Friday, January 08, 2010

The dishes

I first noticed it Sunday night. To be sure, it had more than likely begun Saturday afternoon as I stood in four degree winds watching the chimney sweep gracefully walk the ridgepole of my house; the thirty mile per hour winds ripping through my dress pants and the ankle-high snow melting into my socks while neither swayed him as he walked. And most likely I'd added to it smoking one, or ten too many cigarettes in the equally cold temperatures trying to escape the awkward wedding hall conversations with people who pretended to be interested in my life but, if pressed by an attorney in a courtroom while under oath, would have to admit they were just being nosey. But back to Sunday.

The coughs were sporadic throughout the day. I ignored them hoping they were a by-product of the dry, cold air we were subject to by not starting a fire until 3am. But they continued.

I had some big jobs to do when my wife left for work at 6:30 Sunday evening. For starters, two loads of laundry needed dried and folded. That would be followed by at least an hour of dishwashing the glasses, plates, bowls, silverware, and cooking dishes that covered literally every flat surface of our sink, counters, and stove from a weekend of dinner parties and after-New Years festivities. The night would finish with a necessity of our lives: filling the house with firewood from the outdoor woodpile.

Before I knew it, the clock struck 10:40 and I hadn't done a thing. It wasn't for lack of wanting to or any kind of general malaise, I simply hadn't noticed the minutes and hours ticking by. For over four hours I sat in a stupor, moving only to cough or throw an occasional log on glowing embers. I had to admit it, I was sick.

I quickly sent my wife a text apologizing for my laziness, and donned the winter gear to gather firewood; the one task I couldn't be sick through. Outside, as I bent over to pick up a log and place it on the ever-growing stack in my left arm, a blazing pain shot through my back. Only one load was in the house and I knew the sickness was going to be a rough one.

I brought in only three armloads; the last one so painful I knew it would be the one that scarred me for life. I slowly undressed and she texted me back. "Don't worry about the dishes. Please go to bed now. Try to get some good sleep." I wasn't in the mood to argue.

I awoke at 1am to a sharp pain in my chest; like an arrow had pierced me. I ran my right hand across my sternum wondering how true my kindergarten teacher had been when she showed me how to place my hand on my heart for the Pledge of Allegiance. I waited for the telltale numbness in my left arm confirming the heart attack I knew I was having. Just then a second arrow pierced me in the right half of my chest, this one piercing all the way through me to the back. The cold was now in my lungs.

The sleep that night was spotty at best. I pushed through ten hours of work, lying to the clients in my office that I had only a tickle in my throat every time I coughed. By 6pm that night the aches began to set in. The cold had invited his friend, Fever to join the party.

My lovely wife served me dinner and allowed me to go to bed early with a promise she would do the dishes and tend to the fire. As I crawled into bed, my joints felt like they were stiff and immobile. I wasn't so sure about the lungs or cough anymore, but I knew the cold was taking its toll on me in other ways. Only tomorrow would show me how.

I awoke two hours later, still alone in bed. I stumbled downstairs to find my wife but she wasn't in the living room. I crossed through the kitchen only to notice the glow of energy-efficient lightbulbs outlining the bathroom door frame. "You alright?" I asked through the wooden door. "No," came the answer. My cold had attacked my wife.

Whether or not it was the same cold that forced my wife to spend Monday night either facing the toilet on her knees or sitting on it with her butt, or a nasty case of food poisoning, is unclear. One thing that is brightly clear as noonday sun on snow, is that whatever it was had weakened her so she spent all of Tuesday curled up on the couch. It was now obvious this cold wanted us both to be its slaves.

Work on Tuesday was, in a word, horrific. The sneezes came on the hours, the sniffles following along like a well trained drum line. The attempts at ignoring the redundant call for coughing from unseen minions in my throat only led to strangling fits in my larynx which almost left me throwing up. I had to cough over and over and over. The coughing slowly caused my lungs and shoulders and head to ache with a groaning pain. I attempted to go home early but only left twenty minutes before the doors were locked.

I came home to the sight of my wife curled up in sickness. I changed my clothes to get firewood, but after only ten minutes in the cold I had to come inside and sit down in my chair, my lungs wheezing for air and my body sore all over. The fever I thought I'd left at home that morning seemed to have greeted me at the door as I walked through it. My skin crawled and felt as if it would tear, my muscles were weak and wouldn't react to easy brain commands, and my joints were stiff and snapped inside me like cold rubber bands.

It's that fever that has now wrapped its hot hands around me and my wife and is slowly squeezing the life out of us. When I came in from my last trip outside, she had risen from the couch and we hugged each other, assured our time had come. She struggled to simply pick up a blanket. I struggled unzipping my coat. We helped each other make tea, and it took all our strength to do it. We walked with short halting steps like a football star who had just blown out both his knees but could find no one to help him off the field. Our voices were shallow and weak and whispers became our communication. Our every movement caused our skin and bones to tingle with harshly painful pin pricks. I now lay by the fire, unable to move at more than a snail's pace. My wife lays prone on the couch, allowing the thousand pound blanket to slowly crush her. we look at each other and only nod; knowing smiles would rip our fragile face skin apart.

The cold and fever has taken us in its grasp. It was great knowing you all. Can someone please come do our dishes?


Blogger Unknown said...

Oh man Sam rough. Sorry about the dishes, more sorry about the sickness.

However captivated by the story.

Rest well buddy.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Melissa Blair said...

If it wasn't such a far drive, I would be there in a heartbeat! Hope you both feel better soon!!

4:17 PM  
Blogger Kimmy said...

Sounds absolutely terrifying! Very nicely written though;-)

Hope y'all are feeling 100% now!

11:26 AM  
Blogger *Austin Mommy* said...

Wow, you're an AMAZING story-teller. How unfortunate of a subject, however. I do hope you're feeling better. How are the dishes? Done? If not, I will do them. Seriously. If they've managed to sit all weekend until now, let me know and I will come over tonight...seriously...

3:57 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Thank you, Ang. You are too kind. :)

Thankfully, Ell and I pulled through and we tackled all kinds of neglected stuff, not the least of which being the dishes. (They were seriously all over every surface in the kitchen. It was crazy.) I'm mostly over my disease-infestation but she is still fighting a stuffy nose, which sucks. Tis the season, right?

Thanks to all who read. It was fun to write even if I was dying when I did it. :)

5:07 PM  
Blogger Swedish Mama said...

Well Sam--sorry I didn't know, would have tried to help somehow.
Still, excellent writing skills.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:36 PM  
Blogger Chel said...

This is the most eloquent description of a cold I have every heard! Beautifully done!

4:28 PM  
Blogger Dave and Betsy's Blog said...

It sounds like you were close to death - the story had me on the edge of my seat, and that's not just because I like to sit that way. Very beautifully written - I felt like I was suffering right along with you.

Are the dishes still there?

8:19 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

The dishes lasted until the weekend. And even then it took us two shifts to get them all done. We had gotten to the point of using plastic silverware and cereal bowls for eating. It was pretty funny, actually. :)

6:52 PM  

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