I am guilty of a lot of things, but being a chronic complainer is not one of them.
I never complain about my health. I'm used to sucking it up and toughing it out at work. I don't call in sick, I don't use my sick days, and I certainly don't look for sympathy from anyone.
Part of the reason I keep things to myself is because Karen always assumes the worst. I couldn't possibly be suffering from a sinus headache: it would immediately morph, in Karen's mind, into a massive brain tumor.
And so it was one morning last week I woke up dizzy. My head was spinning. My speech was slurred. In other words, a normal day.
But Karen sensed something was wrong. "I'm taking your temperature!" Now, Karen is an extremely bright person but, unlike myself, she has very little medical training. "Stop fighting me! Stop fighting me!" she said loudly as she attempted to insert the thermometer in my mouth.
"That's a rectal thermometer!" I finally blurted out.
To my chagrin my temperature was almost 102 degrees.
I tried to get dressed for work but she would have none of it. "You get into bed. I'll make you something to help you feel better. Do you want some chicken soup?"
"We don't have any chicken!"
"Oh, do I need that to make chicken soup?" (I should point out Karen, unlike myself, has very little culinary experience.)
I went to bed and Nurse Ratched approached moments later. Take off all your clothes!" she ordered. She was going to get a Full Frontal, and I suspected, I was about to get a Full Frontal Lobotomy.
She was carrying a stainless steel bowl, liquid sloshing about. I got a sniff – it was the unmistakable stench of rubbing alcohol.
For those who don't know, alcohol rubs are an old school way of bringing down body temperature. It's the equivalent of being flash frozen. One minute you're a perfectly virile sweaty man in gym pants – the next moment a pathetic, shivering little gonad weeping from the frigidity, wanting only to leap into a burning fire to escape the Artic chill.
"Stooooooooooopppppp!" I screamed as Ratched sloshed the offending liquid all over my body, turning the bed into a massive igloo.
"I'm blue," I finally whispered.
"NO MY HANDS ARE BLUE! I'm freezing to death!"
Once I was partially paralyzed it was easy for Ratched to have her way with me. She made me a scrambled egg and toast, which she said would be good for me.
She shoveled it into my mouth. I tried to eat it, but I began coughing profusely, choking, even gagging.
"Oh, you're not hungry?"
"It's not that," I said between gasps. "I don't think you're supposed to leave the shell in when you scramble the egg," I said gently. After all, I didn't want to anger Ratched.
Then I heard her rustling through the bathroom closet. "Where's that darned enema bag?"
No, not that, the ultimate indignity. Panicking, I grabbed for my truck keys. (Thankfully, though, Karen couldn't figure out what end to put the soapy water in.)
Unlike the venomous nurse in Cuckoo's Nest my Ratched didn't have any sinister motives. Seeing that I was sick, she just wanted to take charge of the situation, because that's what I usually do. But it was a terrifying thought to realize the psychiatric patient terrorized in the book was named McMurphy.
As I rested peacefully (OK I was in a frigid coma) Karen went out to the store. She brought me all kinds of assorted medicine, and all the newspapers, and some candy, and even crayons, which my mommy always gave me when I was sick. And when Karen couldn't find any coloring books at the store she came home and printed out clip art from the web of many sports figures that I could color with my crayons, folks like Eli Manning and Derrick Jeter and Jared Leto.
I found some chicken soup in the freezer and it thawed while I thawed. When I took my temperature again, it was exactly the same, though. I panicked. "What is your temperature?" Ratched kept demanding. "Perfectly normal," I lied.
Then I let my imagination get the best of me. Maybe I was dying. Maybe I had Lou Gehrig's disease, or even worse, Rickey Murphy's disease. Maybe I should let Ratched torture me some more. Then I realized I forgot to shake down the thermometer. Rechecking, I was down to a more manageable 99.8. The alcohol bath had worked. The fever had been broken.
Looking back Karen did indeed take charge during my time of need. She nursed me back to health, and stood over me when I was crazed with fever to prevent the forces of evil from wresting control of my soul.
She had broken my fever, and I bet egg shells are probably really good for you.
Next time I would ask we do only one thing differently – we get an oral thermometer.