I closed my eyes and tried not to succumb, doing everything in my power to stay awake. But there was just no way I was going to lift my head back up from of the desk until the 2:24 bell dismissed everyone. My day had been spent shuffling in and out of consciousness, passing out on the floor during planning periods and lunch. My brain couldn’t come up with another time when I felt this bad. 

My symptoms matched up with the flu almost perfectly: body aches, chills, a fever, dizziness, pain behind my eyes, and a decreased appetite. The only thing missing was the nausea. I just assumed my stomach was being merciful and waiting until I got home before shooting its contents out of my mouth. 

Later that evening I was playing with Joelle (because the second shift waits for no disease) when the fever sweats hit. It was like that scene in Airplane

I felt my stomach knot up and I braced myself. This was it! 

But almost as quickly as they came, the symptoms receded. And by the end of the night the day’s unimaginable terribleness seemed like a fever dream. In my mind, I imagined my superior immune system, hardened from a decade of being sneezed on by twelve year olds, routing the virus. I fell asleep that night confident in my quick return to work.

And then I saw them. I woke up to tiny craters in the palms of my hands. The red spots were almost imperceptible at first. But as the day bloomed, so did they. Then tiny cuts began to rise to the surface of my fingers and toes as if someone inside my body was drunkenly slashing away with the world’s smallest razor. I knew immediately what was going on. I had hand foot and mouth disease. 

Joelle had just gotten over it, and I guess my Howard Hughes level hand washing wasn’t enough to keep the disease away. By nightfall, my hands were covered with what looked like cigarette burns. My feet resembled the ‘before’ shot from a Proactive commercial. And my mouth seemed okay. 

I spent the next day staring at my hands as if sheer will and obsessive focus could stop this thing from taking over my body. At first I thought I had escaped the “mouth” portion of HFAM. Then I realized that this disease moves on multiple fronts on an asynchronous schedule. My mouth was the last thing to go. (I’ve only parted my beard once to check it out, and the gooey yellow mozarella I saw oozing through my skin was enough) Lesions now dot the connective tissue binding my cheeks to my gums. This means anytime that tissue moves, the sores crack. There seems to be some cruel Butterfly Effect phenomenon going on. An eyebrow twitch will set off a cruel chain of seemingly unrelated cuts and blisters on my hands and toes. 

In the last few days I haven’t really eaten much or had any coffee. This is mainly because hand, foot, and mouth disease causes sores to grow INSIDE OF YOUR THROAT. Anything that’s not water goes down like a mouthful of tacks. My lymph nodes are the size of monkey fists.

Since there isn’t much to do when, you know, you have searing pain in your HANDS, FEET, and MOUTH, I’ve been holed up like a leper, dividing my time between the living room couch and the bedroom. On the plus side, this disease has done what months of meditation and mindfulness have yet to figure out: get my hyperactive body to stop moving. I never knew I could sit so still and be so uncomfortable for so long. Now anytime I have an itch (which is pretty often if you really stop and focus on it), I imagine a multistage blister just waiting to erupt and barf its diseased goo onto the surrounding skin. Sometimes I have to flap my arms up and down really fast or blow on my hands or whip my head back and forth to try and shake out an itch. It works as well as you would think.

Typing this has been a good way to keep my mind off of the fact that anytime I touch something it feels like someone kicking a needle right underneath my nail. Now it’s time to go rinse my mouth with Anbesol and wonder if my toenails will slough off.


Postscript: This was an unexpectedly cathartic post to write. It helped me gain some distance and a feeling of control over this disgusting ailment that’s plagued me for days. 

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