Just over a week ago, at around one in the morning, while I slept fitfully, I suddenly sensed that strange ague that comes only to those who are about to come down with something not very pleasant. Sleep-fogged as I was, I initially did not give it much thought and tried to go back to the land of Nod. Sleep, ‘that knits up the raveled sleave of care’ however, eluded me. I tossed one way, then turned the other but no dice. Calpurnia may or may not have heard her husband moan, but I said to myself, ‘this too shall pass.’ What passed as I clutched my stomach with unbearable cramps and ran to the toilet, I would rather not describe. Let it remain a closely-guarded secret between me and my toilet seat. When I went back to bed, Calpurnia drowsily muttered if I was all right. Which of course, I was anything but. When I described to her what was happening, her eyes widened and she uttered that unspeakable five-letter word beginning with C in an interrogative tone. You, dear reader, have every right to ask me how I knew my wife was wide-eyed when it was pitch dark and I had not turned the lights on. When one has been married for over four decades, assuming you have not changed partners, one just knows these things. It goes without saying that I did not sleep a wink for the rest of the night, I being the wide-eyed one, and the bright break of dawn brought no balm either. By this time my toilet seat had become an old friend given the number of visits I had lost count of. Bum chums, if you get my drift. I had popped anti-flatulent and antacid Gelusils like it was going out of fashion, drank tumblerfuls of Electral water, containing as it does, sodium citrate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride and anhydrous dextrose. It was printed on the packet label. Excellent stuff for if you’re having the runs on an industrial scale. My head was making a fine fist of doing ferris-wheel imitations every time I tried to sit up. Need I say more?
That I had been struck down by a vicious stomach bug leading to dehydration and fever, was a foregone conclusion. The jury did not even have to leave the courtroom. Food-poisoning could have been a facile (and hopeful) diagnosis. The burning question was, could it be that other dreadful thing whose name shall not be spoken? Everybody seems to be getting it. Why should I be the exception? But I have been such a good boy. Have not stirred out of the house for weeks, always wore a double mask whenever the doorbell rang, washed my hands 37 times a day, and strictly maintained the distance socially demanded from strangers, mainly in the form of delivery boys. Then I said to myself, ‘Pull yourself together, this is no time for panicking. Think clearly.’ Took my temperature. 100.1. Not earth shattering, but moderately high fever still. Oxygen saturation, where’s that little gizmo we bought online some months ago? The good wife knew exactly where it was, checked the batteries, shoved my right middle finger into it, the green digits oscillated wildly (which gave me palpitations), finally settled on 97 and a pulse rate of 58. Go straight to the top of the class. All is not lost. Think positive, or do I mean negative? We live in crazy times when positive means negative and vice-versa. However, the nagging fear would not leave me. Should I take an RT-PCR test, or some other test I am unaware of? And wait for six days for the results to come in and then not be sure if they were right? It was time to get expert medical opinion, and Calpurnia suggested just the man.
This is a good time for a light-hearted aside. Calpurnia, of course, is not my better half’s real name. Like you didn’t know! If there be those amongst you, and I do not wish to sound patronizing or presumptuous, who haven’t the foggiest who this Calpurnia is or was, I will put you out of your misery. She was, no prizes for guessing, Julius Caesar’s wife, and had this habit of waking up every time the great Caesar threw a fit while sleeping, which was often, given his epileptic disposition. And who can blame the mighty Caesar? I would throw several fits if I suspected that Brutus, Cassius, Casca and that lot were plotting and leather-stropping their daggers, the better to stick it to me at the Capitol the following day, the Ides of March to be precise. Shakespeare placed the murder at Rome’s imposing Capitol though gnarled historians swear the dreaded deed took place at the Curia of Pompey. I shan’t quibble. I just think the Capitol sounds so much grander.
It’s all very well carrying on with your Friends, Romans and Countrymen speeches, but there’s blood on your hands, Brutus. I thought Caesar put it rather well with his snappy one-liner, Et tu Brute, then fall Caesar. Talk about famous last words. I am surprised he had the strength to say even that after being stabbed 23 times! That’s on record.Incidentally, dear reader, if you decide to search Wikipedia to learn more about Calpurnia, the first entry you will come across is, ‘Calpurnia. Canadian Indie Rock Band.’ Only when you scroll further down will you come across Caesar’s fourth wife. Or it might have been the third. Pop groups and boy bands must trump over literature and history. A sign of the times.
