“101.8. You must be feeling pretty awful right now.” In all honesty, I was feeling a little better than I had been just half an hour earlier, and pretty good in general, considering the circumstances.
Half an hour earlier my wife, Jean, and I got into the car as she drove me about 10 minutes to see my physician. Although it doesn’t seem to be, that last sentence is a little loaded. Jean had suggested that I drive down to my appointment while she went to pick up supplies for home. I said, “No. Could you drive me?” That is pretty unusual – I can only think of a few times when I was in my car not as the driver. All the times in recent memory involved driving practice with my daughters. However, I felt that even the short drive to the doctor’s was too risky – when I lay down I coughed incessantly, when I stood up, I felt dizzy. Too sick to drive.
We took Jean’s car, Stormcloud(1), since that is the one she is more comfortable driving. But not today. Today, she was very uncomfortable, primarily because the heater was not working – at all. As the drizzle turned to sleet, the windshield fogged up, and Jean’s hands started to freeze on the wheel. We closed the vents to keep the cold air out, but there was no warmth to be found anywhere. Except. Except under the hood of the car. About a half mile from our destination, Jean said, “The temperature gauge is higher than it’s ever been in Stormcloud’s life!” I thought maybe we could make to the doctor’s, but no – we pulled into a gas station about a tenth of a mile short of the office.
The overheating engine was a little surprising, but not totally. Two days earlier, the “check battery” light went on when Jean took a client to the gym. I had the day off, so we swapped cars, and I took Stormcloud to the garage. His water pump had seized, shredding a belt, which dangled from his undercarriage, and draining the cooling system. Two hours and five hundred dollars later, we were on our way again. Given that past repair, and the current behavior of the heater, I thought there may be a bubble in the coolant lines. That, ultimately, turned out to be that case. But we’re not there yet. Right now, I am walking the rest of the way to the doctor’s office, in the sleet, while Jean is entering the gas station convenience store to call the garage.
So, by the time the nurse said, “You must be feeling pretty awful right now,” I wasn’t. I was glad to be in a warm office, sitting down, and out of the sleet and wind. About ten minutes later, the doctor told me I had the flu (Type A), prescribed some meds, and sent me on my way. I thought I’d have to walk all the way back to the gas station, but when I got back to the waiting room, Jean was already there. She had called the garage, which was about to close (it was close to 5pm), and they said they could look at Stormcloud in the morning. Right now, we needed to have the car towed – we didn’t want to risk overheating the engine and damaging it. Fortunately, we belong to AAA. We called and requested service – they said would be no more than 45 minutes. I quickly googled the hours of the doctor’s office – open until 7pm. Awesome, at least we had a warm, dry spot to sit and wait for the truck.
Only, no. The same nice nurse that was so sympathetic to my plight came into the waiting room and said that the office was closing, and they needed to lock the doors. Crap. Back out into the damp and sleet and wind, and back to the gas station to stand around until the truck arrived.
As newlyweds, Jean and I made a vow to each other nearly a quarter century ago, and we were just about to break it for the first time. That vow stemmed from an incident back in early 1993 that we promised never to repeat. We’ve kept that promise through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, but now we were face to face with a calamity: in sickness and in sickness. Back in 1993, Jean was pregnant with Jennie, and we both came down with sinus infections simultaneously. I distinctly remember sitting on the couch, unable to breath except through my mouth, shivering, with quilts wrapped around me, looking over at Jean in the same perilous condition. We couldn’t even climb the stairs to our bedrooms, much less cook and feed ourselves. As we looked at each other, we both said, “We need a mom.” Since that day, we vowed never to be sick at the same time, and we kept that promise until this moment.
Jean woke up this morning coughing, just as I had 24 hours earlier. She didn’t have a fever yet, so she couldn’t be diagnosed with the flu. Still, our fate seemed inevitable: two sick partners in need of a mom, only none was available. My mom was 400 miles away, coming down with the flu herself, no doubt as a result of my visit the weekend before, and Jean’s mom had passed away at the end of last year.
We hung out in the gas station convenience store for about 40 minutes, festooned in our surgical masks, coughing, wheezing, and constantly checking the AAA website to see how long until the truck arrived (they have a real-time web site for that). Eventually it came (10 minutes early – yay!), and the mechanic checked for coolant in the radiator – there was none. I had checked earlier and come to the same conclusion. He also checked for things that could be fixed easily, like a loose or missing clamps, so he could repair it and get us on our way, but to no avail. He cleared off the passenger seat in the cab of his flatbed, and invited us to stay in there while he loaded the car. It was warm and we could finally sit down again, so we climbed in.
At this point, we had considered, but not solved, the problem of how we would get home from the garage. We asked if he could stop by our house so one of us could bring our other car (“Boxy”), but “we don’t usually do things like that”. OK, plan B. Take a cab? Is the number 666-6666 or 777-7777 or 888-8888? I can never remember. Maybe it’s 222-2222. As it turns out, 6, 7, and 2 all work, but how long until they get there? We had only a 15 minute drive before we were at the garage. It actually took us 16 minutes, having been delayed by a Wesleyan student wearing dark clothing crossing in front of us without the benefit of a crosswalk, looking before they crossed, or common sense. Years ago, Jean and I used to call Wes kids “The Immortals” for exactly this reason. I mentioned this to our driver, and discovered that the mechanic had a similar disdain for their judgement, “the common sense of a pickle”. I’ll just say that we had different ideas about the cause of that lack of common sense, and leave it at that.
Jean, fortunately, had the common sense to call our neighbor Collen, and ask her for a ride. In spite of the fact that she had already changed into her pajamas and settled into her warm house on an increasingly chilly night, Colleen came and picked us up and brought us home. Yay, Colleen! Once we got home, Jean turned right around and went to pick up my meds. I took the first dose and hit the sack.
When Jean woke up this morning, the grippe had her in its grip: 102.3. Mercifully, my meds worked their magic overnight, and I was able to take over as “mom”. Is there a lesson I can take from this? Possibly. Maybe sometimes it’s useful to overlook minor transgressions, after all we did technically break our promise to each other, all the time keeping in mind the long term, because twenty-five years ain’t nothing.
(1) We name all our vehicles, including rentals. My thinking is, if something may have to give up its life to save yours, shouldn’t you at least know its name?