When Purvis started to sniffle the Friday afternoon before spring break, I should have slathered myself with hand sanitizer, and installed masks on our faces. Instead I entreated her not to cough directly in my face and hoped for the best. Shouldn’t my immune system be up to the task of fighting off the bugs she ferries home from first grade?
My answer came Sunday evening when my chest tightened and a few coughs escaped my throat. Purvis' health was improving just in time for spring break. And I was sliding into my second illness in as many months.
The Monday walk to work settled my internal debate. My legs were weak. My head throbbed. Last month I had pretended that the morning nausea I was experiencing was a blip in my day. Pretended myself through a yoga practice where I had to leave the mat to keep myself from ralphing all over the candlelit studio, and then to work where, after an hour of reading email, the pretense ended. I had to get home before I spilled my choked down oat bran all over my keyboard. (Victory! I made it home in time to upchuck in the comfort of my own bathroom with minutes to spare.)
This past Monday, as each step became more labored, I remembered my pledge to not doubt my body again after the recent close call. I flew the white flag of surrender. I was sick. I called Josh and Purvis to come pick me up because I couldn’t fathom how I could walk the rest of the way home.
Not the best start to spring break, but what could I do?
I installed myself on the couch to ache and cough and shiver. Purvis joined me for some family sitcoms. She knows that me being sick is prime time for her to expand her TV-watching privileges and discover some new shows.
Sick Day Shows Watched:
Casual – I watched this Hulu dramedy when Purvis was on a play date—she is not ready for graphic sex and tales of teacher seduction. This, I know.
Fresh Off the Boat
Malcolm in the Middle - Probably Purvis’ favorite discovery. I feel entrenched in the nineties the second the They Might Be Giants theme song starts.
By Monday night, Josh was feeling the telltale chest tightening. I alternately shivered and sweated on the couch, trying to keep myself downing liquids and sucking on the zinc lozenges that I cling to like little cherry-flavored lifeboats whenever I get sick.
“They reduce the duration of colds by fifty percent,” I droned.
“Should we cancel our reservation?” Josh asked.
The past three years we have spent the latter half of spring break week at the well-located and nice-enough Spindrift Inn in Manzanita, Oregon. Manzanita is a quiet town on the Oregon coast with a main street of cute shops, decent restaurants, and a windy stretch of beach littered with driftwood, broken sand dollars and hemmed in by grassy dunes. When Cannon Beach got too crowded and too expensive, Manzanita slid into our coastal getaway slot. In January, as soon as we get back from our Christmas trip to the east coast, I book a few days in the unit at the Spindrift with a full kitchen. The email confirming my reservation is a beacon of hope at the end of the typically brutal winter term. Unfortunately, the Spindrift Inn is a small business and does not have the most forgiving cancellation policy.
I checked my email reservation.
“Even if we cancel now, we still have to pay for half,” I told Josh. “Let’s wait and see how we feel on Wednesday.”
“Okay,” he said doubtfully.
I had high hopes that at least I would be partially recovered by Wednesday. My illnesses tend to follow a three-day pattern. The first day of acute, can’t-leave-the-couch fever times. Then a sweaty night of sleep to a morning of slight improvement on day two. Until day three comes and I start to feel a sliver of myself again. Day four, I return to my routine, weaker and slower than usual, but back in the swing of life.
This time, day two was worse. I woke in the middle of the night, my head feeling like it was clamped in a vice.
Types of Headaches Experienced:
Skull in a vice a.k.a. The Skull Crusher
Nail pounded into left temple
Sizzling Sinuses of Lava
Temple of pain lurking in the shadow of my eyebrow
“If I could shake this headache, I think I could be okay,” I told Josh, who suffered from a similar misery, that afternoon.
After realizing that the headache was not going to go away on its own, I got serious about pain management. I loaded up on Advil and some expired acetaminophen. I rifled through all of the meds I bought when I had the flu five years ago. All expired.
“Expired doesn’t mean they will kill you, they just won’t work as well,” Josh said.
“Yeah, I know.” But still, I feel uneasy putting anything expired in my body. A picture of my furrowed brow as I scrutinize a carton of milk should accompany those articles about food waste.
When Tuesday night brought no relief, and another round with The Skull Crusher, I stared longingly at the remaining Oxycodone pill from my bout with Shingles a couple of years ago. I’d been saving it for some untold misery that none of my menstrual cramps and headaches had approached in the past two years. Or for the apocalypse. Because I will need heavy narcotics when the end times come. I stared at the bottle. My eyes snagged on the expiration date. One year to the day. The start of spring is not good for my health apparently.
I stuck with my OTC painkillers, but tucked the Oxy away mentally. As long as I have a pharmaceutical escape hatch, I can bear the pain.
