Day One: Oh! Finally, you understand what it must have been like to be one of the hapless victims of the great plagues of Europe. You are wretched, you are dying, you are writhing, you will spend the whole goddamned night on the bathroom floor since you are in such great agony.
(And yes, you know, people in the Middle Ages didn’t have indoor plumbing, so stop picking a fight with someone in great pain. People back in the old days knew how to suffer. They were very Old Testament and they expected to go to heaven as a reward for their horrible lives. Not you. You are modern, you are 21st century, you are an agnostic. Your pain threshold has been revised downward, except for childbirth — which this disease is beginning to remind you of. You don’t expect any kind of reward when you die, except for a lousy funeral, where people won’t be nearly as overwhelmed by grief as you would prefer. This is progress for the human race? Ha.)
Day Two: Well, finally, your spouse — the guy who could sleep through a trainwreck, if necessary — has noticed your disappearance. Was it empathy? Your constant moans? Almost tripping over your inert body, which resembled a beached fish in a bathrobe? Whatever.
In any event, this is what the West Texas minister seems to have meant by “for worse” when he read you those vows. (The minister was later sent to prison for embezzling church funds. Does this affect your wedding vows?) Your spouse makes a 2 a.m. run to the drugstore and returns with a cornucopia of over-the-counter drugs.
Day Three: Spouse takes a plane to the West Coast. Business trip, he says, trying to look guilty. He does not do guilty very well.
Son shows up, dragging bag of groceries fit for an invalid — orange juice, chicken broth, more orange juice. Tells you you look pretty bad. Would love to stay, he says — but doesn’t want to catch whatever it is you have. Ciao! Vanishes quickly.
Day Four: Realize you have slept 20 hours a day for three days. Haven’t even managed to sit up. Sad.
Look in mirror. Big mistake.
Take shower. Act of God.
Watch daytime TV. An abomination. Tell yourself plague victims in the Middle Ages were probably fortunate they didn’t have daytime TV. Instead, they stayed in their huts, had leeches applied to their midriffs, ate gruel, hemorrhaged, lit candles, underwent routine exorcisms. Much healthier lifestyle than watching daytime TV!
Days Five, Six and Seven: “How are you?” That’s what everyone wants to know as you finally manage to shuffle around in public.
You consider telling them about the tortures of the damned, the return of the Middle Ages plague, the despair, the suffering, the daytime TV. But no. You are 21st-century, your friends are 21st-century, suffering is passe, nobody wants to be around somebody who’s such an incredible downer.
Instead, you point to your newly flat abdomen. You tell them you’ve discovered the most effective new diet. One week, five pounds, no hunger! Bubonic Plague Diet. Bummer of a name — but oh! Look at the results!
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)