The kids and I stared at her, then at each other, in silent shock. She walked gingerly up the stairs to our bedroom, took some Nyquil, and was out of action for the next 24 hours.
And just like that, the delicate equilibrium that keeps our household in balance began to shift, and we felt the earth slowly tilt on its axis with every passing minute. You can imagine our terror.
Before you judge, please understand how unusual this was for my family. I’ve known my wife for more than 25 years, and I truly can’t recall the last time she was sick before this recent debacle. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her sneeze, bruise or bleed before, leaving open the distinct possibility that she’s not human but actually a cyborg sent from the future to yell at me for forgetting to empty the dishwasher.
But with this illness disproving the “Wifenator” theory, I searched for other ideas that could explain her incredible run of health.
And then, the truth hit me, like a value pack of Robitussin.
She has been sick before, and she will be again, many times. But as a strong and productive woman, she declines to show it. Whatever tends to ail her, my wife just shrugs it off, powers down a little extra Vitamin C, and goes about her business. Without a complaint aired or a slowdown in her productivity, you’d never know that she wasn’t feeling well.
Yes, that’s right, I’m not afraid to admit it (OK, maybe a little). I’m not a good sick person. Add a sense of pessimism, a Leo’s self-centered need for attention and a solid dose of Jewish neuroses, and it becomes visibly and audibly clear to everyone in a 100 mile radius when I’m not feeling well.
How does this differ from my wife? My process can easily be broken down into steps that are intimately familiar to my poor and unfortunate family (and maybe to a few other married couples):
- About 24 hours in advance, I will start to notice a small tickle in my throat, or a slight amount of congestion in my nose or chest. When arriving home, I will immediately declare myself physically incapacitated, and prepare a press release to alert the local media and authorities.
- I will then go shopping. Despite boxes and boxes of previously purchased drugs that fill several cluttered drawers in our master bathroom, I will be certain that this particular illness will require new and innovative over-the-counter medications that can only be purchased from the medical shamans at CVS.
- I will buy these medications in quantities that assume I will be severely sick for several months. You know, just in case.
- Upon returning home from this episode of Sicky’s Supermarket Sweep. I will emit several loud and phlegmy coughs close to my wife’s face. This is a kind of reverse-mating call, a repulsive signal to my loved one that my illness is to be taken seriously and that preparations need to be made. By her.
- At this point, it will be suggested that I take my temperature. There is significant risk involved with this. A normal or slightly-above normal reading will lessen the concern and attention that I so clearly and desperately need. As a result, I will likely decline, and declare that I am more than familiar with my own body temperature to know when something is terribly wrong.
- This will occasionally inspire my wife to take my temperature when I’m asleep, which is both cruel and impressively crafty.
- This is even physically possible because I will consume about a magnum’s worth of Nyquil before heading to bed. The bizarre dreams that follow involve flying, incoherent ramblings, and the occasional bout of nudity, and have been optioned by HBO for an upcoming mini-series.
- Side note: Nyquil is awesome.
- If the fever is even somewhat real that night, I will alternate between intense chills and episodes of sweat that create a small pond on my side of the bed. Regardless of phase, I will spend the night restlessly pulling the sheets entirely onto my side of the bed, leaving my wife shivering even more than her sick husband. This is my version of marital “sharing”.
- Moaning. There will also be moaning. Gregorian-chant levels of moaning.
- The next morning, after emitting noxious levels of gas caused by the over-consumption of cold medicine, I will declare myself unfit for work, and unable to rise out of bed in general.
- I will, however, trudge downstairs to grab my iPhone and compose an artfully-written note to my office describing my agony and the unlikelihood of my presence at work for the day. I will attach several audio files containing evidence of my phlegmy cough and sickly moans in lieu of a doctor’s note.
- I will also take this opportunity downstairs to grab hot tea to soothe my aching throat, which prevents me from swallowing without emitting small gasps of pain. Those gasps are only slightly louder than the sounds of my family’s eyeballs rolling in their heads.
- As they leave for work, school and other means of productive living, I will announce that I am heading back to bed to rest for the day so that I’ll start to feel better. This is my sick-man’s code, which can be roughly translated as “try to go back to sleep, but end up binge-watching episodes of Better Call Saul while leaving used Kleenex on the floor of my bedroom for decor”.
- I will begin to feel better between the hours of noon and 5 PM, only to relapse around 5:30 when my family returns home. This timing is clearly coincidental.
- I will emerge from the bedroom around dinner time, wearing The Official Uniform Of Male Sick Days: a sweaty t-shirt and dirty sweatpants with pinstripes (really mucus stains lining one leg).
- Moaning may resume at this point.
- Declared by my wife as unfit for a family dinner, I will instead be quarantined back to my room to consume chicken noodle soup in silence in front of a baseball game or another cable broadcast of The Shawshank Redemption. This, of course, is my version of nirvana (sick or otherwise).
- As my wife considers moving into a different bedroom (or perhaps a neighboring zip code), I will assure her that my illness has passed and that I am on the mend. She will return to bed reluctantly.
- And, because I am what I am, I will immediately try to initiate sexual activity, which will be rejected faster than my dog’s application to Harvard.
In contrast, here is my wife’s typical illness routine:
- Deal with it and move on.
So, as you can see, her recent sick day was something of a shock. But the kids and I kept it together, worked to overcome the challenges and a complete lack of adult supervision, and emerged alive and well on the other side of this nightmare. We’re stronger for it.
And maybe, just maybe, the next time I’m sick, I’ll think more about my wife. I hope I’ll pause for a minute before declaring myself out of action. I hope I’ll recognize the impact my absence has on my loved ones. I hope I’ll think about my wife’s sacrifices and work harder to push past what ails me.
Or maybe I’ll just grab some more Kleenex and Nyquil, climb into bed and hope that The Shawshank Redemption is on cable again, and I’ll call it a day.
Do you or your spouse/soul-mate/partner/irritating person sleeping next to you have their own sick rituals? Share them with me at email@example.com, or post them on the Too Lazy To Write A Book page on Facebook.