As a kid, I remember thinking that sick days were your way to beat the system. You could fake a cold, convince your parents you were “too sick to go to school” and you’d be set for 24-48 hours with the kind of agenda every kid dreams of: sitting on the couch in your pajamas watching cartoons and playing video games.
The problem with this utopian vision of cereal-and-milk filled euphoria was its premise of a lie. I don’t think I ever lied about being sick; I always actually was. So instead of laughing at my friends who were miserably sitting through school and chatting with each other in the lunchroom, I was coughing up a lung or chatting with myself or the TV with a bowl of soup. There’s nothing fun about a sick day when you’re actually sick. I suppose you’re not really beating the system at all.
Regardless, today’s sick day is not like the sick days of days past. I’m not just a kid who can tell mom he wants some soup; I’m a grown man who must drag himself over to his tiny little kitchen and make his own damn soup. Granted, it’s soup in a can, but I still have to get up. Being sick as a grown-up isn’t any more fun than being sick as a kid. Sure the independence is nice when you think back on times when your parents smothered you, but at least they were able to bring the soup.
I suppose what makes this cold even worse is the fact that I have to go to the doctor today. Why today and not tomorrow, when I most likely will be feeling better? Because my doctor won’t be in tomorrow and the only other doctor there is a pediatrician. While I appreciate a lolly pop as much as the next kid, the decorations of superheroes and ABC’s on the wall tend to make me feel more awkward than an adult watching kids at a playground.
For canned soup, this stuff doesn’t taste too bad. Granted, I can’t really taste anything with my taste-buds apparently on strike during this recent turn of my health. The soup’s warm and that’s all that really matters. If the apartment wasn’t so cold maybe I wouldn’t have gotten sick in the first place. But shitty supers and broken heat is the story of just about everybody in the city come wintertime. For today, I’ll be lucky if I can even get to the doctor.
It probably would have been a good idea to check the weather before throwing on all these layers and dragging myself down the stairs of my third floor walk up. Snow has lost all the beauty and mystery it had back when I was a kid. It’s not the stuff from which snowmen and sledding are born; it’s the monster that engulfs people’s cars in giant frozen shells. And on days like today, it’s the crap that keeps flying in my eyes.
As if snow covering the sidewalks wasn’t enough, there’s a gust of wind making all these tiny snowflakes into a barrage of tiny dissolvable projectiles. You’d think I was walking through a full on blizzard. Of course, I might very well be. Another reason it would have helped to check the news this morning.
In the brief moments I decide to look up and squint through the wintry hellscape that has consumed my walk to the doctor, I notice I’m not the only schmuck attempting to get through this frozen nightmare. There’s a couple held closely together making their way up the block towards the train, huddled together behind an umbrella big enough for less than one of them. They’re holding it horizontally as if they were soldiers marching behind a shield blocking a barrage of arrows. Of course, it doesn’t really work that well and all this does is prevent them from seeing the people in front of them, which only makes them look more ridiculous as they bump into pedestrians and slip all over the un-shoveled sidewalk.
It was charming and they were certainly a cute couple, fumbling like a stray pinball up the sidewalk. Yet as this beautifully quaint moment captured the essence of the day, a determined and bold pair of snowflakes assaulted my eyes. Turning my head back down, I coughed up more phlegm as my nostrils oozed snot that decided now was the right time to let loose. It’s a hell of a day for a walk.
Though I’d hoped the weather would keep the crowd at the doctor to a minimum, I’m greeted to the sounds of kids screaming as they whiz past the receptionist and around the chairs that make up the waiting room. I briefly debate whether or not I prefer the blizzard to this new circle of hell, and figure that if I can get some meds out of the deal, the waiting area will be worth it. I give my name to the receptionist as I suavely wipe some fresh mucus from my leaky nose, and she tells me my doctor had to leave early. Rather than hear the reason why this arrangement wasn’t communicated, I just point to the screaming children who are now on their third lap around the waiting room.
“Both doctors were in today. You can still…”
I just nod my head in sad resignation. The pediatrician it is. As long as I can get some meds for this damn cold, it’ll all be worth it.
I throw myself back into a seat in the furthest corner of the room, hoping to minimize contact with the little germ bags. Perhaps sensing my irritation, they decide to take wider loops around the waiting room. As I reflect on whether its possible to throw a leg out and “accidentally” trip one of these screaming sacks of disease, one of them slows down and approaches my seat with a sort of open curiosity. I may have judged this kid wrongly. After all, he may very well have been me years ago, running around to try and live through some idealized notion of what sick days are supposed to be about: fun, joy, and beating the system. While fresh mucus begins to run down my nostril, I begin to think that maybe the universe has been trying to send me some deeper, fuller message.
And then the little shit sneezed on me and ran away.
As his triumphant war cry faded back into the cacophony of noise in the waiting room, a nurse calls my name. Wiping the recently airborne saliva from my pint-sized attacker, I saunter over to the receptionist with a mixed feeling of elation for getting out of my medical purgatory but knowing that I’m only headed deeper into the depths of hell. After being walked into my examination room, I see the adornments I wished so dearly to avoid: Captain America, Sesame Street, and the goddamn ABCs. As these decorations smiled stupidly back at my disgruntled face, I thought about the ordeal that it took to get here. The sickness, the busted heat in the apartment, the frozen nightmare I traversed to get here, my doctor not being in, and the waiting room under occupation by running, screaming, and sneezing, little monsters. Perhaps this level of introspection was unnecessary to answer the question that came, but it all came back to me regardless.
“So, what seems to be the problem today?”