Sick benefits

19 Jan
You wouldn’t wish illness on anybody. Serious illness is wicked, prolonged and unfair, and shorter, less serious bouts are generally a nuisance. It’d be strange to ask others to cross their fingers for you, in the hope that you’d contract a nasty winter virus, thinking, “Please let this be the time that I get the flu. I think it would do me the world of good.” Last week, on Thursday, I was not saying to myself “Ooh, the weekend’s coming up and I know what I’d really like to do. Have the flu so that I can feel really wretched for the best part of a week.” But strangely enough, the things that you think you don’t want can sometimes be the very things that you need.
Come Friday morning, I was a picture of ill-health. Even my children, usually totally unsympathetic and tormentingly loud in the face of sick people, tiptoed around me as if I would break should they prod me too enthusiastically. My husband even administered my drugs (Nurofen standard for night, Nurofen cold and flu for day when I needed to be alert to check on Twitter or iPlayer highlights.)
The cat cuddled up to me fondly and gave me loving head butts and generous doses of fish breath. I think he felt like a kindred spirit, the underdog in a family of buffoons. He knew that his place on the bed was going to have to shared with the likes of me for a few days, so he made an effort to make friends with me for once.
I’m making my illness sound very serious, but I only had flu. When I say flu, I mean it in the ways that I have not meant it on countless other occasions. It’s not just men who are hypochondriacs. I would happily class myself as one too, but that is because as a mother I feel I have to be. Always dealing with other people’s problems, usually the children’s various ugly infestations of verrucas, nits or worms (OK, my kids have not had the latter yet but it’s only a matter of time, unless that was something that only occurred in my ’80s childhood) or countless visitations of tonsilitis, snot storm colds and stomach bugs – adults always come last on the sympathy list.
I feel it is my right to protest a little too loudly when I’m fed up, or more often than not to get all of them to just shut the hell up “Children, I have a migraine and your rendition of ‘When the saints…’ is turning it into a sickness migraine.” In reality, I’ve usually god a bit of a dull ache around the temples, but I have to exaggerate otherwise the singing will continue.
This time though, my moans were heartfelt. I was too damn sick to protest about anything and I lay on top of my bed, speed-dialling my husband on Friday evening to find out if he could get home early (his idea of early, 8.30pm after 2 ‘essential’ pints in the pub after work.)
Things certainly took a turn for the better once that first day of sickness was over. Having endured a day of hell, that can only be described as allowing the children to do whatever they wanted for the 12 hours while I lay on the bed trying to stop the baby from eating newspaper, I knew I couldn’t endure a weekend of it. Flu and children just aren’t comfortably doable, if the adult in charge is the sick party. I understand that women who give birth behind bushes unaided would be capable of looking after broods of ten or more even with hallucination inducing fevers, but I’m not one of those women. I knew after a sick day with three children, a temperature topping 103ºF (a guesswork figure, from the reliable  hand on forehead tactic that tells you nothing more than how hot or cold your hand is) that I was no super mum.
On his return, my husband, probably encouraged my vitriol (weakened by fever) and the after work drinks, became organiser extraordinaire. He couldn’t get out of working the whole weekend, so instead arranged an entourage of friends and family to take the motherload off my hands. For once, I think he enjoyed his role in the home. He may not be a family man, but I think I may hire him as my PA,  though he’d have to foot the bill for his ‘expenses.’
On Saturday I awoke to a silent house. The children had been rallied up and farmed out. In my comatose, dreamy state (largely due to heavy doses of Nurofen) I was so grateful for the peace that I could have kissed the cat. I have never known anything like it. Where usually there is the sound of a hungry herd of zoo animals and their mates, there was nothing. Nothing was good, I thought. I didn’t want to replace the nothing with anything. And so I lay in the bed, listening to nothing for the best part of the morning. It was bliss.
My wandering eye, even in times of illness, did pick up on my children’s discarded toys in MY room, and I could really have done with someone to pick up my husband’s pants, crotch-side up, from the foot of the bed. But other than that, and the fact that constant liquid replenishment by a maid in waiting would have been nice (I had a glass of water on the bedside table that the cat had helped himself to), everything was perfect.
My friend and I once talked wistfully about our greatest wish: without wanting to sound humble and earnest (we are neither) we decided that we wanted to have just 24 hours alone in a room. Nothing else was required.
And here I was, thinking, if only I were well I could roll over and call her and say ” It’s Saturday morning, and I have at least 12 hours uninterrupted time on my own, maybe more if I’m lucky. The dream has come true. You should try getting the flu!” It didn’t matter that I was flat on my back. I had drugs, water and my thoughts.
In my hours alone I listened to three parts of a radio documentary on David Bowie. I read most of my book. I slept intermittently. I took a bath for two hours. I thought about what I’d do with my lottery winnings (imagined) and for once left enough money for an idle life in my later years. I didn’t write lists. I didn’t panic about what to feed the children for lunch and dinner (for once, not my fucking problem). I didn’t worry about what to eat myself because I was ill and not hungry. I did not worry about my tax return because for once I surrendered entirely to being ill and useless. I was not answerable to anyone.
For five days I had continuous blocks of time alone. The blissful feeling, despite the flu, was ever-present. And then my time was up, because as I woke this morning I knew I was nearly fully recovered. As I opened the front door, the air was murky, damp and cold, but even the discarded chicken bones and chips scattered over the pavement in front of the house did not ruin my feeling of gratitude. Gone were the constant ache in my bones and the wicked fever that had left me bed bound and waxen for days, taking with it the heavenly solitude. But that’s alright because in the future, I’ll treat short periods of sickness with an air of “Oh good, it’s about time for a holiday.”

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