As I lay awake sweating, contemplating my headache, and wondering if it was the most pain I had experienced since Shingles, I came to terms with the fact that there was no way we could drive to the coast the next day.
Maybe I could get Purvis into the remaining days of spring break camp offered by her art afterschool program. Or beg some friends to take her for an afternoon play date so that her report back to her teacher when she returned to school was not exclusively a list of all the TV shows I’d let her watch. I composed mental text messages, emails, pleas for help.
The first rays of sun crept through the curtains. When Purvis came to perch on the side of the couch to wake me up, I felt somewhat prepared. She had been looking forward to this trip—aided by me, pumping her up for the trip before being dragged under by pestilence—and would be disappointed at its cancellation. Disappointed being the polite way of saying bonkers balls-out pissed.
I rubbed the crust from my eyes and perched up on my elbows. “Hey sweetie,” I said.
“We’re going, right?” she asked.
“I don’t know, sweetie. I don’t think we can.”
“What?! What?!!” She dropped to the floor, sending a sound of rolling thunder through the house. “You can’t cancel it. We made a commitment!”
Whenever the topic of canceling or delaying our trip arose, she insisted, “We made a commitment to this. We can’t go back on it,” as if our trip were a music class or a karate-training sequence from her new favorite movie The Karate Kid. (Ralph Macchio version, of course.)
“I know this is disappointing, sweetie, but Daddy and I are really sick. If we can’t get there safely, we can’t go,” I said.
Josh poked out from the bedroom and took over disappointment abatement while I scurried into the bedroom to grab a few more minutes of rest.
By the time I emerged to throw together breakfast, Purvis was pacified.
“I told her she could pick out a movie and get a treat if we didn’t go.” He said.
After breakfast, Josh and I entered negotiations. He felt better. Well enough to drive the two hours to Manzanita.
“If you can drive, I can definitely sit in a car for a couple hours,” I said.
Plus the thought of surrendering $200 for a trip we didn’t take was a burning ember in my gut of cheapness.
“Okay! Let’s do it.”
We stopped by the drugstore to load up on non-expired painkillers and a fresh box of Nyquil. As we pulled onto Route 26, my mind flashed to the prescription bottles I had stumbled across in the medicine cabinet, prednisone and an anti-viral drug I took when I last had Shingles. Why hadn’t I brought them just in case? Because what if I had…
Illnesses Googled While Sick (and panicked about for at least a day)
Shingles – what if the red splotch on my cheek was really a budding zoster? What if the headaches were precursors to another descent into a cartoonishly swollen face crusted with oozing blisters and the worst pain of my life?
Spinal Meningitis – a stiff neck, a bad headache, a germ-ridden kid: it could happen.
Tumor – Because what health panic is complete without a nod to cancer?
I was able to keep my Shingles/Spinal Meningitis/Flu/Pneumonia/Brain Tumor fears at bay for the drive to the coast and kept them to myself during our stay although I lingered by mirrors to examine the cheek splotch. In retrospect, I think the splotch is another Shingles scar. Not as pronounced as my Harry Potter lightning bolt, but another reminder that I am stumbling into old lady-hood at a more rapid pace then I’d like. Although my bout of Shingles could be balanced by a diagnosis of the young person’s illness, Strep Throat, that I had a month earlier. I contain multitudes. Multitudes of germs. And an immune system that needs to step up its game.
We drifted into Manzanita on a raincloud, but the showers did not dampen Purvis’ spirits. After checking in and dumping our carful of luggage in the cabin, she dragged us to the beach. Wind whipped sprays of rain into tiny bullets against our skin. I pulled my hood tighter and wished for gloves.
“I want to take my shoes off!” she said.
“Not right now, sweetie. It’s freezing,” I said.
This conversation would repeat itself over the next day and a half until, finally, the sun peeking out from behind a cloudbank, I let her slip out of her rain boots and run free in the sand. Immediately she sprinted to the shore and commenced with jumping waves of ice water.
“Be careful!” I yelled impotently.
Do I prefer the year that she refused to leave the safety of the dunes because she was gripped by fear that a sneaker wave would snatch her from the sand and take her out to sea?
In general, no. But her newfound ocean fearlessness unnerves me too. While walking around town on a mission to the candy store with Purvis, I let it slip that a surfer got bitten by a shark at Cannon Beach last summer.
“We didn’t tell you because we thought you’d never get near the ocean after that. But I think you can handle it now.” I said, throwing a sidelong glance.
“Oh,” she said, breaking into a sprint to the candy store, where she chose Bean Boozled jellybeans as her candy treat of spring break. After lunch we quizzed each other on the Bean Boozled flavors: Spoiled milk or coconut? Barf or peach? Toothpaste or Berry Blue? Is this fun for anyone? Because Purvis was too afraid to try more beans after she put a barf-flavored bean in her mouth.
