While vacationing in Europe last month, something happened to me that was so unfamiliar and off-putting that I momentarily considered starting a dream journal to fully explore my feelings about the matter. But then I realized I would have to start another dream journal just to explore my feelings about starting a dream journal. It would have been a Möbius strip of candle-scented self-actualization.
Simply put, somewhere between eating a questionable chicken dish—is there any other kind?—in Paris and hopping on a train to Barcelona, I fell ill. After three days of chills, fever, sharp pains whenever I drank water and other digestive inconveniences, I finally visited a Spanish pharmacy, under duress from my girlfriend, and purchased much-needed and reasonably priced “antibioticos.”
The thing is, like most dudes I know, I never get sick. In fact, I can count the number of times I’ve seen a doctor in the past 20 years on one hand, and that’s only because that hand suffers from eczema. Along with my ability to perform a breakdance move known as “the worm,” my devastating slap shot in ball hockey and my knowledge of Degrassi High trivia, my health is one of the few points of pride in my normally humble life.
Sometimes that pride turns into hubris, which inevitably morphs into complete denial. Whenever I feel the first inkling of sickness, which I never do, I immediately reassure myself that I’m not sick. Then I go to work and brag about how I don’t get sick to my coworkers who, for some reason, aren’t at the office the next day, which only makes me feel stronger. If my girlfriend tells me she’s feeling under the weather, my first response is to inform her she’s not sick. Then she stops talking to me and watches Six Feet Under for the next five hours. Maybe if you didn’t watch TV shows about death you’d feel better, I say to the non-responsive figure on the couch.
But lately I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I might not be as invincible as I thought. Over the Christmas holidays, I admitted to my family that I had the sniffles. It was even more humbling than using the word sniffles. In early spring, I caught a chest cold that lingered for a week and a half. And I’ve begrudgingly learned to accept the increase in aches and pains that comes with strenuous exercise, overeating and lying awkwardly on the sofa while watching TV. I can’t even drink with wild abandon like I did in my more svelte and youthful years. That’s due to a sudden susceptibility to hangovers and creeping sensation of dread that overcomes me afterwards as I lie in bed unable to sleep, more often than not with the theme song from The A-Team or The Zit Remedy’s “Everybody Wants Something” stuck in my head.
I realize in the grand scheme of things I am fortunate. My recent ailments are paltry compared to what a lot of people experience. However, I can’t help but feel let down by my 40-year-old body and once-iron stomach for succumbing to a little bacteria-laced chicken—Parisian chicken, at that.
Then again, that was a lifetime ago.
Since my convalescence, my guts have more or less returned to their normal state of awesomeness. I’ve resumed my amateur ball hockey career. And I’ve started reintroducing non-wussy food to my diet, though I’m still hesitant about eating “dirty bird,” and probably will be for some time. Sorry, Swiss Chalet.
In other words, I’m back on track. I feel no pain. My body is a temple—sometimes it’s even a wonderland. Adios, antibioticos. Talk to the eczema-afflicted hand, Senor Pharmacist. Same goes for you, Doctor Johnny Fever. I’m the boss of me. And if I ever start to feel sick again, which I won’t, I’ll be sure to administer a healthy dose of mind over matter, followed by a strict regimen of denial and stubbornness. “Our reliance on the physician is a kind of despair of ourselves,” American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote.
Of course, he died of pneumonia.
Michael Kissinger has been writing about his impending midlife crisis since turning 40 in February.