Friday, March 6, 2009

The Flu

My husband and I have been sick with the flu. He got it first, the man who shares his office had been sick for several days with the flu. The illness hit with high fever and chills and a cough. One night, before the symptoms manifested in me, I was sleeping lightly, and conscious enough to know that my husband was really struggling. He tried to take a drink of water and choked on it. He tried to breathe and said that he could not catch his breath. He got out of bed and paced the small bedroom, saying he could not breathe. He was panicking, and I, having little knowledge of illness, was very worried too. I don't know who suggested that we go to the emergency room, him or me. I think he said that he would make it through the night and then go to the emergency room the next morning. I said no, that we should go right away, while he was still able to walk.

At the emergency room they took an x-ray of his lungs and they took blood. The blood was analyzed to see if he was fighting an infection. This would be a sign that he had something like pneumonia or bronchitis. Both the x-ray and the blood work came back negative for an infection. It was interesting that as soon as we got in the car to go to the emergency room he was able to breathe again, and he did not have problems breathing after that. In the emergency room they gave him an iv of fluid, he was probably dehydrated, and a shot for loosening up his congestion. The doctor also gave him a prescription for and anti-cough syrup laced with codeine, a relief to me, because I knew that the narcotic would dull the physical misery he was experiencing, misery that was clearly making him panic. I know he felt like he was dying.

We visited the emergency room at 3am and left at 8am. Later that day I walked to the local pharmacy to get his prescription filled for the cough syrup. I noticed I was walking very slow. I was confused, was I showing signs of mental illness or the flu? I had gotten very little sleep the preceding night, perhaps this distressed me emotionally and my mind was losing control over my body. As I have mentioned before, I can't move very well when I am mentally symptomatic, I am frequently restricted, after an emotional time, to lying in bed. Usually I lie in bed after painting. I don't know what manner of stress painting causes, it just uses up brain power, focus and concentration. Lying in bed, for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour restores my willpower and drive so that I can commit myself to another task. On a good day, when I have a clear mind and soothed emotions I can paint, rest, and then work out on the treadmill.

I returned with the cough syrup and decided that my turn had arrived to be sick with the flu. Sure enough, after it got dark, the chills and fever began. With a high fever it does feel like you are dying, but after seeing my husband go to the emergency room I knew that no matter how bad it got, since I had what he had, I would survive. It became in my mind a sort of competition, that I would survive the flu with less complaint than my husband and that no matter how I felt I would not panic. I would be a little soldier and win the war against the flu.

With the two of us sick our bedroom smelled like sweat and vomit. Nobody had vomited, but the fever driven sweat that came off our bodies must not have been like the healthy kind that comes from exercise. My husband's body stank, his breath stank, the sheets stank, and both of us were as weak as kittens. We had no energy to wash our pajamas, change the sheets, or take showers. Days counted, my husband was sicker longer than I. I can't be certain the reason, but I know I eat a great deal more fruits and vegetables than he, and perhaps my immune system is stronger.

I think that I am strong enough, and in a good enough frame of mind, that I could have painted this morning. The only trouble is that while my husband was sick, and I was painting, the fuse blew in my art room and despite my husband's instructions on how to fix it, and an earnest sojourn into the dark basement with a flash light, I was unable. Without electricity I cannot heat the art room with a little electric heater. However, tomorrow I have high hopes that I will paint. My mood is strange because my body is still weak and I have a cough, but it is not precisely depressed.

The anti-depressant that I started a week ago seems to be working. I am only worried that I have been having trouble sleeping. I know that the energy boost from an anti-depressant can interfere with sleep, I hope this is not true for me. The trouble with sleeping goes back months ago. I believe it is symptomatic of all the time I spend resting in bed. With the confinement of the winter months, and the instance of depression sapping my energy my poor body has been lacking clear signals when it is supposed to be awake and when it is supposed to be asleep. I prescribe for myself more activity, as much as my illness will permit me, and the resolution not to take naps during the days.

Once, while I was fevered, my husband asked me what I was thinking about, and I replied "money". I am wounded that nothing in my art show sold. I have taken most of the paintings back from the gallery, the owner has kept two. I understand that there is an economic depression going on, and I understand that the show was in Brattleboro, not exactly a big art mecca. But I need validation of my talent that a sale would provide. I feel so handicapped by my illness when it comes to making money. I can't work a traditional job. The trip to the emergency room is going to cost us money. Some of it may be covered by insurance, but I know already that there will be hundreds of dollars in extra bills. In the emergency room the doctor was wearing the most beautiful, tasteful, pair of matching silver and gold necklace and bracelet. It made me wish that I could be a doctor and buy myself pretty trinkets. I think that beautiful jewelry is a power statement. I know myself enough to want to wear nice clothes and jewelry to seem beautiful and powerful. This is, I know, a flaw in my character. Whatever happened to the punk girl who lived on the edge, shaved her head, and wore only salvation army clothes? I believe that when I was newly ill, young and forward dreaming, I liked myself more because I had not yet proven myself a failure at most everything I tried. I was strong and happy, and terribly sick, in my twenties. Now that I am in my forties, surving much better with the illness, but I don't have the dream anymore of going to school, getting a job, or making money. I've tried these things and failed. I have a husband I love, who supports me unconditionally, but where oh where am I going with my future? To become an esteemed artist? Hope dwindles.

Sometimes hope does not come upon you like a dream. Flights of fancy produce ephemeral hopes. Sometimes you have to go out and search for it. You have to make it happen. Hope comes to you when you are pounding the pavement. This is my plan. (Hope seems most real when you have a plan). I will work during this economic depression, continue painting, with the intent to double the number of paintings I have on hand. I will work to become better. I will work to have an expanded sample of my style. So the economic depression lasts several years. I will not let up during these several years. As long as the River Gallery Art School offers me a partial scholarship I will attend. I will try my hardest to fall in love with painting all over again. I will strive to paint things that are to my eyes very beautiful. I love garden scenes, I love paintings that have plants and flowers in it. And then, when I have perhaps 20 paintings, I will approach New York City dealers. I will approach dealers who deal in outsider art, because I am self-taught, and I think this shows clearly in my work. So far I have exactly 7 finished paintings and two unfinished paintings to my name. I need more. I need simply to work and produce. Selling myself can wait. I have to gather in my impatience and become slow and steady. And I need to find hope. I am not normally a hopeful person. Sometimes all I can do is live one day at a time, not jump to far into the future. Today I believe in my art. Tomorrow I will have regained my physical health, have a heated art room, and return to work on my painting. I can push my hope one day into the future. It is enough.

No comments: