Monday, 10 November 2014

Feverish dreams of Albert, Mary and ... doughnuts?

Not fair. Absolutely not fair. I return from a splendid trip to London with a passenger inside me. The night before last it showed its thousands of faces by keeping me awake coughing and yesterday it unleashed the full force of its snotty fury, turning me into an explosive disaster of a man.

While a semi-reclusive life is helpful to my head, my lack of exposure to other people clearly isn’t good for my immune system. 

On the heaving trains and thronging buses of London’s megatropolis, I rubbed shoulders in confined spaces; held onto escalator rails that had been touched by tens of thousands; breathed air on planes that recycled everyone’s assorted bugs every seven minutes.

I was unlikely to make it out intact.

When I was little my next door neighbour used to say
“You have to eat a bag of dirt before you die.”

As a child I never understood what she was on about. I used to worry that one day I’d come home from school to find my mother eating a bag of dirt, and then know she was about to die.

Thankfully I’m fairly robust and rarely suffer illness. In the 22 years that I’ve lived in Ireland I can only remember two occasions when I’ve had the ‘flu - and when I say ‘flu I mean the number that knocks you off your feet, wiping out your ability to function for several days, rather than that peculiarly Irish illness, so often offered as:

“I had the ‘flu yesterday, but I’m fine now.”

No, you didn’t have the ‘flu. You had what I have now: a nasty cold and chesty cough that, while debilitating, in no way compares to the severity of influenza.

Back in 1994 I was living in Salthill when the Beijing ‘Flu was raging around the country. Alone in my home, I started to come over a bit dodgy in the late afternoon and by the time I went to bed I was delirious and incapable. Sweat poured over my entire body (sorry if you’re having your tea!) and as I climbed into bed I noticed that the veins in my arms were swollen up like lengthy black puddings. 

The lymph glands in my armpits were - ouch! -tender, enlarged, and as I sit here now, I remember the very thought that went through my bewildered head.

“Oh. Infected blood, swollen glands. Looks like septicaemia. If that infection makes it past my armpits I might die.”

With that, I ho-hummed and slid under the duvet, knowing there was no way I could make it to the phone to call for help. So powerful was that fever, I was able to accept calmly that if I died, I died.

Influenza’s hellish combination of shivers and sweating stopped me from dropping off to sleep, so I picked up the book I was reading, which happened to be Robert Kee’s ‘Ireland - A History.’ After a couple of pages the fever swept through me like wavelets around pebbles at low tide. Neither asleep nor awake, I was lost wandering the mental prairies that stretch between dreams and hallucinations.

Those feverish visions from 20 years ago still send a chill through me now. Albert Reynolds climbing Vinegar Hill, scratching his bare hairy chest as he roars at the English invaders. Blood, limbs, heads and guts are splashed, slashed, severed and spilled on that Wexford battlefield.

Suddenly there comes a blast of heavenly light from the sky, a shaft of love from above, heralding the appearance of Mary Robinson, as if an angel, accompanied by a choir of cherubim singing swirling ethereal chants.

Towering above the two warring factions, Mary raises her presidential arms high above her head, and in an instant, all the soldiers on both sides stop fighting and drop their weapons.

Truly this was a powerful woman, yet still only the creation of a very sick scribbler, so I was not surprised to see that Ireland’s grand dame of diplomacy then produced a big box of doughnuts.

Everyone cheered. Maybe she was about to close her act by performing a miracle akin to the feeding of the 5,000.

Sadly no. Instead of eating the doughnuts or passing them around, my demented brain had other plans. Mary Robinson sat down and most unexpectedly and quite obscenely, did something with those doughnuts, slowly and deliberately, one by one, that I will leave to your collective imaginations.

You might well wonder why on earth I’m sharing this vile vision with you. Well, it’s partly because in my present state I’m unable to think much beyond illness, but more importantly I’m reminding you all how dangerous and nasty the ‘flu can be. If you have an older neighbour or relative, keep an eye on them, because viral infections can play havoc with frail bodies.

Evidently I made it through that torpid night, waking the next morning to discover staring back from the mirror a panda withdrawing from heroin. As if the huge black patches under my eyes were not enough, I now also sported on my left cheek an infected carbuncular spot the size of Cyprus.


My body had so many toxins to deal with they were starting to erupt out all over the place. Off I went to visit my first Irish doctor, who couldn't have been nicer. Mind you, even though I know that there’s very little medical people can do to help viral infections, I’m not sure about the advice she gave.

Had she told me to rest, drink lots of fluids and keep in touch I’d have felt satisfied.

What I wasn’t expecting to hear, when I could barely stand up from the fever, was:

“Well now Charlie, you’re grand. Go off home and drink a good couple of stiff hot whiskies and then take a brisk walk along the Prom. That’ll have you right in no time.”

“Er yeh, thanks Doc!” I mumbled, wondering if she was real or just another hallucination.

©Charlie Adley

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