box. I’m looking out through a proscenium of dusty brown corrugated walls, flexible, but strong and thick enough so they can’t be torn apart, only weakened. There’s a dry mustiness about everything.

The illness filtered into me during twilight, on July 4th; a low fluctuating fever, near-constant fatigue, low energy and a strange tottering frailty. Since then, it’s been mistaken for one thing or another. I feel like I’m in an episode of House, but my much-vaunted, health-care program has been nudging the mystery down the road like a collie nosing a drop cloth. The fact that I was taking two BP meds may be a factor—I’ve slowly slowly improved since I stopped taking one of them . . . but . . . we can only shrug for now.

Not immediately fatal = low interest, for everyone except me, my long-suffering wife, and a few friends.

My mind fluttered like a tired moth on a muggy, overcast moonless night, fluttering haplessly in search of pools of light. These pools of lights are made of tangled balls of thought, both angry and muddled, that burst, and burn like an old-fashioned photographer’s flash bulb, fading with a crackling hiss.

When I announced that I was closing this page down for a while (along with my editing business), a kind and faithful reader suggested that I lower my voice instead; say, posting brief amusing comments on the Internet’s constant outpour of  “news.”

Obviously, I would be missed by some and it saddened and frustrated me to take such draconian action—especially now--but I’ve been at this long enough that I like to think many of you have come to expect a certain standard. Anything less is just that—less. (“Oh yeah. I used to like his columns and stuff. Now he’s just haranguing Obama to invade Rhode Island as soon as possible. Tch-tch. How the semi-mighty have fallen.”)

And besides, most of the balls of thought that burst and roared around my tired, often confused, mind were either excruciatingly banal or as bloody-minded and delirious as a gangland sewer, and may have resulted in my posting a year’s worth of apologies (“I’m sorry,  Mr. Romney, for declaring that you and Snooki would make an adorable couple. Oh and for posting those photos of the two of you . . . never mind.”)

Anyway with my mood so swampy, I struggled to hide from the world’s din of violence and despair. The Internet is particularly ugly and infuriating in this regard. I’ve often shoved my i-Pad aside, enraged at my compulsion to keep pushing that button like a lab rat happily conditioned to constant bonking over the head with a hammer. (“Damn it, it’s only making you sicker . . . .”)

Some might suggest I read Roger Ebert or Christopher Hitchens for perspective, but this misery doesn’t want any company. I’d rather spend all my sick hours with Laurel and Hardy than with them; with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn than the likes of Beckett and Bill Maher; with the Light of Hope than the caped counsels and crusaders for a cold, dead, meaningless Universe.

To keep my mind semi-greased, I’ve taken to handicapping the Saturday horse races at Golden Gate Fields, a more challenging task than it sounds. No betting and no risk of loss or embarrassment. No, there’s no meaning to it and it sounds stupid, but it keeps me from going completely stupid.

The point is to get well. How do I get well huddling around the drain as though it were a pillow? Only Nihilists find the smell of the sewer romantic, tiresomely so.

The most “socially responsible” thing I’ve done while ill was watch Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC (this while recuperating in a hotel on the Lost Coast), but only because I figured it would entertaining. I recall none of it now—except for Clinton’s long, bony index finger--and nothing of Obama’s. I don’t feel bad about that. Just politicians talking.

Mostly, these last couple months, I’ve only sat, stared and taken breaks to nap, then woke up to sit and stare some more. Reading has been difficult, sometimes impossible. I’ve have to start over bedside books because some nights I was simply too tired to read and lost track of what was happening.

When I went outside, my eyes felt clogged and encrusted with mud. The sunlight blinded me and the blue sky startled at first, but astonishment passed. It hurt my neck and shoulders to look up for too long and a smile was heavy lifting. I shuffled along, a question mark with legs, my eyes on the concrete at my feet. Sometimes people recognize I’m sick and let me get on the bus first or offer me their seat. These are among the things—Elizabeth being the best and most important--that keep me going.

My lungs feel tight and I tire easily. I can walk downhill to Grand Avenue, but have to take the bus back up. I use to stride up these hills. How long ago was that?

It’s been two-and-a half months, but feels like four or five. Time, measured by events, has stretched, like huge, soft, heated rubber band.

But now that I’m here, I guess it means I’m getting better. Good periods are coming more often, lasting longer, sometimes a whole day, signs that the damage within, whatever it is, may be healing. I may slump again tomorrow, but be up again the next day. Elizabeth and I worry that it’ll be gone before my distracted doctors track down the cause, so we won’t know what to do to keep it from coming back, if it wants.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Burchfield

Thomas Burchfield has recently completed his 1920s gangster thriller Butchertown. He can be friended on Facebook, followed on Twitter, and read at Goodreads. You can also join his e-mail list via tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.


Julie Schauer said...

Glad you're back and on the way to feeling better...........sounds tough. At least SF has its best weather now. Remember I met you & E about a year ago this time, exactly. Today I saw a SF artist exhibition, Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series.

Julie Schauer said...

Great to have you back......continue the uphill battle and get better!
At least the Bay Area is having its best weather of the year now, so hope you get outside. J

Laura said...

This entry has made your illness much more salient to me, Thomas. It sounds horrible. I'm still shocked and embarrassed about your health care experience. I hope the good days continue to become more frequent and you can get back to the things you love.

Thomas Burchfield said...

Thanks Laura and Julie!

Laura: Don't feel embarrassed! It wasn't your fault. One thing I love that hasn't gone away is your aunt.

Julie: Funny, it's a little cloudy in Oakland this morning! Sorry, I haven't responded to your earlier e-mails, but I think you understand. The fog is just beginning to lift.