Sick Day

Sickly characters hold a certain romanticized (sickly) appeal.  Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.  Mary Ingalls (once she went blind) in the Little House books.  Jane Eyre’s pious childhood friend Helen Burns.  Beth in Little Women.  Joan Didion in her essay about migraine, “In Bed.”

I thought of them all this morning, as I lay propped up with an ice pack on my forehead.  Husband slept solidly next to me, dawn light edged the curtains, and I had to throw up.  Yes, a migraine—though not nearly as severe as Didion’s.  Mine was banished with a pill, a trip down the hall, and (finally) sleep.

When I woke up able to lift my head, it was 8:15, not so late but late enough to feel indulgent.  Why not spend all day in bed?  The vision passed before me, tempting and luxurious, and with it the memory of my mother’s cinnamon toast and a pile of books at my side.  I stayed home from school a lot as a child. I had a lot of sore throats and ear aches, but I often exaggerated my case.  I stuck thermometers next to the light bulb and forced pathetic coughs.

My mother knew when I was faking it, but usually let me stay home.  “Only you know how you feel,” she’d say, which went straight to my conscience, but I stayed home anyway.  Was I trying out for some martyr role?  I didn’t even like Little Women, and had always preferred Laura to Mary.  But the opportunity to stay in bed and read all day—TV was forbidden on a sick day—trumped any guilt I felt.

There’s nothing romantic or luxurious about real illness, of course.  Mary Ingalls didn’t choose yellow fever in a ploy for attention, and Mary Lennox, once she landed in England’s green and pleasant land, perked right up—and became more likeable, too.  The worst I suffered was strep throat and a brief bout of mumps when I was too young to read.  Most of the time I stayed home to hide out, to avoid whatever unpleasantness lay in wait on the playground.  I read as escape, as salve. And, soon enough, I wrote, too—usually detailed alternate realities involving a popular girl named Kim who attended boarding school.

When a migraine has passed, it leaves in its wake heightened focus and clarity, as though the brain’s wires have been recharged.  The person who got up at 8:15 this morning was not the person who had stumbled, groaning, into the kitchen for a glass of milk with which to take the migraine pill at 5:05.  Once I’m up and making coffee, the vision of a sick day has faded.  Still, it remains, no longer the only option but one that’s handy to keep in reserve.

What about you? What’s your guilty “sick” day pleasure?


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6 Responses to Sick Day

  1. Callie Feyen says:

    I really like this last paragraph regarding the “heightened focus and clarity.” The times when I’m fake sick, I usually feel terrible by the end of the day, but those days when I’m actually really down for the count I find that when I’m better, the energy feels more fresh and new.
    The last time I was sick (for real sick) I read Lauren WInner’s Still and loved it. However, I don’t always read. I usually watch reruns of shows like The Gilmore Girls and Felicity. What’s even worse is I text my husband to bring me things like coffee or water and we live in a two bedroom condo!

  2. Ah, migraines! I had them for four days straight last week. Pills worked temporarily, but then they would come back by afternoon and I couldn’t take the pills at night because of the caffeine. I finally visited a chiropractor and was cured. I have good memories of sick days as a kid, too. Television, root beer, and a present of some sort from the grocery store – usually something like a book of Mad Libs or invisible ink puzzles. Now, though, my favorite thing to do is lie in bed all day and read and then have steak for dinner. I always crave steak when I’m sick. Too bad I’m not sick more often 🙂

    • I count my blessings that my migraines aren’t the really awful kind. I know other people like you who have been incapacitated for days on end. I can’t imagine. Nothing fun about that. Steak and Mad Libs on the other hand… Funny how we associate certain foods with “sick days,” isn’t it? Thanks for the comment!

  3. As I read this, I’m thinking how I ought to have taken a sick day. I have at minimum a double ear infection; while the infection is other places, only my ears warranted a “yowza!” from my substitute doctor. I felt decent enough when I got up this morning, but that’s wearing off pretty quickly. I’d much rather be partaking in my favorite sick day pastime: watching Ghost, Shrek and Poltergeist!

    • Absolutely, Deborah! Get in your jammies and queue up those movies. Ear aches are NOT fun, so you might as well take care of yourself. I hereby give you permission!

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