For the last few days, I’ve been spending time with my college roommates on the east coast. Today the girls and I took in the beauty of historic Concord, the setting for much of the American Revolution, as well as the first intellectual capital of the country. Among others, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott wrote their great works here, and Louisa’s father, Bronson Alcott, was a pioneer of progressive education.
After a fascinating tour of the Alcott house, where Louisa May set the loosely autobiographical novel Little Women, we went to a fall festival at the Old Manse on the Concord River. Emerson and Hawthorne each lived here, and you can understand why the setting inspired such great works. Sitting under trees bursting with red and orange fall leaves, the girls and I gorged ourselves on freshly made kettle corn and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. I felt peaceful and happy…and then began to feel a little sick.
At first I thought it might be a sugar overdose, but I soon suspected that the cramping pains beginning in my mid-section and shooting down my legs were due to what the colonists called “female complaints.” Dizziness and spotty blackouts followed, and I spent the next half hour sitting on the ground with my head between my legs repeating my own advice: Stay calm. Accept the situation. Keep a sense of humor about it. Instead of walking around Walden Pond as we’d planned, my friends and I headed home so I could lie on the couch and sip tea (which the girls later told me was new mom Charlotte’s Mother’s Milk tea that “promotes healthy lactation.” Thanks, ladies!).
Whenever I feel seriously ill, my hypochondriac mind jumps to the worst case scenario. I’ve been concerned lately about having trashed my body for so long with stress and sleep deprivation; I’ve wondered if I’m destined for major health problems as a result. The sudden vertigo, nausea, and abdominal pain made me think, “Maybe it’s cancer, or meningitis, or worse,” which of course doesn’t help me feel better. I began to catastrophize, worrying that I wouldn’t feel better and ruin the rest of the visit. Perhaps I wouldn’t even feel better when I got home and be unable to finish the project, or be incapable of working for a long time. I’ve had this talent for dramatizing since I was little, so much so that my parents used to call me “Sarah Bernhardt.”
Sprawled out on the couch at the house, I asked Charlotte for a heating pad to ease my cramps. She didn’t have one but suggested a hot water bottle, a traditional home remedy. She gave me a Nalgene bottle filled with just-boiled water, wrapped in a towel. To get the maximum effect, I removed the towel and placed the bottle directly on my midsection. I closed my eyes and tried to relax, when I suddenly felt a sharp pain on my upper right thigh. I realized that the boiling water had begun to leak out of the bottle and onto my lap. I shrieked and jumped up, running upstairs to the shower so I could spray cold water onto the burn immediately. My skin had already blistered in several places. The cold water reduced the swelling right away, but the raw skin still hurt like a mother.
I’m proud to say that I was able to follow my own advice and laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation throughout all of this. From behind the bathroom door, I quoted one of my favorite scenes from Austin Powers: “I’m very badly burned….I’m in quite a lot of pain.”
I eased the pain by cracking jokes about the bag of ice stuffed down my pajama pants that left big wet patches as it melted. See photo below. As Chandler said on Friends when he saw Joey dressed as an elf, “Too..many…jokes…” Like Chandler, I didn’t even know where to start.
Here’s what I learned from today’s comedy of errors:
1. Use hot water bottles as a remedy for, and not the cause of, an injury. If you use a hot water bottle on your skin, make sure the top is on securely, and wrap it tightly in a towel.
2. Second-degree burns are an instant cure for cramps and nausea. Add that little tip to the list of home remedies!
3. It’s important to prepare for emergencies in advance. Keep ice packs in the freezer, not in the medicine cabinet. Know what to do for burns — luckily, I knew to run them under cold water immediately — and other accidents. I’m starting to think that keeping bottled water and blankets in my car and closet in case of earthquakes is actually practical, not paranoid. I might even read The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.
4. Suddenly feeling debilitated by sickness makes you grateful to feel healthy and energetic most of the time. If I’m held back from doing something I want to, it’s usually because of psychological barriers, not physical ones.
5. It can always get worse. Be grateful that it isn’t.
6. I still look good even with cramps, a look of utter displeasure on my face and a giant, leaking hot water bottle shoved down my pants.