Saturday, April 1, 2017

Nurse the Hate: Mononucleosis Autumn

The worst thing about the mononucleosis wasn’t the constant brutal sore throat.  To be sure, the sore throat was not to be trifled with.  It had completely sapped his interest in food and reduced his diet to La Croix sparkling water, juice smoothies, and oatmeal.  His clothes had started to fit oddly.  He had lost weight to the point where people stopped him to ask in a conspiratorial tone “Is everything all right?” hoping to be let in on a grand secret.  Some of those people probably even cared about his well being and weren’t fishing for fabulous gossip about his imminent demise due to some blood disease or cancer.  Not many, but some.
No, the worst thing about the mono was the complete lack of energy.  He was struggling to read “History of Civilzation I” by Theodore Stevens, which was somehow even more dry than you’d expect.  Each time he attempted to make even sluggish progress, he would wake up with the book next to him still stuck somewhere in the Babylon chapter.  Reading in bed was not a strong plan for success.  He had abandoned the library as a place to study.  The last time he fell asleep there someone had stolen his food coupons from his backpack and drawn a penis on his cheek with a Sharpie.  No, it was back to the relative safety of his dorm room from this point on.
The complete lack of energy extended to his girlfriend Susan who would come by daily in the late afternoon to receive a half-hearted fuck.  Susan liked being on the bottom in the missionary position and urge him on.  “Fuck me harder!  Harder!” she would hiss in his ear in a tone that suggested there was no way that he personally was capable of fucking her as hard as she desired.  He would almost pass out from the effort.  Her daily visit was like having a spin class he couldn’t cancel.  She would stand in the middle of the tiny room afterwards holding his bath towel between her legs to catch his semen and ask with a scrunched face that was her version of compassion, “Is there anything I can get you?”.   She would then kiss his damp forehead with a peck and dart out of the room with a high pitched “get better!”.  He then usually slept until well after sunset.
When he woke he would pad across the shared bathroom to the next room, the Daytonians.  Three guys that were from the general Dayton area had come to university as a unit.  They had been friends so long it was no longer clear if they even liked each other.  They had a whole language of inside jokes and noises that was almost a dialect.  They liked it when he came over not so much because he was great company.  The mono had reduced him to the point where he was almost a mannequin.  They liked him because he served as a straight man for their vicious jokes and digs at one another.  “Hey, you know why I’m so tired today?  Cause I dug up Ray’s mother’s skeleton and I fucked her last night, that’s why!”  Brief wrestling then ensued.  It wasn’t exactly high brow stuff, but they were pretty good guys.
He usually drank beer a few nights a week as it appeared to make no difference in his overall condition.  He felt slightly better on the nights when he had a small buzz which balanced out that he felt slightly worse the next day.  The one thing he could count on was that no one else would ever visit the Daytonians.  By all appearances he might have been the only other person they knew except themselves in a twenty mile radius.  They would sit in the room working through a Milwaukee’s Best “Weekender”, a convenient 30 pack of cans, and watch horrible sci-fi and monster movies on DVDs.
On the fourth week of the illness he felt especially terrible and went to the health center.  This was a fool’s errand as the health center would only supply aspirin and gauze no matter what the illness.  There was almost no chance they would do anything to help him.  He had heard terrifying stories about friends of friends that had gone there to be checked for gonorrhea and found themselves in a small exam room where a middle aged male doctor with thick sausage fingers shoved a Q-tip up their penis holes like a dipstick for some sort of sample.  Though it was probably an urban legend, it still gave him pause anytime he walked in the place.
He sat in a plastic chair waiting for his number to be called.  Sitting across from him was a girl.  She was the type of girl you didn’t notice at first.  Small, quiet with a sense of confidence that came off as matter-of-fact instead of cocky.  She wore an outfit that was conservative and maybe even out of style, but it suited her in such a way that it worked.  She had long light brown hair that was still streaked slightly blonde from the summer sun.  She noticed him measuring her up and spoke.  “What are you here for if you don’t mind me asking?”  He thought he’d be clever and instantly regretted what he said while he was saying it.  “Oh, I’m here for the gonorrhea test.”  To his surprise she immediately knew he was joking and responded, “Me too.  I’m worried about the Q-tip though!”.  He laughed out loud at that.
A disinterested intern called his name.  He went to the exam room where he received a half hearted lookover under the hood.  Blood pressure, temperature, ears, eyes, throat.  Well, it’s a virus so it will have to run its course.  Drink plenty of fluids and take ibuprofen.  Come see me if you have any more trouble.  The doctor handed him loose sample packs of some pain reliever and hustled him out the door.   She was still in the chair when he walked out to the hall.  “How was the Q-tip?  Bad as you thought?”  She smiled.
That was it.  They got to know each other slowly, cautiously.  Her name was Elizabeth and she was from Nova Scotia.  She had lived in the UK as a child and still retained an accent, which he loved to tease her about to no end by reciting Monty Python lines.  She would then mimic his Ohio accent with the nasal pronunciations in drop dead fashion as brutal retaliation which would make him laugh until he cried.  He found it easy to be with her, not like the work of being with Susan.  Elizabeth was bright, well studied in history.  She made it her project to help him pass History of Civilization I which was daunting as he still couldn’t read more than three pages before nodding off.  She came over to his room dressed in her pajamas to quiz him one night, her legs curled underneath her on the couch.  He attempted to remember obscure Romans distracted while staring at the juvenile cat print on her pajama pants.  He put a blanket on her when she fell asleep on his couch.

On the day of his exam she brought him a large tea, a muffin and a rabbit's foot key chain.  "You'll need all the help you can get." she said with a coy smile.  It was easily the most thoughtful gift he had received in years.  In 9 months with Susan, he couldn't ever recall her doing anything thoughtful.  Elizabeth patiently quizzed him one final time before sending him on his way.  The story would be better if he had earned a "A" on the test, but frankly he was fortunate the slide past with the "C" he got.  It was, in its own way, a remarkable achievement.  After the exam he returned to his room, climbed back into bed and rubbed the key chain.  Maybe it had more luck.  There was a quiet knock on the door.  He hoped it was Elizabeth.


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