Fever of Unknown Origin, a memoir

Excerpt #1

It was still morning; my fever hadn’t risen very high yet and my rash was a little less itchy. As long as I lay still, my joints didn’t hurt all that much.

When these brief reprieves occurred, I’d look around, not really surprised at where I found myself, but sort of, yeah. That’s when I’d actually notice my room, the bland green walls, the glowing rectangle of the window. It was summertime out there, beyond my window. July.

Lying in my hospital bed this morning, I stared at the sunlight that bounced off the rooftop of the School of Architecture across the street from the hospital. I imagined the sidewalks three stories below, busy with University students in shorts, children walking to  College for Kids classes, maybe a group of toddlers strapped into a large cart, pulled by a day care worker. Or a boy on a skateboard in saggy cutoff jeans, navigating through the pedestrians. Cars slowing and stopping for the traffic light, waiting, starting up again. The roaring of a passing bus, the sound of footsteps, conversations, laughter, the sticky sound of hot tires rolling against asphalt. I imagined all these sounds, all these moving people. I longed to hear and see and smell all of it even though where I was this morning, in this motionless quiet room, was really all I could tolerate.

Resigning myself to another boring hospital day, I returned to the question of how I’d gotten sick, as I always did whenever my symptoms didn’t occupy the forefront of my mind. What had I ignored? What cue had I missed; what, if I’d paid attention to it, would have prevented all this? The only thing I could think of was that maybe I’d gone back to work too soon after having Nic. I’d started seeing clients again when he was only a month old, returning to my office sleep-deprived and distractible. It had felt important to keep hold of my professional self. To keep my practice alive. To keep myself alive and awake, not lost in the haze of housewife-and-mother-hood. Wouldn’t I have done myself more damage if I’d stayed home and let myself get depressed and bored? But then, maybe I’d worked too many hours. Should I have done more yoga? Maybe run less often? Or more? Gotten more massages? I kept reviewing the same facts over and over, thinking I was missing something. It frustrated me not to be able to come up with a plausible theory. Made me feel stupid, too, and a bit ashamed. The way I used to feel in advanced math in high school. The only class I ever failed.

I tried to do relaxation techniques, deep-breathing, connecting to my intuition. Hoping, I suppose, that what my intellect couldn’t figure out, my unconscious mind would know. I told myself to relax and let go. I named each part of my body and instructed myself to relax it. “I’m relaxing my foot; I’m relaxing my ankle.” And so on. One of my therapy supervisors, Emily, had taught me to empty out my mind this way, to make room for more intuitive information. I could hear her voice in my head: “You know the answer. Just let it come.” But now, here in the hospital, nothing came. The spaces I’d cleared remained alarmingly empty. And silent. As if all the phone wires had been cut.

I was hugging Jessie’s bear when a nurse came in to do a routine check of my vital signs. She noticed I’d been crying and asked me why.

“Because nobody knows what’s wrong with me or what to do about it,” I told her.

“Your doctors will figure it out,” she said, with a sweet smile. “They’re working on it, and they’ll figure it out.” The nurse was young, fresh from nursing school, it looked like.

“I hope so,” I mumbled before she slid the thermometer under my tongue. She seemed so innocent; I didn’t want to tell her that I didn’t share her faith in western medicine. If the doctors were able to figure this out, they would have done it by now, I thought.  I couldn’t imagine that a homeopath, body worker, naturopath, shaman, curandero, or wizard had the answer either. It could be, it occurred to me, that nobody was going to know what was wrong with me. Maybe it wasn’t knowable.


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