Growing up, my brother and I took a lot of vitamins. Mom was a huge fan of Shaklee and Bro and I would take 2 football-sized vitamin C pills and 8-10 Alfafa tabs. We’d max out our gag-reflex and take them all at the
same time. I am not here to plug products, all I know is that, with the exception of chicken pox, Bro and I never got sick. Mom also didn’t let us eat overly processed things like pop tarts, mac and cheese and Count Chocula, and we lived in the country, where the air is full of nothing but oxygen, so who’s to say what played a role in our autonomy from infection, but I have always been grateful.
I moved to Washington DC 3.5 years ago, and my cootie-free bliss came to a hacking halt. Living on the Hill made using a car moot, so I became public transpo dependent. I could now be legally productive during my commute: Read the paper, respond to emails before getting to the office, take a nap, and critique fellow passengers’ choice of wardrobe. I loved it. Until I got sick.
The DC metro, probably unlike other train systems, is dirty. I had a lovely winter-white coat that turned inexplicably black that first winter, and I had made it a point to touch NOTHING. (Speaking of black, can someone please tell me why there are a few random squirrels that color in DC?) I could race down the escalator (stand on the RIGHT, people. Look around you. Note where you see movement and where there is stillness) with strangers pressing against my back with the common goal of catching the train we could see at the platform, and not need to touch the sticky rubber hand rail. On the metro car itself, I would wear a glove or wrap an arm around a pole, but would avoid fleshly contact with those contaminated metal bulwarks at all costs.
Too many times I had watched supposed considerate sickos pack their snotty selves onto the already-full car, leave a rumpled tissue wake, cough who-knew-what into their hand and then placing the infected appendage onto the nearest solid object before the train lurched back into motion. Yes. Thank you for not shooting your particles of diseased phlegm into the air, but instead you spat it in a concentrated dose into your hand and then deposited it on the nearest public object to be gathered up by some innocent fool just trying to hang on and not topple over. Set to terrible music with sad choreography, here is the proper way to shield you cough or sneeze, if you decide to threaten the rest of us healthy folk by gracing us with your presence when you should have quarantined yourself in your bed. If you’ve ridden DC’s rush hour metro, though, you know that you will get whatever is going around unless you snort Airborne hourly. I’ve been so tightly pressed against someone random that I’ve gotten home reeking of someone’s cheap perfume or like their B.O., depending on the time of year…I’ve also probably counted their pores, pegged their shoe designer, and know whether or not they have fillings.
All of this to say, my first Christmas in DC I contracted a wicked case of Bronchitis. My inexperience with being ill made this devastating. I wanted to die. As a person completely unaccustomed to being unwell, and a person with a well know low threshold for any sort of discomfort, I am a bit of a baby when under the weather. Or when I stub my toe. Or when Redbox only has movies no one has ever heard of left on a Friday night. Anyway, the doctor said there was no telling which of the germs incubating in my lungs was the final cause of my demise. My lungs were a scrapbook of my fellow commuters’ ailments. And, here I am. In Paris, with their previously mentioned lack of care for the cleanliness of public areas, with a newly contracted upper respiratory infection that has caused an ear infection, which has me longing for a cuddle and soothing words, or decapitation. Good news is, I have plenty of time to write. Onward.
Let me know your thoughts on being a sick person in public, if a person can’t stay home (like, say, she has less than a week left in Paris). Also, if you have a little-known remedy for an ear infection caused by the sludge of Europe infecting your lungs and then sloshing into your ear canal whilst you slept, let me know. Even if it doesn’t heal me, but makes me feel better, you’ll have my adoration and gratitude. Don’t even think of mentioning things like neti pots and ear candles…and no graphic descriptions, I have a weak constitution and a wild imagination. Actually, maybe it’s best that I ride this one out. Thanks, though.