I have spent the last week in a state of delirium. During the start of the week I was plagued by that all too familiar pain of a wisdom tooth. Wisdom teeth; what a waste of good mouth space. I have never felt any wiser for having 3 cumbersome invading teeth that are a legacy from the prehistoric days of my ape ancestors. (where is my fourth wisdom tooth you ask? Fuck knows. It decided to not make an appearance and has never emerged from the right side of my mouth)
Off I popped to the dentist to see what he could do about the back arching, jaw clenching pain on the left side of my face which felt like someone stabbing me with a hot steak knife.
'Hmmmm...' he said non-committally when I asked if perhaps they could remove the offending tooth. After staring into my mouth for what felt like an eternity and frequently rubbing a tiny mirror to rid it of my saliva as he pushed it into the back of my cheek, he finally gave me the bad news. Apparently my impacted wisdom tooth is wedged underneath my molar next door and to remove it would mean shifting or removing my molar and warrant major dental surgery under general anaesthetic. He then pointed to some white and grey blotches on a tiny dental X-ray and seemed surprised that I did not already know about my two back teeth cosying up to each other in my jaw. Well, what do you know? Since I am not a dentist and have had no formal training in reading X-rays I obviously had no idea that the two teeth were practically on top of each other. I did know I was in pain and that I had inherited my father's genes for crooked teeth, but I guess I had hoped that any of the 3 to 4 dentists I had seen in the year before might have notified me of my unwise wisdom tooth.
After giving me a bottle of fancy mouthwash and sending me on my way with a large bill, I was well and truly dismissed by the dentist. Then a few hours later I felt my throat growing sore. And within a day or so I had a full blown throat infection. That was when the delirium started. I lay in bed shivering, teeth chattering complaining weakly to my husband 'I feel as if I am freezing.' After putting a hand to my forehead, he said ' Trust me. You're not. In fact you are getting hotter.' I used to have fevers all the time as a child (I was a sickly little kid) but as an adult it has been quite a long time since I had a high fever and I had forgotten how strange your dreams and episodes of restless wakefulness can become when you are several degrees higher in temperature.
The first mistake I made was trying to read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakaeur while sick in bed. The book is a thrilling first-hand account of the Mount Everest disaster of 1996. The word 'disaster' refers to the death of 8 climbers and the injury and traumatising of countless others on the mountain in May 1996. It is an absolutely gripping book filled with feats of daring, stories of high altitude survival and accounts of pure stupidity on the world's highest mountain and probably the worst place to have an accident on the planet (ie. 8,848 metres above sea-level where nothing grows or lives).
It is not, however, the best reading material for someone with a deliriously high fever. After consuming half of the book, I fell into a fitful sleep during which I tossed and turned while dreaming of ice and snow and climbing a 180 degree vertical wall of rock as dead climbers drifted past me clutching onto huge bottles of mouthwash and packets of paracetamol.
Last time I had been so sick was in Stockholm after a week of heavy work escorting 20 students around the city and attending lectures at the Stockholm School of Economics. My husband flew out to join me for a weekend of fun around the city on the Friday night. We attended a crayfish party and drank Akvavit and I felt that familiar dizzy feeling of an oncoming illness. By Saturday night I was tossing and turning in the hotel room while weepily giving my husband a verbal tour of Stockholm, a city he was never going to see that weekend as he searched in vain for something to eat for dinner and ended up resorting to Scandinavian MacDonalds in front of the TV. That night I dreamed of a giant Swedish chocolate ball (or chokladboll for those of you who can pronounce Swedish) chasing me through the streets of Stockholm while I vainly tried to force-march a bunch of 5 year olds to the Nobel Prize Museum carrying a giant salmon and riding a drunk Elk.
The fact is I have a shit immune system and I have the bad luck of being to married to someone who has the constitution of an iron ox. My husband never gets sick, which might actually end up being good luck if any of our future children inherit his genes. His super-immune body does react violently to all sorts of stimuli such as pollen, insect bites and certain detergents (even the metal on the hand poles in the tube give him a mild rash- what?!) but he never gets sick. I am sure he had the same thing I did last week, but it manifested as a small sore throat, while I took to my bed like a feeble Victorian heroine from tragic literature. It can't be down to stress. Sure I get stressed and without a doubt that contributes to making my health crap, but my husband can get himself into a tizzy about just about anything, so it is not his ability to relax that makes him more sprightly. I think it honestly comes down to genetics.
My family are the snifflers. We get sick. We are feverish. We are feebly run-down and we cough in public. If we can get passed all our little ailments, we do, however, finish the race of life last. Because we live a long long time. On both sides of my family I have relatives who lived to be 97 - 100 years old. And there's the rub you see. Because presumably I will have lived 100 years of life during which I have missed birthdays, events, concerts, exams and days at work because I was sick at some point or other. Except that when I am 100, no one is going to care about how many sick days I have taken off work.....
Being sick is no big deal really and I am lucky to have never really had too much seriously wrong with me (except for some visits to hospital for asthma) but I do regret missing out on things because of illness. I hate not being able to attend birthday parties of beloved friends or missing out on quality time with family on holiday because I have yet another virus attacking my body.
But most of all, I hate the waste. The waste of the days and the hours that I spend recovering from an illness, that instead could be utilised for the pursuit of pure enjoyment and leisure, of creative endeavours and new experiences. 100 years of life is a long time and it would be a pity to waste so much of it in bed.....unless it is with a book by Jon Krakauer...now that on the other hand would be time well spent!