246 – The Invalid

Here's a tasteful stock cartoon of someone throwing up. Right now even this is more than I can manage, bleurrgh.

We interrupt your scheduled programming to bring you a news bulletin.

I am sick. Or at least, I was sick last night and don’t yet feel well enough to brand myself in tip top condition.

Being sick when you’re alone is a miserable experience. Most of the time it involves rolling around in bed, watching shitty daytime TV and having horrible fever-dreams as you try to sleep the malady off in which Joel, 15, from Barry tries to convince Charleen, 12, from Barry that her baby isn’t his. You fall asleep during the show and are forced to preside over this whole torrid affair; dream logic intervenes, turning the baby into a packet of Paxo and Charleen into that woman from the insurance advert who looks like she’s escaped from a brainwashing cult and is still trying to discern systematic abuse from religious ecstasy. Then David Dickinson from David Dickinson’s Real Deal shows up in your sickly sub-conscience and things tumble downhill from there.

And these dreams, prompted by a 24-hour tummy bug (which is far too cute a name for something that turns your shit into warm caramel Frijj) become nightmares as, too afraid of crapping yourself to fall deeply asleep, you toss, unsettled, and wake into sleep paralysis. David Dickinson’s still calling Charleen a slag who can’t keep her legs closed, only now you’re awake, you can’t move and no matter how much you try to scream not a peep passes your lips. The best thing to do is relax and sink deeper into sub-consciousness; horribly, it’s the last thing your panicking mind’s willing to do.

I don’t have that kind of sickness, but it’s all too familiar. Waking propely–finally!–you roll downstairs, clinging to the walls for support. You get to the toilet and squeeze out something that sounds like a malfunctioning espresso machine and stings as if you’ve subsisted on a diet of nettles. The toilet paper comes away looking like a napkin used to mop spilled tea and you realise–God help you–you need to drink something to keep yourself hydrated before you crap body to dessication.

Down to the kitchen for some Dioralyte, your head whirling, your bowels clenching. Dioralyte plugs your system with essential salts and tastes strangely distant, as if its manufacturer heard about Ribena in his childhood but now he approaches his 95th birthday his recollections of how blackcurrant beverage should taste are misty and unclear. It tastes like blackcurrant-scented cataracts yet you make yoursef gag it down because your lips are cracked and your stomach’s wobbly, and stopping only for a self-pitying sob you totter back to bed.

Considering how many of us fall ill and how utterly pathetic we are when nursing illness, you’d think our friends and colleagues would be a little more sympathetic.

“You’re mitching off work, are you?” Dean says down the phone as you call to say you need a day off. Your sheets–sweat-soaked as they are–smell like tropical fungus, your legs feel like jelly and you worry the Sarlacc monster has taken up residence in your anus. “Lucky cow! Wish I was off sick.”

I hate you, Dean, you want to say, but your words come out in a stuttered caw, the kind of cry more associated with the missing link between dinosaurs and crows.

You claw the centre vision from three dancing laptops onto your chest and update your Facebook status: “i am sick. send police.”

Over the course of the day comments roll in from able-bodied bodied folk you’ve come to think of as ‘the enemy’

“chinnie rekkon!!” says Mark, dark lord of accounting
“lol wimp. be a real man – get back to werk!” says EvilLinda, file clerk for Pandemonium.
“if your well enuff to use facebook your well enuff to do you’re job” says Boss Steve, whose recurring slipped disc problems always seem to coincide with skiing pictures from the Swiss Alp holidays appearing on his wall.

“You don’t sound too bad,” Steve says when you drag yourself into work the next day–because having a voice akin to Barry White in an iron lung is par for the course for a healthy human being. “Anyway, you’ve managed to build up a thirteen month backlog during your day’s absence, so here’s what I want you to–oh dear, you appear to have collapsed. Does anyone have any paracetamol?”

Like I said, I don’t have that kind of sickness. Whatever kept me up last night was beyond the capabilities of paracetamol, Tixylix, Night Nurse or Vicks Vaporub. Even Lemsip, my family’s traditional cure-all wouldn’t have helped me, seeing as I was too violently sick to keep down even a hot lemon squash with a headache tablet dissolved in it. I’d go as far as saying last night was the sickest I’ve been since developing a hole in my stomach some seventeen years ago–and let me tell you, having your stomach slowly digest itself isn’t a walk in the park.

