This column originally ran on Dec. 13, 2017.
I guess it was overdue.
On my second cup of coffee last Thursday, I suddenly set the cup aside on my desk. I’d been checking email, opening project files, eyeballing my calendar. An average day — one in which nothing was amiss. But my coffee tasted strange.
I’m no stranger to stomach ailments; both of my recent pregnancies found me chewing on ginger candies and Tums day in and day out for nausea. But this was different.
Hoping I could walk it off, I got up and took a lap around the building. Maybe the cold air would help. But I turned to my officemate, Deborah, within seconds of returning.
“So . . . my stomach feels weird,” I said.
Deborah reached into her desk drawer for an antacid. I took it, staring at the familiar chewables, then swallowed hard. “Really weird,” I added.
I told her about the coffee. Knowing how much I love my favorite brew, her eyes grew wide.
Flying into “mom mode,” as she called it, Deborah pointed to my purse on the nearby counter. “Do you have a plastic bag? Put it on the seat beside you,” she said, “and please go home. Go rest.”
I could sense Deborah’s fingers itching to call for fumigation services. I didn’t blame her. Viruses run rampant in workplaces: all those nice, innocent little coffee drinkers to infect.
My drive is almost an hour. I was halfway back when it became very clear I needed to find the nearest teleportation channel and beam myself to bed, where I would soon stay for 24 hours.
It’s been ages since I was that sick. The swiftness with which I went from perfectly normal, cardigan-wearing worker bee to despondent mess collapsed in a dark room was swift. I’m not sure if I caught a bug, contracted food poisoning or came down with a mild form of bubonic plague, but I barely got home in time.
I couldn’t even enjoy being alone in the house. I did catch up on some afternoon TV shows I’d liked on maternity leave, but knew I needed to go into isolation before my husband returned with the kids. I wiped down any surface I may have touched and dragged my miserable self upstairs.
Our bedroom has no television. And when you’re trying to hold it together, distractions are quite important. I managed to change into pajamas and sprawled out in our dark room with only my laptop for company. Nothing to do but wait.
My biggest fear was getting everyone else in the house sick. I now understand why my father would chase behind us with Lysol whenever we had colds or, worse still, the flu; one paw on the germ-factory remote control and you’d be the next domino to fall.
Having children has definitely turned me into a germaphobe. I know I’ve shared before how much I think about hand hygiene and have researched the spread of illness with a two-year-old and nine-month-old in the house.
I used to think that sharing close quarters with others guaranteed their sniffles would be yours, too, but there are a few instances in which the kids, Spencer or I have been spared. Rare — but there is hope.
I locked myself in my room. For one fitful night, I finally got a truly “off duty” evening — uninterrupted sleep I’ve longed for since Ollie came home with his days and nights reversed.
I couldn’t enjoy any of it, of course. I was in and out of sleep and unable to get comfortable. When I was lucid, all I could think about was the flat ginger ale on my nightstand I was too weak to sip.
Spencer checked on me as often as he could, but Ollie and Hadley can’t be on their own for more than a few minutes. “Sesame Street” buys him a little time, but he was trying not to let on to the fact that I was upstairs. I’d already barricaded myself in my room when the three of them got home, so Ollie hadn’t realized I was there. Where I go, he goes.
I did hear him call out “Mommy?” every now and then, which broke my heart a little. I heard Hadley crying, too, and Spencer rushing around to tend to many needs while also disappearing to bring me plain toast I couldn’t eat.
Eventually I fell asleep and, by the time I woke up, the urge to be sick was mostly gone. In its wake was a thirsty, uncaffeinated nightmare person who spent the rest of the weekend “catching up.” My appetite still has not returned to normal — and most troubling of all? Neither has my taste for coffee.
I made a cup Sunday out of habit. I wanted to pump myself up — to get back in the swing of daily life. But I had only a few sips before I left the rest to “cool down.” For hours. Denial and disbelief, I tell you.
Being sick as an adult is nothing like being sick as a kid, when your own mom is there to wrap your forehead with a cool cloth and bring you crackers. My husband’s attention was, rightly, on the kids; I laid in bed for one night thinking about all the wrongs I’ve ever done to bring me to this sorry state. By the following afternoon, however, I knew I had to try and pull myself together.
All I wanted was yogurt, so I started there. Then, with a horrible headache undoubtedly brought on by a lack of caffeine, I sipped black tea.
By Saturday, I was feeling more like a functional adult human person. And Monday came quickly. I was too afraid of the consequences should the coffee still taste “wrong” to me, so I stuck with hot tea for the journey.
We’ll see what the week will bring.
Ideally an opportunity to enjoy the rest of my pumpkin spice-flavored creamer. Fate wouldn’t really be that cruel.