The Mast-Head: Speak Not Ill of the Ill

My too-late, Thanksgiving-eve vaccination

One of the few positives of being home ill for several days, even with the flu, is that you have time to think. Or not. In my case this week, 30 straight hours of sleep were punctuated by only brief periods of lucidity. During one of them, I realized I was wrong to have made light of my too-late, Thanksgiving-eve vaccination in the paper last week. 

Generally, I believe it is in bad taste to speak publicly about one’s afflictions. It took me years to talk about the red meat allergy that I showed symptoms of in the early 1990s. I believe I was Patient Zero in East Hampton, likely having been exposed to lone star ticks while working as a field archaeologist in backwoods Georgia at the time. I had the allergy so early that one of today’s experts on it dismissed it at the time as impossible. But again, I brag, for which, by the rule on talking about one’s maladies, I will pay a price. Still, it’s nice to be number one in something, no? 

Doubling down, I return to the flu. The first time I had it that I recall was in the mid-1990s. I was working for a television documentary producer. The flu was going around New York City, and one morning I watched a co-worker fall from chatty into stupor in the space of minutes. I have not forgotten the speed with which he went from fine to ill. “It was amazing!” I said. Not so many days later, it took hold of me as well, per the rule.

Last Saturday was a replay of sorts. I was working on my truck in the driveway, close to completing a bumper replacement that had been on my to-do list for months, when it struck. I put my tools in the cab, locked the door, and crept inside to rest. 

It may seem odd, but I realize that since I’ve been older getting sick has sharply increased my interest in the colonial era. When I had pneumonia a few years back, I listened to a novel set Revolutionary Westchester. This time, I borrowed an audiobook online via the East Hampton Library and learned about the Dutch founding of New Amsterdam, then read about 50 pages of a biography of Increase Mather, the father of Cotton Mather, and an early leader of the church and Harvard College in 1600s Boston.

What to make of this is not clear to me. It could be that the timing, around Thanksgiving, with talk of Pilgrims in the air, makes for an obvious lead in. But to my mind, the view is as much of a factor. The limbs of the bare oaks and black tupelo in the swamp outside my window in changing light are like bones, making me think of the long-ago past and my own mortality.