I do crave your forgiveness, dear reader, for that diversion but it was all in a good cause. Now that you are abreast of the situation, let me get back to my stomach infection and how I dealt with it. I am fortunate enough to have this very nice, and very knowledgeable doctor friend, whom I turn to whenever I think I am in trouble. If we had not been living in SARS-CoV-2 times (I will not utter the C-word), I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Leafed through my diary where my wife meticulously notes down every ailment we have ever suffered and the medication prescribed thereof. I would have simply popped the said pills, slurped the recommended syrup, plenty of hydration, inhaled steam till I choked, a bit of gargling (highly overrated) and as they say in England, ‘Bob’s your uncle.’ In case you haven’t guessed by now, I am a bit of a hypochondriac. However, since there was every possibility that it could have been something more sinister, I buzzed my good medico friend. I shall call him Ashish (not his real name) to avoid an army of patients beating a path to his door.
‘Good morning Ashish, hope I did not catch you at a bad time.’
‘And good morning to you, too. Everything all right? You don’t sound terribly bright.’ I told you he was good.
‘Ah, you clever man. Nothing escapes your razor-sharp ear. Well, apart from running a moderate temperature, mild body ache and running to the loo with stomach cramps all through the night, I am perfectly well.’ Ashish understood irony.
‘Hmmm…’ went Ashish. I hate it when doctors go ‘Hmmm…’ Ominous.
‘Listen Ashish, enough with the humming and hawing. Tell me the worst. Have I got it? I can take it on the chin. I am talking to you from my toilet seat. You can’t upset me or my stomach any more than I already am. So, fire away.’ I was trying to affect a bravado I did not feel.
‘My friend, I know you are nervous but if you keep babbling on incoherently, I can’t get a word in edgeways. I realize it’s nervousness, but you are sounding delirious. So take a deep breath and answer these questions.’ That sane tone again. So reassuring.
‘From my toilet seat, or shall I move to my bed? And would you like a video conference?’ I wished to take no chances.
‘For God’s sake, no. I would rather visualize you sitting comfortably on your bed than on your throne. And no video, please. Now tell me. Fever, check. Body ache, check. Loosies, check with knobs on. Let us now go through the full laundry list. Blood pressure? 130 /80. As normal as it gets. Headache? No. Unexplained rashes? No. Toes turning blue or green? No. Loss of appetite? Slightly, understandable. Sense of smell? Can’t stand the stench from your toilet? That’s a great sign. Nausea? Feeling nauseous but didn’t actually bring anything up. Super. Watery eyes? You cried? That doesn’t count. Dizziness? Only when you stand on your head? Ha ha. You can’t be that bad if you are making jokes. Not very good ones, but still.’
‘Enough with the questions and the symptoms, my friend, do I need to take further tests to get at the truth? Going for a test might involve its own risks. I might catch the bloody thing which I may not be having in the first place. It’s happened to others.’ A bit of paranoia showing through, methinks.
‘For the first time you spoke some sense. Going purely symptomatically, I would not recommend any further investigation. I believe in differential diagnosis. For now, you seem to have caught a nasty bug and that’s all it is. I will prescribe a three-day course of antibiotics and vitamins and you should be right as rain on the fourth day.’
I was still unsure. ‘You mean it’s not that disease starting with C, ending with D and two vowels and a consonant in between? I could jump with joy.’
Ashish was quick to gently admonish. ‘I wouldn’t advise any jumping, unless you wish to pass out. This is my present diagnosis. If you are not better after three days, I may have to revise and review my opinion.’
That sobered me up like a shot. I am happy to report that on the fourth day, I rose again (like JC) feeling a bit woozy, otherwise perfectly normal, all parameters up to scratch. Importantly, the bowels were on their best behaviour and the plumbing system in shipshape (mine, not the toilet’s). On a serious note, these are difficult times, but the lesson I learnt is not to panic (pot calling the kettle black). And if you personally know a doctor who is wise and experienced, and his adoption tried, grapple him unto thy soul with hoops of steel. That was a paraphrased gag from Hamlet, but fit for the purpose. Finally, remember this. Even Lady Macbeth advocated washing your hands thoroughly, though in her case, the damned spot would not go.