It came so quickly I didn't have time to prepare. I didn't have enough water, juice or medicine. I lacked "sick" preparedness.
The fever hit in the middle of the night. I went to bed with a bit of a sore throat, by midnight when I woke up, I was burning like a hot brick on the side of a lit fire place. Inside, between the space of my muscle and bones, I felt a thousand tiny blades of icicles piercing me with their frozen breaths, cutting me loose from warmth, comfort or strength. Then puff, I was burning up, hot to the touch on the surface while still practically fogging up from those breaths of the arctic floating through inside just seconds earlier. Shivering and sweating simultaneously, I shrank into a tight balled fetal position for lack of any other defense.
I tell myself I haven't been sick sick for so long my body is strong. It would recover in the morning and there is no need for silly medicines. I let myself drift back to sleep, and amazingly I did. The next morning, I don't remember how I moved through the routines of getting people ready for where they need to go, but as soon as the house was empty and quiet again, I fell back into deep sleep, like I haven't slept for a hundred years and this was the first chance of catching up. In a way, it was kind of true.
On the third day I woke up to realize that I was scheduled to take an important exam the next day. I must phone the examine office or I'd be disqualified. The days I had slept away started to blur together, turning my brain into jelly and my speech into mush. I was further discouraged when I found that I was directed to an offshore support center after selecting a dozen numbers according to the computerized prompts.
She greeted me with:
"Hello, my name is Jennifer!"
But her accent gave away her true identity, and her monotone telltale sign of reading from a script. I persist in telling her, through warped words, congested nose and cracked throat that I could not attend the exam tomorrow, as she could probably derive unmistakeably the authenticity of my condition. In response, she cheerfully read and re-read to me that tomorrow if I didn't show up, it will be considered "no show".
"There will be no exception".
After some struggle, she informed me I shall get myself to a doctor's office and fax the resulting "medical document" before tomorrow to be considered for any other alternative. Most likely I'd still be a "no show" until after months of review.
Somewhere in the conversation, I coughed until smoke came out of my lungs, and she simply raised her voice to speak on top of my coughs.
I couldn't come up with a reply. As I was thinking of something to say, she sharply interrupted my slower than snail thought process:
"Mamm, are you there? Are you there?? ARE YOU THERE???"
With rapid and increasingly sharper and louder queries. Then, before I could catch a breath and respond, she hung up.
In all fairness, the world was moving much faster than I could handle at that point. I turned my head from left to right, and I found the clock needle has moved significantly from its last position on the face. I saw creatures and shadows zooming in front of me, with no hope of catching where they were going or what they were doing. So "Jennifer" in the right mind of an healthy person, must have waited a respectable amount of time, before considering me either having given up or having passed out indefinitely.
In the afternoon I felt slightly more awake so I tried phoning the doctor, only then I remembered I, having been healthy as a horse for years, do not have a doctor I could call. So I phone the pediatrician, whose number I have memorized. The cheerful receptionist, sitting somewhere in the local office not more than five minutes from my home, of this I am certain, listened to my story until I finished and asked me to leave a message to the doctor. I do.
The doctor phoned back quickly. "How is the boy?" She asked me enough questions to determine the boy was OK before saying, "Why aren't you calling *your* doctor?"
I tell her why. She pauses for a few seconds. Then she asks me more questions about me and the exam. "Can't you just talk to them? They should be able to hear you are sick."
"They won't believe me, they listened to me for a while and hang up."
"What is the fax number for me to send this note?"
I couldn't believe it. I mean I called with the faint hope that this may happen but I fully expected them to slam the phone in my face before any respectable amount of time has passed and tell me to take my crazy self to an office somewhere. In fact she does urge me to see a doctor, thinking I may have pneumonia, but not before agreeing to help me, and volunteered to call my mom to come in and help me, despite of my fear for "getting her sick". She announces:
"You could die from this if you keep this up, not taking care of yourself, not drinking fluids, or eating medicine regularly. You need to be well!" She closed sternly before telling me she will call back in an hour to check up on me.
She gave me instructions of which medicine to take, the only I had been using didn't work as well. She wants to get someone to check on my cough, as it doesn't sound "right". I feel tears pricking my lids, but I fake losing strength and bid her goodbye.
She check on me twice later that day, satisfied finally that family have come in to bring me water and medicine more regularly, and all is on the up swing with the recovery track.
In the haze of my sleep, I am oblivious to the fact she must have faxed some note to the exam office, as the first email I saw when I woke up finally from the last bit of fevers, was the office sending me loads of apologies, mentioning they have approved immediately of my "medical emergency" as an exception to the "no show". They will happily reschedule my exam any time I "felt better".
I cried at the sight of this though I don't know why. Perhaps being looked after and confined in bed for over a week have softened me, and melted that shield I carried around on "normal" days, caked with too much caffeine, too long a to do list and too much self importance. Somewhere along the lines, I needed to be sick like I haven't been for years, to slow down every fiber in my being and truly see the color and shapes of all those around me. The friend who called, the family who came, the doctor who cared.
Even the offshore support specialist, Jennifer, perhaps her too, is still thinking about me, and learning something about reading off the script. Of this I am certain.