I could feel it in the tingle of my skin – like every hair on my arm was straining to uproot itself and escape this poisoned body. I was coming down with something terrible. I could feel it in my bones and in my lungs.
The timing was all wrong. I was driving south on I-55 in a giant cargo van from Chicago to a small college town called Normal. Snow was falling lightly on the windshield and the radio stations warned of a possible storm. It was the start of a busy week for me and I didn’t have time for snow storms or sickness. I pulled off the highway to get some lunch and I stubbed out my Marlboro Light, vowing that I wouldn’t smoke again until this numb heavy feeling of sickness had subsided. A day or two, tops – right?
I made it to Normal, got a hotel, and went to sleep early. The next morning, I awoke to find that I was completely snowed in. The college was closed, as was just about everything else in Normal. And to top it all off, I felt like death was trying to claw its way out of my body, through my lungs. I was feverish and weak and could hardly get out of bed.
I lay lay there for hours, in a soggy bundle of itchy hotel sheets, waterlogged with my own fever sweat. Finaly, the necessity of hunger forced me to get up and search for food. No pizza delivery places were answering their phones, so I dug into my suitcase and put on everything warm that I could find. I stood, dizzy and numb at the door, braced myself for the cold, and then ran to my van with as much vigor as a person standing on dead legs can muster.
Sliding at every corner and spinning tires at every start, the van found its way to a Mexican restaurant that seemed to be open. I parked in the handicapped spot (at this point, I think I qualified), and found my way in side.
I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the hotel room again that night, so I ordered two meals, a quesadilla for later and enchiladas for right now. Luckily, there was a convenience store around the corner, so while they were making my food I bought some supplies. Nyquil, Dayquil, orange juice, Echinacea tablets, Tylenol, cough drops, and 4 bottles of Vitamin Water. I got my food and somehow made it back to the hotel. Of course, my keycard didn’t work, so I had to run to the front desk, fighting the stinging winds, to get it reset.
I tried to eat my enchiladas, but I found that they hadn’t included any plastic eating utensils. I was floored. By this time it was late afternoon and I hadn’t eaten all day. I contemplated going back to the restaurant (too far), running back the front desk (too cold), and eating the quesadilla (too late) – I dug in with my hands and ate like a beast, face smeared with red enchilada sauce like the blood of a fresh kill.
Sated, but sick, I drank my OJ, popped two Echinacea and two Nyquil, tossed aside the ravaged corpse of my enchilada platter, and got into bed. I passed out almost immediately, and awoke a few times to hydrate and pee, and eat some of my quesadilla.
Throughout the next week, the sickness only progressed. I had to stay on the move, going from college campus to college campus, dropping off magazines and promoting at travel fairs. I hardly remember getting any work done, wandering around in a daze of sickness and Dayquil. At one point, I think it was Valentine’s day in Milwaukee, I actually hallucinated that there was a man sitting on my bed, telling me that I had to get up and drink water or I would die.
“I can’t do it,” I managed to say, probably out loud. But he was persistent, and forced me to get up, pee and drink some cold tap water – I lived.
The fever broke, the bronchitis set in, and I spent the next few days coughing up mucus and nastiness, struggling with the below freezing temperatures of Wisconsin. Every time I inhaled it was like the freezing air was cutting my lungs to shreds with a thousand tiny ice Chrystal razor blades. Near the end of the trip I actually coughed up blood – a terrifying experience that I hope to never repeat.
Eventually I made it back to Los Angeles, weary and still coughing. I don’t think I’ve ever been that happy to be home.
It is now March 17th, over a month since that first day of sickness. I am proud to say that I haven’t smoked a sober cigarette since February 12th. I still smoke when I drink, but I’m now on the road to a much healthier life – I even started jogging!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone, I’m off to the local pub to drink some Guinness (and probably smoke some cigarettes).
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