Most days, playing the “How far are you from…?” game is kinda fun.
“How far are you guys from the doctor’s and the drug store?” people from away want to know.
“About 35 minutes from the healthcare center. Another hour if we have to get a prescription filled.” We tend to answer in increments of time spent on the road, not miles traveled. Because we’re not talking about highway miles or the kind of miles connecting the Redi-Care clinics and the super-mega pharmacies down in the flat lands. Further questions tend to stop there. The out loud ones, anyways. Are we crazy? In denial? Or both? Plenty of folks wonder, we imagine, but keep it to themselves.
“It’s all good,” we insist. “We’re good.” We might not have 24-hour walk-in care, but we try to avoid needing it with walks in the woods and good choices. And if and when we do need prescriptions, we’re happy trading Walgreens on every corner with the walls of green lining our route down to getting ’em filled.
Sassy and sure of ourselves, we are. Regular rock hard, year-round Rangeley toughies. Until we were heading down Pucker Pass the day after a huge snow storm, hightailing it to Hannaford to get our Tamiflu prescription, Influenza Type A = 2, Tom and Joy = zero.
A few days before, Tom figured he’d come down with the Rangeley Crud—the holistic, pragmatic diagnosis we locals give to pretty much anything that ails us from the time the first log goes into the wood stove until we stop getting our feet soaked in frozen slush in the spring. Symptoms include a cough, crud coming from any or all cranial orifices, and a drop in energy that makes putting on your “yard slippers” to take the dog out a wicked chore. I concurred with the diagnosis, especially when the crud crept my way. “Just a cough and a few aches,” we said. Nothing that a few days of downtime and some homemade “cough syrup” couldn’t cure.
Then Tom started sounding like a deranged werewolf caught in a Conibear trap coughing up a giant fur ball. And I was somewhere between a sputtering old two-horse motor and a sump pump trying to work the sludge out of the basement. When we finally dug the digital thermometer out of the bathroom “drugstore drawer”—our under-the-counter solution to convenient self-care—we knew we needed a third, more professional opinion.
And then, there we were, bundled up like Kenny from South Park, trying to keep the Tacoma between snow banks on the way to pick up our pills (and enough ready-to-eat chicken noodle soup for a fortnight). Diagnosis in hand, we’d progressed from being a bit under the weather and off the grid to tiny pinpoints of infection in the Western Maine corner of the the official National CDC 2019 Influenza Outbreak Map.
“How did this happen?” I muttered into my coat collar. I was too fogged over to come to any comforting conclusions, but my feverish little monkey mind wanted answers anyway. “Whelp, we finally lost the germ lottery,” mumbled Tom. Always level-headed and even-tempered, he could still weigh the laws of probability and register 101.8 degrees Fahrenheit. “But when? Why this year? Who or what did we touch? And where?” I persisted, the journalist in me hell bent on writing the story of how we went from low-risk, drug-free independents to ailing losers packed full of pills.
“Stop asking questions!” Tom groaned from deep into the couch the next day. Apparently, the flu was keeping my body down, but not my need to know. “Do you want more tea? How ’bout more soup? Did you take your pills? Wanna watch another movie? Taking a nap? Think I should check your temp again? Are you warm enough? Too cold? Still coughing? Anything yucky coming out?” The Curious George in me had suddenly turned into howler monkey from Hell. So I kept my inquiries quiet, quarantining myself to inner speculation. Were the darn Tamiflu pills actually doing anything worth the amount of money I paid for them, half-price coupon and all? Or was the ogre guy in the Tamiflu commercial, who grew bigger and more beastly the longer he waited to get on the $300 pills, just a big pharma scare tactic? Where were my slippers? Could I make it upstairs to bed? Whatever happened to those Beatles cards my Mum bought me when I had to stay home with the flu in 1964? Would they be worth anything now if I hadn’t stained the Paul card with chocolate ice cream kisses?
More than anything, I wondered if we could beat the odds—maybe feel like getting out of our snarf chamber, or at least out of our jammies sooner than the predicted two weeks of downtime. Until Tom asked me something for a change. He opened one eye and, in a little boy voice, told me he wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And I knew we were screwed. I’ve watched my husband eat at least one sandwich a day for more than 40 years, and never have I ever seen him mow down a PB&J. I don’t even think he’d eaten one since he was 12. Something to do with his mother buying government sized cans of peanut butter and having to stir it with a ginormous spoon. I guess even luncheon loaf was better.
The farther we got into cabin confinement, the more questions the dog seemed to have, too. “Why are they barking so much? How come they never used to eat in front of the TV and now they’re slurping supper watching Survivor? Will I ever go for a walk again? Since when does going out mean going five feet off the back steps?”
Since dog whispering was obviously not one of those six sense things that sharpens when your other senses fade, I just didn’t have all the answers. But I did manage to figure out a few other things.
- Cabin fever is way different than a cabin fever. Cabin fever is when you want to get out, but the weather is preventing you from moving your able body off the back porch. Having a cabin fever means your body is so snowed under on its own that you can barely get out of your own way as you shuffle back and forth from the bathroom. And you’re grateful you don’t live in Publishers Clearinghouse territory because there’s no way you could run outside to claim the check when the people with the flowers and balloons showed up.
- Regular “indoor day” camp games are not fun anymore. You need to leave Monopoly to the gifted and talented and Yahtzee to the calculus nerds. And the silly things you used to entertain yourself with when you got bored with cards and board games? Don’t even bother. I thought lying in bed in the middle of the day was a perfect time to play Find the Shapes in the Knotty Pine, a game my daughter Becky and I invented during a long rainy afternoon. We found a dragonfly, several prehistoric fish, a dog turd flying through the air on a boomerang, and a harbor seal. But I tried for hours and got nothing. So I switched to Staring At Drifting Snowflakes for a few more hours. Then I went back downstairs and played a little Stack the Soup Cans and Yogurt Cup Jenga. Fun times.
- When your cabin mate is just as sick as you are, it’s a good thing. That way, he’s not in your face acting like Superman just because he can put on pants and sit up at the table to eat. And you’re not up in his business either, wondering how many more episodes of Gunsmoke he can watch or when his hair is gonna look normal again. You’re on the same slow rolling wavelength, able to carry on whole conversations with a few mono-syllables, snorts and grunts.
Now that Tom and I are “out of the woods” health-wise and into our normal backwoods routine with sounder minds and seemingly superhuman bodies, I’ve been able to put the Influenza Type A 2019 episode into context with our otherwise fit and unfettered lifestyle. Hindsight, I know, is not 20/20. But it sure becomes a heck of a lot clearer when you get your groove back! And thanks to the perspective that only loosing and regaining your status-quo can bring, I know a few things better than ever. Flu happens. Crud creeps in. And if you’re lucky to live long enough, you’re likely gonna come down with it a few times after you put away your Beatles cards and stop eating peanut butter out of a huge can. Accepting that inevitability with humor and trust is part of showing up, weighing the odds, of not being afraid of what might happen when you pack up your life of convenience and move to your cabin for good. It’s about seeing the glass as half full and, when it’s not, figuring out what you’re going to do to level it off again. Immunity is wonderful. But being cooped up with your cuddle buddy ain’t that bad, either. Especially when you can’t wait to get back out there and do the Rangeley weekly post office/IGA/restaurant loop. Hugging folks. Touching menus and all sorts of sketchy surfaces. Opening mail from the far reaches of the CDC outbreak map. Enjoying crazy, high-risk in-town stuff with our peeps. And, of course, washing the winter “bugs” off our old, weathered hands when we’re done and ready to settle back in.