Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On Sickness

Like everything else, being sick seemed much simpler when I was a child.

When I was a kid, "the flu" meant I had a fever, headache, felt weak and had the chills.  Once diagnosed, I'd camp out on the couch in the family room with a blanket and my big bed pillow.  My mom would set up a TV tray in front of the couch with all of my supplies: tissues, drinking glass, books, medicine, and if it was a stomach flu, the "throw-up bowl," an old clear plastic sherbet container.  

I would stay home from school and watch TV, read, nap, eat chicken soup and crackers, and stare at the ugly patterns in our old 70's couch and moan. 

Staring at those patterns probably didn't help my nausea.

I never went to the doctor for the flu.  All that was required to heal was rest and soup. Despite the physical pain, it was actually kind of fun to get a day off from school and get pampered by my mom.  The rule was that you couldn't go to school within 24 hours of having a fever, so the best days where when the fever was winding down but I still got to stay home.

And then there was "a cold."  This just meant that my nose ran, I sneezed a lot, and I used about 100 tissues blowing it.  My nostrils would get sore and red and eventually scab up from all the friction from the tissues.  But I never missed school for a mere "cold."   


So I'm confused about all this talk in the news about flu shots.  How the flu season is really bad this year and health policy experts are worried there won't be enough vaccines.  I've never in my life received a flu shot.  How can this thing that I remember as a kid that seemed only mildly inconvenient be so dangerous?  (And it got me out of school!)  People die from it?  Really?

As an adult I don't get sick much.  I probably only get a cold or flu once a every two years or so. 

Last week I came down with something.  It started with flu-like symptoms: a scratchy throat, a light head, weakness, chills.  My nose ran and my head hurt.  What was this?  It had some characteristics of the flu and some of a common cold.  Was it a cold/flu hybrid?  With all this news about how nasty The Flu is, I didn't think I had it.  (One co-worker said she was laid out for a week with The Flu, and it was so bad she prayed for death.)      

I went to work for the first day, but by the second day I woke up feeling pretty crappy and took the day off.  On the third day I felt like I needed to go in to work, but only stayed for half a day and then went home early.  I clearly had something, and now in retrospect, a week later, I'm pretty sure it was just a cold.  A nasty aggressive cold.

I never stayed home from school/work with a cold before, but the world of sickness seems to have changed. Colds have become meaner and nastier, and The Flu is life-threatening.  What's the world coming to? says the grouchy old man.
I still don't know if all those "flu"s I had as a kid are the same thing that people warn against today.  Has the Flu gotten a lot worse?  Or was my life really in peril all those times I stared at our ugly couch?  Or was "the flu" just a catch-all phrase my mom used for any kind of sickness I got as a child that was severe enough to keep me home from school?  I understand the biology of infection, and how once you get a virus, your body fights it off and develops and immunity to it, so you can never get that strain again.  So each sickness you get is a new (sometimes tougher) strain.  Or something like that.

Maybe the real problem is the difference between how we talk about illness and the actual biology of what's happening.  The most frustrating thing about my recent illness might be that I don't know what to call it.  I had a thing.  It's gone now. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Orleans New Year

Things I learned on my trip to New Orleans over the New Year holiday:

Alligator sausage tastes like Spam.  After trying it once for the novelty of it, I don't have any great need to try it again.

This looks just like the eggs benedict dish I had with alligator sausage buried in it.  The non-reptile-meat part was good.

The French Quarter is a national park. We walked through it every day, and it was a nice place to get to know.  I never realized how historical New Orleans was.  The FQ is the oldest part of the city, with a rich and diverse history, and the many old houses were colorful and interesting.  

Quaint old houses of the French Quarter.

There's a big iconic cathedral there that I'd never even known about.  

Cathedral in New Orleans?  Who knew?

Although Bourbon Street has a reputation for being a cesspool of drunken bead-throwing revelers, that's only one stretch of it-- the rest of it is just an old residential neighborhood.  Today much of it is a quiet gayborhood with rainbow flags.  

Hosing off Bourbon Street after New Year's Eve.  (Notice tiny rainbow flag in the distance above stop sign.)

The FQ has plenty of street performers, art, museums, neighborhood bars, music clubs, and local cafes, but that's mixed in with the touristy stuff like t-shirt shops, chain restaurants & bars, strip clubs, drunk frat boys on Bourbon Street, and all the college football fans (in Louisville red and Florida blue/orange) in town for the Sugar Bowl.

Street performers in French Quarter, literally in the middle of the street.

A beignet is a deep-fried piece of heaven drenched in powdered sugar.  On three separate occasions we got beignets and hot chocolate.  One day that was our entire lunch.

The bag they came in would have three solid inches of powdered sugar in the bottom of it, even after we were done eating.

Our tour guide for the Haunted Tour of the French Quarter actually took (or pretended to) her subject seriously.  I thought it would just be a tour of ghost legends, combined with interesting historical/architectural facts, but from the outset she asked if there were any "skeptics" in the group.  Oh, I thought, so it's going to be that kind of tour.  She talked about lots of "documented cases" of ghosts and told us about each ghost's quirks and personalities.  She told us about how other tour groups regularly see ghosts during the tour.  She used the power of suggestion so often that the annoying drunk woman in the Florida Gators jersey was convinced she'd seen a ghost at every stop.  

