The Driver's Tale

'Tis The Season To Be Sick
By Stephanie Botner

It all began with a little kiss.

How was I to know after a transcontinental flight and two hour car ride home that my traditional welcome home kiss and hug would be tainted with the lingering strands from an illness slightly suffered by my boyfriend, David. He hadn't noticed it enough to warn me as he wrapped his arms around my waist and lifted my 5-foot-3-inch frame off the floor; as he held my hand throughout our evening to a friend's surprise birthday party; and especially not enough to warn me to change the sheets on his bed before settling in for the night. But it was there, somewhere, an illness that had been passed from one person to the next and, for the moment, ended with David. Now, it waited for its next target: me.

I arrived home from my six-day excursion to California on a Monday night, but it was going to take some time for any virus to break through my vitamin-C and Echinacea protected system. So it waited, and every moment I spent at David's, which was just about every possible one around work and school, it found another way in to my system. Through my physical contact made with its remnants at David's, through my body experiencing its iron deficiency for the month, and through the added stress of several promised projects all due at the same time, the creature weaseled its way past my protected system in the form of a tickle.

On Thursday, I worked a full-day shift at my retail job in the Oaks Mall. I assist and talk with many customers in any given shift at my job as a sales associate. I then ring up purchases, fold them into neat squares, place them into a bag and hand the receipt to the customer. However, on Thursday, I kept finding a hindrance in the form of a tickle within my throat. Whether standing alone or talking with someone, it would irritate me enough to clear my throat with a slight, vibrated breath through the larynx. But as the day passed, those quick exhales turned into "pardon me," deep from within coughing. Coughs that left me embarrassed to finish ringing up a sale and handing over a receipt just after I had turned aside to cover my mouth with a closed hand and feel specks of spittle land there.

No matter how annoying, I only questioned their presence and went on with my evening. After work, I considered retiring for the night, but decided otherwise due to a previous arrangement to meet up with my friend, Natatlie, for a night of bar hopping and intoxication. I felt that one night out wouldn't hurt. Maybe I was wrong.

The next morning I awoke with the usual symptoms of a hangover: headache, dry mouth and an achy body, but I had to get to my literary journalism class. I sobered up and the three hours breezed by, but while I relaxed back at David's the all over tiredness my body had felt when I awakened still remained. I decided maybe I should rest for a bit. As I lay down, I noticed David's usually frigid room was unusually warm. I turned the fan to a faster speed and sank into the four pillows and thick comforter that surrounded me. The bit of rest turned into a three-hour sleep; I passed out!

When I opened my heavy eyes three hours later, I noticed something had occurred while I was asleep. My head was throbbing, my skin was clammy and moist from perspiration, and my sinuses were congested. I stumbled out of David's bed and into the hallway. I leaned against the wall as slowly descended the stairs into the living room. David and his two roommates did a double-take from the movie they were watching on HBO as they looked over my sunken eyes and pasty skintone. They sat me down on the couch and asked if I needed anything.

"Can I have, like, 10 Tylenols?" I asked as I leaned over and rested my head on my curled up knees. "My head is pounding."

"Yeah, and the rest of you looks like it needs it, too," David replied. "What's wrong with you? Are you sick?"

"I must be coming down with something. I got this annoying cough yesterday, and now I'm hot and congested."

"See, you shouldn't of gone out last night. That's what you get," David said as he handed one pill to me.

Exactly what I got, I wasn't too sure, but the virus had done it, broken through my protected system and began establishing itself in my chest, my head, all over my body. An hour later, I drove David to the club where he was the deejay for the night and promised him I would go home. And I wanted to. If I was getting sick, I wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible. I had too much work to do. I had a full shift at the job the next day, a story I had to begin for class, an article due to a magazine in Naples, and a test due back to the publication company I had interviewed with while in California. There was no time to be laying on my back with a Kleenex box and a bottle of Robitussin by my side. But it seemed the little virus had planned something just like that.

Back at my apartment there's an interesting situation with the air conditioner. No matter how long or low the air is set, the indicator never falls below 80 degrees. It is always average to hot in there. That said, after arriving home, checking my messages and making some phone calls, I noticed something bizarre; I was freezing. Even though I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, I could feel the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck begin to rise. I checked the thermometer and it read 84 degrees. Still, I was quite chilled and rushed to my closet to get a blanket out. I grabbed some cookies that my grandmother had sent from the frige, popped a tape into the VCR and settled into the couch with blanket over me. Unbelievable! I was shaking! I had never felt so cold in my apartment where the indicator never falls below 80 degrees.

I fell asleep before the movie could finish, so when it did and woke me at 11 p.m., I quickly shut off the power and tried to continue my night on the couch. The rest of the night was horrible with the built up congestion, freezing and shaking, and ever present headache. Finally at 6 a.m. I thought it might be better if I retire to my bed and set the alarm for two hours later to prepare for work. I was dizzy as I walked to the bed and quickly fell into it. When the alarm rang at 8 a.m. I sat up and felt worse than the previous morning's hangover. There was no way I was going to make it seven hours at the store. I called my boss and groggily told him I was calling in sick. He let out a high-pitch chuckle and said I was not. I repeated myself, said I would get a doctor's note whether he believed me or not and hung up.

There I was slouched in my bed feeling utterly broken-down and realizing a trip to the college's infirmary would be in order. The facility did not open until noon on the weekend, so I could either get up and wait four hours or try to sleep through it; I chose sleep. But sleep did not come easy even though I was becoming mentally and physically tired. Every 15 minutes I would wake up hoping it was time to get ready. My hazy mind couldn't stand it any more when I woke up one more time and saw it was 10:55 a.m. I tried to jump out of bed, but the pressure in my head kept me to a roll instead. I pulled on an old pair of pants and a sorority labeled T-shirt, slipped on my flip-flops, grabbed my blue infirmary information card and slowly walked out the door.