It turns out that Purvis can handle my story of a shark on the Oregon coast because she still ran at the ocean like a beloved school friend after summer vacation.
Top Beach Activities
Beachcombing – We didn’t find the holy grail, an unbroken sand dollar, but we found some interesting shell fragments to fill our bucket. Purvis slipped her hand in mine and asked me, “Are you glad I’m looking for shells with you now?” Yes, I am. After years of trying to bring her along on my shell searches, finally she volunteered to join me.
Running in the Dunes – Purvis assured me she was fine and told me to leave her to play in the dunes by herself. I was fine as long as I saw her head bobbing along above the line of the blowing grass. But when I lost track of her ponytailed head, I climbed to the top of the dune for a better vantage point. “What?! I’m fine!!!” Can anyone explain why she feels safer getting lost in the dunes than going into her dark bedroom by herself?
Frisbee – Purvis patiently taught me how to throw the Frisbee again. The wind thwarted our attempts at a game.
Flying Sharkie, the new family kite – After much debate and lobbying from Purvis, Josh picked up a new kite for the family to replace the hopelessly tangled unicorn kite we bought Purvis when she was two. The unicorn kite has been a point of contention. Purvis doesn’t want us flying it because she’s afraid we’ll let it blow away. And yet she doesn’t want to fly it because she doesn’t like unicorns. As Josh handed over the moolah, he let her know that Sharkie was for everyone. Viva Sharkie!
Taking in the beauty and grandeur of the sea – In thirty-second increments before being dragged to another Purvis-directed activity.
Biking in the sand – As with all new activities, this one got off to a rocky, tear-soaked, family fight beginning peppered with threats that “We will leave the beach this minute!” The preceding afternoon Purvis went on and on about how she had always wanted to try the bikes. We took her at her word. Apparently what she meant was she wanted to be able to be immediately adept at the bike from the second it touched the sand (and not to have to carry it to the beach herself). After about fifteen minutes of turmoil, tears, and empty threats all around, we got the hang of the bikes and had a good forty-five minutes of fun riding them around in the wet sand. My thighs burned, my brow was soaked with sweat and it felt good to be moving. Pro tip—don’t stop moving lest you sink into the sand.
At the end of our sunny-ish day of beach play, we settled in for a movie.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Not the Order of the Phoenix as advertised on the DVD box, but still full of Hogwarts good fun.
Fly Away Home – A young Anna Paquin and a grizzled Jeff Daniels teach a gaggle of geese to migrate to North Carolina.
The Secret Life of Pets – Among the new kids movie releases I had been avoiding, but it was better than expected. Plus with Louie C.K. as the protagonist dog, Max. Now I know where he is getting all the money to make Horace and Pete. (We are stuck on the second episode of Horace and Pete, unsure if we can wade through so much bleakness.)
Throughout our stay in Manzanita, Josh and I were both wracked with chills, fever, and coughing fits. Every morning we woke up hoping that the cold had lifted. Even lifted just enough for us to trade off parenting duties. When one parent is sick, life can move along at a limp, but still move along. When both parents are sick: chaos! Misery! Accusations that you are the worst parents in the world!! Purvis granted us two days of parental sick leave. She crafted a Get Well house for one of the minions she has taken to crafting out of folded scraps of paper since watching the movie. She wrote me notes. She even wrote me a message in the sand during our sunny day at the beach: No matter what I love you. As our colds dragged on and our ability to keep up with her waned, she got pissed.
“You’re not sick!”
“You’re the meanest!”
Josh and I laid on the guilt as thick as peanut butter. “You know, honey. We are really sick and we came to the beach because you wanted to come so badly.” Plus, as she reminded us, we made a commitment. And we had to pay anyway. And trying to amuse her at home sounded more difficult.
Someday she’ll appreciate our sacrifice. Or so we tell ourselves. On the drive home, I told her about how I called my mother and apologized for all the times that I was mean and ungrateful. Taking vacations with Purvis has put my past family vacations in a new light. Were we really so demanding? Did we throw a fit when our every whim was not honored? I think I may owe my mom another phone call.
“And someday you’ll apologize to me and realize how much I did for you.” I said to Purvis.
“But I’m not getting married or having kids. Or I’ll get married and have kids then I’ll get divorced.” She said.
“Sure. Whatever works for you. But if you get divorced and you get sick, it’s going to be so much harder to take care of your kids. It’s hard to be a single parent.” I said.
Then she asked to hold the French fries from her Burgerville kids’ meal. She had more pressing issues to deal with than the hypothetical future and the apologies she may or may not grant me when she has kids of her own. I’m not sure why I feel the need to bring reality intruding into her daydreams about her glorious future of post-divorce single parenthood. I blame the cold.