The "haunted" French Quarter at night

New Orleans doesn't want us to eat dinner.  Our first night, we planned to eat at this place on Bourbon St. we had a gift certificate to.  When we walked by it late that afternoon, a sign said they would be closed til 8:00 pm for a private event.  We decided not to wait that long and went to another place around 7:00, but it was swarming with people and there was a 1.5- to 2-hour wait. So we decided to go back to the other place at 8:00, and had some beignets to tide us over. When we got to the other place , it was 7:45, but it was completely full and there was a 1- to 1.5-hour wait.  WTF?    They said they wouldn't re-open til 8:00, and at 7:45 it was already full with a one-hour wait?  Again, WTF?  So we went to this dingy bar instead where I got a gut-bomb called a Muffuletta.  

Meat stuffed inside of meat layered under more meat.  With a wet olive salad to make the bun all soggy.  I should have stopped with the beignet.

On New Year's Eve we thought we were smart and made dinner reservations, but we needed a cab to take us to the restaurant, which was not within walking distance.  An hour before our reservation we called a cab company, but couldn't get through.  We called five different cab companies, but all of them were busy.  (Seriously, who still uses a busy signal?)  When we finally got a hold of one, they said it would be a 2-hour wait.  WTF?  New Orleans clearly doesn't want us to have dinner!  (Eventually we got hold of a cab company and they conveniently had someone in our area, and he got us to the restaurant on time.  Still, we were pretty panicky for a while.) 
The crowd at Jackson Square on New Year's Eve was ridiculously dense.  The whole French Quarter in general was thick with people, and I learned to practice what I called "defensive walking" to get around everyone.  It's like defensive driving, but on foot. 

The throng at Jackson Square
What we looked like to all the drunk people

New Orleans doesn't want us to go to the Garden District.  Two days in a row we tried to take the streetcar there.  The first day we waited for an hour before we found out that due to rail maintenance, the streetcar wasn't running, buses were instead.  Despite this, three buses drove by us while we were waiting at the streetcar stop.  The second day we tried to take the bus, but it was raining and it took too long so we sat in a cafe instead.  Then we saw the bus drive by.  By then we decided to give up on seeing the Garden District.   

Many of the shops in the French Quarter had signs telling people what they couldn't do.  No bathrooms!  No sitting!  No loitering!  Maybe this was a result of all the drunk tourists they deal with every day.        

No dogs allowed!  Or something like that.

The fleur de lis, the icon of New Orleans, is everywhere.  It was in the tourist shops, on their candy, on top of the Christmas tree, and it was even the thing that dropped at midnight on NYE.  Then we watched fireworks over the river.

The fleur de lis hanging from a tree on NYE.
Yes, I'm posting a picture of fireworks on my blog.  It's better than the guy next to me who was recording them on his video camera.  Who are you going to show that to? "Hey, wanna watch a crappy, shaky recording of fireworks on my TV?"

Monday, January 7, 2013

2012 Review

Has it been an entire year since I posted about all the things I did in 2011? 

At the end of that post I wrote:
I'm not the kind of person to make resolutions or set goals for a coming year. Because I know that, merely by living my life, I'm going to experience new things and grow in ways I can't anticipate.

I know 2012 will be no different. 
And I was right.  From the jungles of Belize to the skyscrapers of New York to the historic houses in New Orleans' French Quarter, I did a lot in 2012:

  • rang in the New Year in little roadside open-air village bar in Belize, where a dozen American tourists blew noisemakers with local Belizean villagers.  
  • hiked through the Belizean jungle and had a picnic in a cave. 
  • took the plunge to start planning my relocation to Chicago.  Dusted off my resume, went on the job hunt for the first time in 10 years.  Applied to a dozen positions, got three phone interviews.
  • started out the year in a huge tennis slump, lost 9 of my first 10 matches.  
  • read appx. 45 books, blogged about 12 of them. 
  • bought my first new tennis racket in four years. Then won the Silver League twice  (once in spring, once in the fall). (Oops, I don't know why I had it in my head that I won it twice.  I only finished 1st once.  I got 2nd place in the spring, 3rd place in the summer, then I won it in the fall. Which is much better than 8th (last) place I got in the Gold.) 
  • visited New York, stayed in Manhattan, saw the new World Trade Center under construction, deepened my obsession with skyscrapers.
  • attended my first Seder, and later got my my first Hanukkah present. 
  • went to my first prom (thanks to my teacher/chaperone girlfriend.)    
  • took my girlfriend to Bloomington, IN. Watched Breaking Away in our room.
  • attended a surprise party for my mom's 70th birthday.  Introduced my girlfriend to my large extended family. 
  • visited Pittsburgh for the first time.  Met many new people in my girlfriend's family. 
  • spent a weekend with family in Madison, IN.  Almost(!) beat my big brother in our annual tennis match.  I'll get him next year!    
  • said goodbye to my mom's husband, who'd been a part of my family for 10 years.  
  • attended a funeral and wedding in the same week.  Visited Raleigh and the research triangle.   
  • got engaged!
  • took part in Obama's re-election.
  • discovered, and became obsessed with, the Game of Thrones series of books. 
  • started planning a wedding.
  • quintupled the most wins I'd ever had in the Gold League, finishing with my first winning record (5-2.)  Thanks to a bizarre series of upsets and coincidences, finished in first place! 
  • visited Cleveland for the first time.  
  • broke a string on a tennis racket for the first time ever. (This happens to other players all the time, but in six years of playing I'd never done it.)  
  • visited New Orleans, got to know the French Quarter, and watched the fleur de lis drop on New Year's Eve. (Post about this coming soon.)

It felt like I was on quite a winning streak by the end of the year: I won the Silver League, got engaged, Obama won the election, and then I won the Gold League.

Would it be greedy to expect as much success in 2013?  There will certainly be a lot of scary and exciting changes, as I quit my job, move to Chicago, get married, find a new job (?), and completely upend my life.