Virginia Woolf once said, “Illness is a part of every human being’s experience. It enhances our perceptions and reduces self-consciousness. It is the great confessional; things are said, truths are blurted out which health conceals.”
I’m sick. Not anything serious, just the everyday head cold, the one that starts with that tickle, like cotton, in your lower throat. Then, you wake up with a sore throat and by mid-morning your nose begins to drip at the most inopportune times, followed by back-breaking sneezing spells and finally, your head feels like someone has stuffed it with Styrofoam, packed tight, all squeaky. It’s tough to hear with all the squeaking.
By day two, your exhausted from lack of sleep caused by the sudden coughing or choking and the heat radiating from your pillow. There is never a cool side when you are sick. Never. The blankets become too heavy, the sheets too scratchy, then there’s not enough blankets and you are wishing you’d known you were getting the crud because you would have put the flannel sheets on the bed. And, no matter how much Robitussin you swallow, Theraflu you sip, or Vicks VapoRub you smear, nothing comforts you. Nothing.
Here comes the confessional. It’s at these times I long for the cool touch of my mother’s hand on my forehead, the sing-song of her voice telling me to sit up so I can swallow the two tiny St. Joseph’s baby aspirin she has dissolved in a teaspoon of water. She plumps the pillow, holds the covers back while I scoot, tucks them around me, not too tight, and with a glop of VapoRub begins the healing motion of rubbing the ointment in circles on my chest, in a V at the base of my throat. My eyes tear from the menthol or maybe just from knowing my mother will check on me repeatedly through the night, touching her soft cheek against my forehead to check the fever.
As an adult, I miss that intimacy. Sure, my husband brings me steaming mugs of tea, picks up my discarded tissues I’ve strewn along my side of the bed, and cooks a pot of his delicious chicken noodles, and while I truly appreciate his care when I’m ill, it is still not the same. Nothing beats a mother’s love when one feels like they are coughing their way to death’s door.
I’ve even tried the little home remedies my mother used to make to cure our scratchy throats or dry coughs. In a small orange Tupperware container she would blend honey, a squeeze of lemon and a tablespoon of whiskey, then spoon the sugary heat down our throats. She swore it not only coated our throats to stop the cough, it helped us sleep. All I know is it filled my throat and chest with a warmth I attributed to her, not the whiskey, and to this day, I will make a bit of the concoction when the early signs of a cold appear. Of course, I tend to add more whiskey these days, preferring Maker’s Mark, plus I like to make a hot toddy out of the mix and toss in a cinnamon stick and a splash of vanilla. It’s the closest thing I can find to rekindling that warmth I felt as a kid.
I know if I could just recreate my mother’s comfort, I could handle being ill, not welcome it, but be a bit more patient with the red, chapped nose, the underwater feeling in my ears and the cough that seems to sign a month-long lease. Instead, I will cocoon myself in the softness of my snowflake-patterned fleece blanket and the memories of a little girl being cared for by her mother.