I got sick on Saturday morning as swiftly as two truckers speeding by each other on the highway. There’s almost no way you can recognize who’s coming. The first time that I got out of the house, or far from my bed at all, was to creep my way to the hospital on Tuesday. The second time was to take the kids to 7-11 to spend their allowance.
“No candy,” I said, as we entered the store. When I said “No candy,” it sounded like someone had replaced my throat with a jar of snails, that’s how big a mess my throat had become, no longer good for normal throat things like drinking, swallowing, breathing, eating.
Kenya picked a pack of gum and some good chocolate (chocolate is okay), Leafy picked a little container of ice cream, Kai bought a muffin, and Solo bought a pack of gummy colas (that is candy, but my brain was addled—did I mention I was sick?). Solo handed his ten baht coin over to the teller very seriously. Whenever he buys something and gets change for it, he runs up to one of us and says, “She gave me more money!” with the most excited voice ever in the history of the world.
Kai and Kenya biked home and the little boys ran ahead of me. I can really barely call Leafy a “little” boy any more. These last few months he has stretched out and smoothed out like crazy. Seven has been awesome to Leafy. Still, he was wearing backwards pajama pants, I noticed as I walked slowly behind them with Isaac in the stroller. Which is fairly typical for Leafy—I believe he gets clothing on the right way 20% of the time, which doesn’t even make any sense, because that’s not how the odds of backwards or forwards works, but it’s true. Usually, though, I catch it before we leave the house.
As we walked home I saw a man on a motorbike, carrying a flat of eggs on the open palm of his hand, which faced outward, head height, like a waiter in a fancy restaurant. He was driving the motorbike with one hand, holding the eggs with the other and what can I say? I love this place.
The reason I took the kids to the store was because I sent Abby away on a little scooter ride. She and my Superstar Husband ran Baan (you need to know this word: it means house, and I will probably use it a lot more) Crazy Town for my three fever addled days, and I felt like Abby was getting a little more than she bargained for when she decided to come and help us here. And then I thought, hey, I can walk, I should try doing it with everyone. Mostly I wanted to get the morning of sitting on a bench in the hospital (waiting in this queue, waiting in that queue) out of my pores.
No one but a crazy woman shows up at the small hospital in our town on Pregnant Tuesday when she is not pregnant. It was a long wait, because on Pregnant Tuesday, everyone who is pregnant in villages for miles around Pai comes in for all their routine pregnancy needs. It’s colorful, which is wonderful. Of hill tribe women, I counted Keren, Lisu, Lahu, and Hmong. I was there because I was concerned that I had dengue fever, which is endemic in Thailand. There were two young Chinese women there for something else that has become endemic in Thailand, which is young Chinese tourist motorbike accidents. I’m not pulling this out of the air, a friend of ours who rents motorbikes out told us that the Chinese consulate sent him a letter explaining the problem, saying there were over a hundred injuries last season, or something like that, some number large enough to send a letter out. Mild, because people here drive so slowly, but banged up arms and legs and things. The reason is that most young tourists who come here from China are from big cities and have never driven before. So this motorbike in the hills in Pai is often a tourist's very first driving experience and among hundreds or thousands of unaccustomed drivers, you will have a few casualties. The other motorbike rental place has apparently responded to this letter by replacing their sign with a sign that now says “Motorbikes for rent” in Chinese as well as English.
At the hospital I sat for a long time while Isaac napped at home. When he woke up I went home and picked him up, brought him back to the hospital to nurse him and hang out with him, and he acted shy for the first time ever as people tried to talk to him, swiveling his torso back to me to hide in my shirt. One very tiny lady approached us. Her left hand was missing and her right arm ended at the elbow. When she squatted down in front of us, she was so tiny she was about the size of Kenya. Isaac liked her. He flirted with her shamelessly.
I was there because I thought I had dengue fever, but it turned out to be Strep throat, misdiagnosed by the doctor as tonsillitis, but taken care of by a round of antibiotics, just as it was entering my ears. It’s a long story and involves a lot of my own googling, and finally a check of my own throat in the mirror with a flashlight and a butter knife as a tongue depressor. White streaks. Strep. Okay, then, we can take care of that. (There was also a night that I woke up with Isaac and was in great pain, so I took some more Paracetemol, (Tylenol) only to find that it wasn’t time to take another dose yet, upon which I calmly handed Chinua the baby and made myself throw up. If you’ve ever googled Paracetemol overdose, you will know why. Liver failure, people. Liver failure.)
The funny thing about a throat is that you give it almost no thought at all, all those nonchalant swallows you do all the time, merely for the smallest bit of saliva building in your mouth. You don’t even think to yourself, “I should swallow this sip of water, you just do it. But when it breaks down and becomes knives in the back of your mouth, knives that feel like they reach your heart, you do. You do think it. You think, “Rachel, swallow the water.” And you steel yourself. And you swallow it. For five days like this.
When I think of throats hurting, though, I think of my friend Ian, who has gone through quite a lot of chemotherapy in his fight against leukemia. I think of the “misery charts” that his doctor makes him and the days of mouth sores that he gets to look forward to, and I think, how? How? I don’t know. (Did I ever tell you that that’s where Chinua went? He went to be Ian’s caregiver for his third month in quarantine after a bone marrow transplant— that’s the only reason, really, that he would leave for five weeks when Isaac was only three months old. When he came back I felt sad, knowing how Ian would miss him.)
But it’s the same with a fever— you just don’t walk around thinking about how non feverish you feel. You accept your lack of chills or weakness. You strut around easily, not ever thinking about the possibility of tossing and turning in a messed up bed.
Except. Except there is one day that you notice, that you really really think about it—the day after being sick. Or even the last days of sickness, throat hurting but not feverish, toddling down the street to 7-11, feeling like the whole world is singing and that the man holding a flat of eggs and riding a motorcycle is the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen.