As an adult, I am unused to being ill. As someone who enjoys breakfast in bed with the weekend papers, I would normally relish the prospect of being unwell enough to justify a day or two of enforced rest. But stricken with a temperature and chesty cough, I am frustrated by my inability to concentrate and enjoy reading. I just keep falling asleep. I know I’m ill when all I want to drink is Lucozade. I must have been indoctrinated with belief in its healing properties as a child as its cloying sweetness has no general appeal. My other craving is for a hot water bottle. Again this is a throwback. I had one shaped like a blue teddy bear. My sister’s was Little Red Riding Hood.
As a child I quite enjoyed the odd day or two off school in bed with a mild tummy upset or a cold, allowed respite from my responsibilities as the eldest for a while. However, mumps, measles, chickenpox and the Asian flu were not pleasant. Delirium, pain, darkened rooms, calamine lotion and quarantine being some of the consequences. Immunisation means today’s children are much less likely to catch these. As long as they are immunised. Now I’m frustrated by not managing the things I’d planned to do. Plant bulbs, strip wallpaper, work on a picture…even phoning a friend for a chat is out when I can’t speak without coughing.
I have been trying to read, though, Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’. I find it comforting in its hardback solidity, a proper book after my usual diet of insubstantial Kindle downloads. I do love my Kindle. Its convenience and portability suits my need to always have a book to hand. But this crisp paper edition complete with bright green bookmark is a very special pleasure. It’s had a mixed reception, inevitable after ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ but I loved it, as did my younger daughter, also an Atwood fan.o
My other indulgence is Netflix. I am especially addicted to horror series with one word titles. ‘Salem’, Satanic’, ‘Malevolent’. My current favourite is ‘Glitch’ in which corpses scramble out of graveyard mud. I keep falling asleep though, so miss vital plot details like switches of time. It doesn’t seem to matter. One mud-encrusted corpse looks much like another.
However, my preference right now is more reading. Philip Pullman’s ‘The Secret Commonwealth’, another nice hardback to read in bed.
Being retired means never having to call in sick and live with the accompanying guilt of others covering for you. Staggering into work feeling hellish and swigging cough syrup in cupboards is but a distant memory.
Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room this afternoon conjures images of blood tests and injections. I’ve never been good with needles. There have been a number of embarrassing fainting episodes, some where the needle was for one of my children rather than me.The nice doctor (no needles, just a stethoscope) says I have bronchitis (I am not the ‘fraud’ my dad always accused me of being, perhaps to hide his own fears?) and prescribes rest and a course of antibiotics and steroids. I can make my excuses and stay at home. Time to crack open another bottle of Lucozade.
Are you a patient patient? Do minor ailments get you down? What was your childhood experience of illness? Leave a comment or email me privately at email@example.com.
The title comes from a playground rhyme from the 1950s. On hearing the school bell we chanted ‘ The bell, the bell, the B E L L – tell the teacher to go to hell!’ or less daringly ‘tell the teacher I’m not well!’