Home Sick

I now know why my grandmother referred to my childhood fits of hacking cold symptoms as “consumption”.  I remember being embedded in the cool upstairs of the north end of the house, in a four-poster tall enough to require its own step ladder to summit, and covered in weighted layers of church-group, home-stitching that left me unable to flex my feet much less turn over.  Shaking her head in coordinated movement with the mercury thermometer in her hand, she would say to no visible presence in the room, “This child sounds of the consumption.”

She was right, my current two week run of rhinovirus with congested nose, off and on fevers, and a deep, rattling cough is all consuming.  What my grandmother, God bless her, emphatically called consumption was the layman’s term at the time for pulmonary tuberculosis, and I can assure you, that is not what I have contracted…though I can certainly see why she would have assumed so.  For the past fourteen days or more, I have been achy, sweating, stuffy, wheezing, fatigued, and coughing.  No, not just coughing, the unconstrained and uncontrolled expulsion of life (and lung) from deep within my being, coughing.  And I feel terrible.

My father’s generation refers to this condition as the croup, and he believed the best remedy was to medicate me heavily with cheap Southern whiskey.  You know the kind, with various species of game fowl on the label.

At the slightest sound of chest congestion in the barely audible, quasi-human range, my father would run to the triple-locked liquor cabinet, take out the Wild Turkey (or the like) and pour three fingers in a glass, canning jar.  To that, he would combine raw honey from that gift pack we received at Christmas from his mountain man cousin no one ever really talked about above a whisper, and the juice of one large lemon…seeds in, and I don’t know why.  Clack, clack, clack is the sound the spoon makes as it hits and stirs against the thick glass sides of the Mason jar.  Then silence.  Sweet Jesus, here he comes.  I had given up running from my father years ago.  He and my uncle raised champion tracking dogs, and he had not the slightest resistance to releasing the hounds on me.  I found it was best on many levels where my father was concerned just to take my medicine.  God, that stuff was terrible, but it worked.  I’m not so sure it had much to do with medicinally suppressing my cough as it did with the effects of consciousness three fingers of rye whisky has on a ten year old.

Funny, as I lie in my own bed now, many miles of long road and many years past those growing-up days, convalescing now under the influence of my partner’s family recipe for chicken soup and better living by chemistry in the form of codeine, I can’t help but to dream of those small creature comfortings of my past, the menthol smell of vapor rub, the soothing hum of a steam humidifier, a cool, damp cloth across my heated brow, and a bowl of too orange sherbet to chill my throat.  I stir from my nostalgia at her familiar touch.

“It’s OK,” she says, replacing the cotton cloth upon my forehead, “I was just turning it over to the cool side.”  She pulls the old, home-sown quilt that smells like Vick’s up to my chin and picks up my empty sherbet bowl.  “Do you need anything?” she asks above the hum of the vaporizer.

“No,” I reply, embracing the present-day comfort.  “I’m good; I’m home, sick.”