This Side of the Pond

By Sarah Pridgeon

To those of you suffering alongside me through one of the worst winter colds in living history, I offer my sincerest sympathies. There’s nothing quite so unpleasant as struggling through the day with a handkerchief attached to each nostril.
The trouble is, being sick is not as much fun as it was when I was a little girl. In the old days, my parents would lavish me with attention and nobody expected me to go to school. When I coughed, I was fed sticky pink medicine that tasted of strawberries. When I swooned, I was given glucose syrup to drink. And when I complained that I was bored, one of them would instantly rush to the nearest store for movies, magazines and coloring books.
In essence, the onset of a cold or tummy bug meant several days of living like Lady Muck while my doting mum and dad obeyed my every command. It’s hard to care about a runny nose when you’re surrounded by sticker books and crayons.
But a cold is not nearly as entertaining when you’re an adult. Those pesky chores must still be done and the bills won’t pay themselves, so there’s not much choice but to keep plodding onwards.
This is especially true when everyone else in the office has already suffered the same fate. There’s little danger of spreading your misery and you can hardly pretend to be a precious wilting flower in the presence of people who braved their way through the same symptoms.
I didn’t actually want to stay in bed, mind you. The last time I tried that, I bored myself almost into a coma. During a particularly virile bout of the flu, my manager told me in no uncertain terms that I would be carried bodily from the building if I attempted to spread my germs to my colleagues. She requested, until further notice, that I stay far, far away from her pristine immune system.
And so I returned to the darkness of my den and locked the door behind me. Thus began a two-day period of cruel and unusual punishment.
It was surprisingly difficult to find activities suitable for a sick person. I couldn’t read because it made my head hurt, I couldn’t go outside the front door without collapsing into a heap and I couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than five minutes without drifting off into a fuzzy-headed daydream.
Also, my television kept cutting out right in the middle of a show. This was because an intellectually challenged repairman had reattached my satellite dish to the only section of wall that was blocked by a tree.
And then came the fever dreams, which I’ve always been told should be vivid and exciting. They should leave you utterly confused when you wake up and terrified that the alien zombie minotaurs and their army of cats might still be heading your way. Unfortunately, nobody let my brain know about this.
My illness hit during Spider Fortnight: the two weeks of the year when the biggest arachnids I have ever encountered wander back and forth across the living room floor. They’re called House Spiders, which is both far less imposing a moniker than they deserve and a helpful description of their favorite hangout spot during mating season.
A House Spider is as big as a side plate. Each of its legs is longer than your middle finger and covered in sinister black-brown hair, just to be sure they’re as horrifying as possible. They move so quickly that trapping them (or, more appropriately, causing their speedy demise) requires a serious set of ninja skills.
At the beginning of September, it’s common to see the male version of these monsters hot-footing it across the carpet on their search for a wife. They don’t stick around, but that’s hardly relevant – I have spent the majority of my life fearing the morning I wake up to find one sat on my forehead.
Apparently, I was subconsciously concerned that I hadn’t seen any of these beasts even though September was drawing to an end. Rather than assume I’d miraculously escaped the yearly torture, I worried about it in my dreams.
And so, that night, I dreamed I was searching for spiders. Except there still weren’t any spiders, so what I actually did is spend the night dreaming about a carpet – the same flat, blue carpet for a full eight hours. In the end, even my sleep self was so bored that it woke up to find something else to do.
I finally realized what epic levels of dullness my confinement was reaching when I felt genuine excitement to see how neatly I’d torn the wrapping from a toilet roll. Never again, I told myself, and I have been more or less true to my word.
This time round, I stayed on my feet (most of the time) and addressed my status as a plague carrier by warning people of my impending arrival. More than one potential interviewee requested that I keep my runny nose out of their office and I do not blame them for a moment.
What a relief it is to be living in the age of email – hopefully, I kept my infirmity to myself. Even better, I know that it will be at least a year before I must battle the bugs again thanks to the clean, fresh air I’m now lucky enough to breathe.
I have also discovered yet another pleasing advantage of marriage. Though my parents were far away and unable to administer to my every demand, my husband volunteered to take their place. With furrowed brow and gentle tone, he ferried cups of tea back and forth to the sofa, covered me in blankets when I shivered and brought me the magazines and movies I was yearning for.
He was such a doting attendant, in fact, that I’m no longer convinced sickness must equal boredom – it was rather pleasant to sit quietly and wait for my dinner to appear. Actually, now I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure I want to wait a year to be waited on hand and foot again. Does anyone have a cough they’d like to lend me?