I was definitely in an altered state as I drove to campus. My eyes could barely take the afternoon sun, my skin was extremely sensitive all over and I had to clutch my stomach from becoming nauseous. My mind felt like it was sitting in a bowl of split pea soup as I mechanically flowed into the right-hand lane to keep from doing any daring moves, like pass another car. I just wanted to get to the infirmary and sit there until they opened their big doors and took care of me.

No such chance. Saturday is game day at UF and the gators were hosting Alabama in an SEC showdown. Cops in their finest black uniforms with orange barricades lined every street and parking lot on campus. There was one such petite lady with two helpers blocking the street that led to my salvation. I turned on my turning indicator and pulled up to them hoping they would part aside to let me through. Instead I got a cold stare and a finger pointing to continue on. I rolled down my window and cried out that I was sick and needed the infirmary. She stared at me and I yelled that it opened at noon. So she said, "Come back at noon and I'll let you through." It was 11:25 a.m. I drove to a nearby bank and sat their with the car running so the air conditioning could continue blowing on my hot face. I sat there like that for 15 minutes cursing the cop. When it was finally time, I drove extremely slow and a round-about way back to the infirmary. The same cop was standing there with her arms folded across her chest. I rolled my window down once more and asked for entrance. She shot back an "of course" smile and moved the orange barricade aside. I zipped the car into the first spot, got out and staggered up the lawn into the grand building that would end this pain coursing through my body.

Once inside, I noticed I was not alone with these sniffling, coughing and aching pains. About 20 other students had made it in before me and all stared at me as I made my way to the counter to fill out paperwork. The receptionists filed through the paperwork and sent all the patients back to their necessary destinations quickly. Before I could get comfortable in the blue plastic chair I was sitting in, my name was being called and I was sent back into another room to fill out more paperwork expressing my symptoms. I momentarily giggled as I noticed I was checking off every symptom provided. Headache-check. Nausea-check. Watery/Itchy Eyes-check. Short of Breath-check. Coughing up Stuff-check. Freezing/Shaking-check. Achy Body-check. Sensitive Skin-check. How could this tiny virus affect all these conditions in me?

When it was my turn a soft spoken nurse called for me. I followed her into the back room that was divided into many cubicles by white cotton curtains. I was given my own cubicle and asked what was wrong. I opened my mouth to speak and immediately began crying as I answered with "what isn't?" It was the first time I realized that this little virus had taken a hold of my whole body and I was no long in control. She asked me to sit down on the make-shift bed and relax. I was here now and they would fix whatever was causing this strain on my body. She placed a thermometer in my mouth to get my temperature and the Velcro cushion around my arm to get my blood pressure reading. As she squeezed and released on the little pump, I watched the numerical reading on the thermometer increase way past the usual 98.6 all the way to 103 degrees!

"Looks like you have a bit of a fever," she smiled and said.

Yeah, just a bit. The nurse jotted down the readings and left to return with a white pill in a tiny plastic cup and a can of orange flavored Gatorade with a bent plastic straw in it. She said the medicine and drink would help bring the fever down so I must drink the whole can full and then another one while I waited to see the doctor. I took a sip and instantly began shaking. The chilled liquid in my body was making me so cold. The nurse noticed, pulled a blanket out of a cabinet and placed it around my shoulders. I kept burping as I gulped down one drink after the other. After not eating for the past 17 hours, drinking so quickly wasn't helping my nausea, but I wanted the doctor to come see me so I pushed the thought of excusing myself to vomit out of the question.

About 10 minutes had passed when Dr. Eddleton, a woman in her early thirties with short, sandy brown hair, pushed though the curtain, and greeted me with a smile and confirmation that I had won the prize for highest fever of the day. She listened to me explain the sequence of events that led me to this moment. When I was finished, she informed me that I was carrying the virus Bronchitis. It's not uncommon for them to be treating it, she said, comes around every semester when the masses of students come back to Gainesville, traveling from one sick person to the next until everyone gets to experience it in one form or another. However, in my case, it had hit pretty harsh to give me such an extreme fever. To be careful, she said she was going to treat me as if I could be infected with the next level of Bronchitis, which was Pneumonia.

I don't know exactly how many times I thanked her as she scribbled out two prescriptions for an antibiotic and to keep from getting nauseous after I took the antibiotic. As she did, I barely remembered the incentive that had brought me there, the doctor's note. I asked for one and she replied that it was confidential to release any information about my illness. I explained that my boss wouldn't excuse me from missing work unless I brought something that stated I had received care from a doctor. She asked if she could remark about what she thought of my boss and returned with a notice that said I had been seen at this Student Health Care Center for health reasons and couldn't attend work for another three days. She assisted me off of the bed, helped steady my dizzy stance and informed me I was free to go home and get well.

The pill the nurse had given to me had helped calm the throbbing in my head, so I quickly drove to my pharmacy at Albertson's grocery store and purchased the medication. I politely agreed with the clerk as he commented that I didn't look too well and should get some rest.

And I did. I pulled in front of my apartment, parked the car, hobbled up the steps and locked the door behind me as I entered my comforting home. I swallowed my pills and gulped down some water. As I sunk back into my bed freezing yet sweating, hungry yet nauseous, in and out of delirium, and hugging my stuffed panda bear, I remembered it must have all began somewhere with a little kiss.

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