I’m putting last night down to food poisoning from a venomous pork pie. I’ve thrown the rest of it in the bin just to be safe, as I’m in no mood to have a repeat performance tonight. Whatever it was–whatever terrible malady befell me–I was in the kind of physical pain that reduces a grown man to tears and has him capering about, yelling incoherently, more beast than man, more suffering than sufferer. For a period of two hours I was an Incredible Hulk, provoked not by rage but by an internal pain so vicious, during the fleeting times my thoughts coalesced I actually considered the possibility I might be pregnant, and was delivering whatever monstrous progeny was turning in my stomach.

I’m a believer in toughing things out. I once twisted my ankle so badly that for a month it looked like I’d stuffed an egg down my sock. During that time I dragged myself around the house on my elbows, and as life started returning to normal and people commented on my misshapen ankle still I waved off the very idea of visiting the doctor. “You should have seen it a couple weeks ago,” I said, heaving my leg behind me like Verbal Kint. “It’s much better now.”

Last night, in the throes of what I can only think of as John Hurt’s dinner scene from Alien, I actually considered calling an ambulance, and might well have done if I could have described my symptoms and given details of my location in anything other than a Wookie roar. I thrashed. I whimpered. I swore in the kind of language that would have had Joe Pesci taking notes. From time to time, temporarily managing to crowbar myself from the human L-shape I’d become I’d stand in front of the mirror and give myself guttural pep talks. “You can do this!” I said, dribbling puke from my mouth and wiping the toilet rim clean. “You’re a strong man. Strong!” Then I’d set about trying to empty my stomach of whatever manner of evil was using my intestines as a chew toy. I played Subbuteo with my uvula with two fingers stuck at the back of my throat until I began to urge. Dry heave. Dry heave. Monumental Richter 11 dry heave–we’re getting close! Two urges later and thar she blows! Hello again J20. Hello again pork pie. So nice to see you both; now if you’ll just take a seat in the toilet bowl, the flush will be with you shortly.

I don’t know what was assaulting me; I only know I was scared of it. It felt like a concrete ball in my stomach at first but soon became an angry being of hatred, packing a punch so hard it knocked me back a couple of evolutionary stages. I sweated. I grunted. I leapt around like a chimp. I beat my chest so I’d know there was still something to my being other than unceasing pain and doomy rage. I was so sick I didn’t have time to start pitying myself: I progressed straight to fleeing or fighting–and somewhat gratifyingly, chose to fight. “I don’t want to die!” I moaned, flip-flipping down the stairs like a Tetris block throwing a fit. “You won’t kill me, you bastard! I’m stronger than you, stronger!

Then my fingers were back down my throat, clawing up my supper like cuddly toys from a grab machine.

How sick was I? I vomited over my own hand while it was still pressed against my soft palate, and still went back for more. Usually when I’m throwing up my balls ache in sympathy. Did they ache last night? I don’t know: I was too fixated on the pain in my stomach to consider unimportant things like testicles. Have you ever in all your life been in so much pain you haven’t cared whether your balls were hurting or not? That’s how sick I was.

A comic strip I’d read that morning appeared to me in flash frames: in it, a man dying of a similar digestive problem ponders all the mistakes he’s made in his life while realising, without treatment and without friends and family to comfort him, he’ll die alone and his body won’t be found for weeks. I was that illustration, I thought as the sickness started clenching me. I was that cartoon man: I’d die tonight and nobody would be any the wiser. The best anyone could surmise about my death was in my final hours I’d put the TV on to help calm my pain. “At least he died doing something he loved,” they’d say at my eulogy. “Watching American Dad.”

Then pain rose and blotted all thought from my mind.

This morning I feel much better, thank you for asking. Whatever had attacked my gastrointestinal system has been spewed into the toilet pan, and although I’m not relishing the thought of cleaning the toilet I can safely say–fingers crossed–the worst is behind me. I have post-sickness fuzz-mouth that’ll take a few toothbrushes to remove, and the back of my throat feels like a virgin deflowered by Khan Draconis of the Demon Lords, but I’ll survive–after last night it seems I can pretty much survive anything.

Go me.

Still, it’s shit being sick on your own and I’d highly advise against it. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, people. Reach out and touch somebody today, and maybe next time you’re ill you’ll have someone to mop your brow, rub your back and make you something bland the next day, when you need to eat something but urgh, can’t cook, too sick.

Because mirror images–though they’re pretty good for motivational purposes–can’t cook scrambled eggs worth a damn.

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