Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Paging Florence Nightingale

I was in one of the malls the other day and the place sounded like a refuge for wild geese. It seemed as if just about everyone in there was honking, sneezing or coughing. I even walked behind one man who, without exaggeration, sneezed with every step he took. I got away from him…fast.

Needless to say, I came home feeling as if I were a giant, walking germ. “Don’t come near me!” I said to my husband as I backed away from him. “I need to take a bath in Lysol. I feel like Typhoid Mary!”

He laughed, thinking I was joking, but I was serious. The last thing I wanted was for him to catch something. You see, too vividly, and in recurrent nightmares, I still recall the last time he came down with the flu.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. At first, I tried to deny the inevitable. When he started sneezing, I attributed it to using too much pepper on his mashed potatoes. When he said his throat was sore, I reasoned that it was because the house was too dry. And when he began to look flushed, I passed it off as a male hot flash.

But when he developed the chills, a temperature of 101, and a cough that rattled the windows, I had to face the truth. The flu had reared its ugly head and claimed another victim…and I, the farthest thing from Florence Nightingale imaginable, was going to have to take care of him.

“Let me take your temperature,” I said to my husband that first night, as I shook down the thermometer.

“Noooo!” he whined. “If I keep my mouth closed with the thermometer in it, I won’t be able to breathe through my stuffed-up nose! I’ll suffocate!”

“Well, I can take your temperature another way, if you’d like,” I said calmly.

It’s amazing how long he managed to hold his breath while the thermometer was in his mouth.

Still, even though he looked as if he’d been run over by a train, he was determined to go to work the next morning. “There’s an important meeting I HAVE to attend,” he said when I threatened to tie him to the bedpost to keep him home. “You don’t want me to lose my job and end up unemployed, do you? Then you’d have to go out and get a regular 9-to-5 job.”

I packed his lunch.

The next morning, the alarm rang at 5:30. My husband sat up, swung his legs over the edge of the bed and slid one foot into his slipper. Twenty minutes later, he still was sitting on the edge of the bed.

I finally asked him what he was doing. “I’m trying to get up the energy to put on my other slipper,” he said.

That did it. I called his office and said he wouldn’t be in. Thus began two of the longest weeks of my life.

For one thing, I thought he would stay in bed all day and either sleep or watch the portable TV in the bedroom. But he wanted to watch the big TV, so he parked his aching body in his recliner out in the living room from early morning till late at night, about 125 hours a day.

So instead of my favorite TV shows, I was forced to watch countless reruns of CHIPs and Gunsmoke. If any show dared to show even a hint of romance, my husband had his finger on the remote control with such lightning speed, he outdrew Marshal Dillon.

And then there was the ice cream incident. Because of his sore throat, my husband wanted ice cream to soothe it. Of course, on the particular day that he absolutely had to have it, the second coming of the Ice Age was in progress. I wouldn’t even have sent my dogs out in weather like that, but my husband’s whining made me decide to brave the elements and risk wrapping my car around a tree. I drove only as far as the nearest variety store, however, which had a limited selection of items.

My husband specifically had requested Hood brand Patchwork ice cream, which is nothing more than squares of chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream put together to look like a patchwork quilt. Naturally, the small store had no such thing, so I, being clever, bought a container of Hood chocolate ice cream and one of Hood vanilla. I figured I’d just cut them into squares and put them together in the same dish, and my husband would be none the wiser.

It didn’t work. “This isn’t Patchwork,” he complained after only one bite.

“It’s the same exact ice cream,” I told him. “It’s just that the little squares didn’t come all hitched together, that’s all!”

“Well, I don’t like it,” he said, pushing the dish away.

I was tempted to hold him down and force-feed the ice cream to him, but I knew that Florence Nightingale never would have done anything like that, so I refrained.

The worst part of the flu was my husband’s coughing, which kept both of us awake all night. Six days into his illness, after we both looked so haggard from lack of sleep, we could have landed roles in the movie, “Night of the Living Dead,” he finally told me to call the family doctor and make an appointment. The moment I dialed the number, however, he changed his mind.

Ten times a day, it was the same thing: “Call the doctor.” “Don’t call the doctor.” “Make an appointment.” “Don’t make an appointment.” I was ready to drink hemlock.

“Maybe I have pneumonia now,” my husband groaned after yet another night of endless coughing and wheezing. “Or it could even be something much worse!” Despite his obvious concern, he still wouldn’t allow me to call the doctor.

“Well, we’ll find out for sure what you had when they perform the autopsy,” I said, shrugging.

It’s miraculous just how quickly he recovered after that.