View from Sickbay: Fact or Fiction?

Blog, On Writing, What I'm Thinking

I’m generally in good health. I eat and live carefully. But the last few weeks have been unusual. It might have been the frightening rightward turn the country is making, or it may have been a short course of antibiotics I was on. Whatever the cause, I recently developed an intense bacterial infection. It could have been much worse, but it was bad enough. It was, however, a new learning for me. I now know what it feels like to be really old. All you have to do is stay on a liquid diet for eight days, take a powerful drug, and then go for a vigorous walk around the block. An hour later they send out the gendarmes to see if you remember your way home.

The good news is that I didn’t have the energy to follow the political sideshow, or to be outraged by Trump’s campaign callousness. Perhaps I was in and out of consciousness and imagined it all, but I actually thought, at periods, that Trump had been elected and his minions were wreaking havoc with our democracy, right-winging the Supreme Court, issuing Executive Orders that threatened our safety, alienated allies and emboldened ISIS. Of course, that was nonsense. I soon managed to pull myself from this disaster scenario, and scuttle back to my safe little cocoon of illusion.

Anyway, in the midst of my ramblings, my wife—generally kind, compassionate and my best friend in the world—turned on me. She threatened to call the FBI –or maybe it was 911—if I didn’t pull myself together and answer her questions.

“What in the world,” she demanded, “is wrong with you?”

“Well,” I said with conviction. I didn’t know you could say that word with conviction, but I’m convinced I did. It was a shining moment of clarity in weeks of miasmal fog. “That, also, is true,” I said, losing my train of thought. “I think we need to tell them.”

“Just who do we need to tell,” grated the gentle love of my life, “and precisely what are we telling them?”

“The FBI, of course,” I said, indignantly. “Why on earth don’t you understand what I’m saying, and how penicillin—uh, perilous—is this?”

This callous woman, who used to love me, didn’t believe a word I said, and she dragged me off to Homeland Security—or the Emergency Room, I don’t remember which—where they tortured me for information about my affiliation with the Andy Griffiths Show, wanted to know about how I infiltrated Trump’s Reality TV station, and shot me full of truth serum. Or, perhaps, it was two bags of saline to bring me back to hydration and consciousness. I don’t remember.

So I came home doped up on Flagyl, a wonder drug. No one tells you, of course, that anything powerful enough to clean out your insides in ten days is also powerful enough to melt a billiard ball or turn what little brain matter you might have left into polenta. Within a few days my body felt like a bowl of soggy groats, in which my corn-mush brain occasionally floated to the surface to take a gasp of air. But it didn’t matter. I drank water and Gatorade. It was as close to Nirvana as I’ve ever come. I’m thinking of starting a Liquid Week a Year. Think how much food we’d save by not eating. It would be good for the planet.

I’ve learned that it’s possible to give an energetic three-hour lecture after not eating for over a week. Of course, afterwards, we had to wait until everyone left so that my wife could secretly unwind the coat-hangers attached to the podium. They were the only reason I remained standing, but no one could tell.

I’ve lost 15 pounds in 2 weeks, not an ideal weight loss method. I feel a like a little boy walking around in his father’s clothes. Pants bag at my butt and fall down to knee level. Jackets hang on me like flies on a ripe peach. I even think my arms are shorter, because the sleeves go down below my fingertips. I’m a walking scarecrow.

I will eventually be able to see the humor in this, I suppose. But right now there’s no humor in bleach. Some other people who claim to love me—they will remain nameless until the truck arrives and pours the five tons of bleach I ordered on their lawn—are in cahoots with my wife in making my life impossible. They told her to bleach the sheets. Towels. Clothes. Probably told her secretly to douse me in bleach as I slept. Just a 9 to 1 solution of bleach, they said. Or a 1 to 9 solution. Is there a difference?

Today I have a clean bill of health. No infection anywhere. But my Gatorade tastes of bleach. My toothpaste. The bristles on my toothbrush have fallen off like the mane on an old horse.

Even if my raiment didn’t now hang on me, I would have to buy new clothes. Every item of clothing I have has bleach stains. Leather jacket, sun hat, sports jacket, socks, shirts, sweaters. She even threw my keychain in the bleaching tub. It’s a wonder my car works. And my flashlight, which is ruined. Three pairs of leather shoes. My beloved sandals, which predate the births of my adult children. (I suppose they deserved a cleaning.) And you should see my hair. White and patchy as an ancient old ram with broken horns. All I can do is bleat.

I think my wife even put the couch in the washing machine and bleached it. At least, there’s something in there we can’t get out, and it looks like the underside of a couch. Or a dead wildebeest. My grandmother is rolling in her grave. She believed in bleach, too, but not as a weapon.

The good news is that my wife is back to her normal, loving self. Tonight I’m eating cooked vegetables for the first time in two weeks. Tomorrow I’ll try a cup of coffee. Yum.

The bad news is that what I thought I imagined from my sickbed was not imagination at all. I didn’t imagine that Trump’s appeal has all the hallmarks of the Christian Nationalism that energized the apartheid government in South Africa. Nor did I imagine that it looks very similar to the populist nationalism that sparked Hitler’s rise to power. I was pretty sure of it then, and I’m surer now, but at the time I couldn’t find the words to describe it. But it was true then, and it’s true today. The difference is that, having been really ill, I find myself far readier to laugh at the world. To see that the deadly serious and the absurd are two sides of the same coin. And nothing to lose by speaking my mind.