How to Be Sick

On our way home from friends' on Wednesday night, I noticed a tiny, dull tightening of my throat when I swallowed.  I hoped it was just from talking too much, and when we got home I went right to bed.  I felt I couldn't get warm all the way through; even in flannel pajamas under a down comforter, I shivered until I fell asleep.

I'm sure you can guess the rest.  I woke several hours later, burning up; my head felt like it was about to explode.  Although I was pretty sure I had a fever, when the thermometer beeped at 102, I burst into tears.  I couldn't bear the thought of missing church on Christmas.  It was already a strange Christmas, as  we were preparing to go away immediately afterwards, so we had curtailed the decorating and entertaining quite a bit.  And, of course, my sister -- the official Queen of Christmas -- was overseas, so our family was incomplete.

The real problem, though, is that I don't know how to be sick.  Unlike Flannery O'Connor, who famously wrote that she had "never been anywhere but sick," I very rarely get sick, and when I do, my instinct is to tough it out.  I only have five days of leave from school, so I'll only stay home if it's dire.  But with the flu going around, I knew it would be irresponsible to go out in public with a fever.  So I stayed home, sad but resigned, and contented myself with a snuggly cat (fevers are her favorite) and a chat with a friend who was also sick and lonely, but worse off because he's overseas.

Later, my sister called from Seoul.  We chatted for about an hour, and when we got ready to hang up, I asked hesitantly if she wanted to sing some Christmas hymns with me.  "YES!"  So Rob and I sang on speakerphone and she joined in softly from all the way across the world.  There were probably tears on both ends (I know there were on mine) but I was reminded that whatever else happened, it was still Christmas.

So I'm still under the weather, and in the past few days have been making a mental list (for next time) of things that bring me a little comfort.  Try one or two the next time you're down for the count:

Linen Handkerchiefs. I built up a stash of these several years ago when I was planning to make a quilt out of them.  The quilt project never took off, but I found I enjoyed using them instead of tissues.  They're more environmentally friendly, of course, but they're also just nicer.  They don't disintegrate into shreds after being used a few times, and I love admiring the embroidery around the edges, which are often hand-sewn.  And they're pretty cheap!

Tea. I favor caffeine-free versions most of the time; I have enough trouble sleeping as it is!  Celestial Seasonings' teas are great, but my favorite is Throat Coat, which my friend Zenaida turned me onto years ago.  It's pricey, but worth it -- the herbs really do keep your throat feeling better even after the heat has worn off.

Soup. Even more than tea, when I'm sick I crave soup.  From what I've read, I understand the body's natural craving for heat and salt, and a little bit of fat and protein, is a good thing to feed.  If we're fasting, I'll make vegetable or tomato (this stuff, straight out of the can, is incredible -- thanks, Nees!)  If we're eating meat, I'll pull out a container of homemade chicken or beef stock from the freezer.  Broth is wonderful alone; with some rice or chopped carrot and celery, it's even better. Stock is a superfood -- everything about it is nourishing, including the stuff we still don't understand!

My new favorite recipe is one I found in a book by Isabel Allende. It doesn't come straight out of a container, but the tiny bit of effort required will make you feel a little more in charge.  Start by sauteeing a tablespoon of grated onion and a clove of crushed garlic in a tablespoon of butter.  I guarantee your appetite will start to return at this point!  Stir in a pint of beef stock and heat through.  Turn off the heat and add two tablespoons sherry; salt and pepper to taste (I'm pretty generous with both.)  Ladle it into a bowl, and while it's still piping hot, crack in a raw egg; it will cook it into wispy ribbons, a little like egg drop soup.

Aromatherapy pillows like this one (mine was made by someone who no longer produces them, but this looks awfully similar.) Filled with rice and lavender for scent, you can warm it in the microwave until it's just right to drape around your neck or head or tuck around your toes under the covers.  I wore mine almost constantly on Christmas, to and from two sets of parents' houses.

Books. I can't watch TV or use the computer for long without getting a headache, which is probably a good thing.  When I'm sick, I don't even want to look at a screen for five minutes.  Old-fashioned books are much better, and I'm lucky (or foolish) enough to have a constant stash of interesting books I bought, always thinking I'd read them right away.  Right now I'm reading this one, which I think was a gift from last Christmas.

My optimism is starting to return, probably in part because my parents' annual caroling party is in a few hours.  If I had to miss church, at least I'll get to hear some of the hymns I love so well, static-free.