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A couple of weeks ago, I boarded the plane to New York. It hadn’t even taken off yet when I realized I was doomed. The captain was saying something, but I couldn’t hear over the sounds of other passengers hacking and wheezing like they were all trying out for the death scene of La Bohème. 

By day three after we landed, I was coughing. By day five, I was frightening small dogs and children on the street. At the Broadway show Waitress* on day six, it was clear the woman in front of me regretted the mandatory purse screening that meant she was unarmed and could only snarl threats at me as I unwrapped cough drops which some sadist sold in individual little crinkly wrappers. We will not discuss the flight home, except to say hooray for my two new BFFs, Mr. Drugs and Miss Booze. While we party, here’s a repeat of how to be properly sick—at home, in bed, with advice from Mom.

*[Don’t judge me. We had tickets. To a Broadway show. I wasn’t going to let imminent death stop me from seeing a terrific musical.]

The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while Nature affects the cure.–Voltaire

I have nothing to write about because this is day nine in which I have done ab.so.lute.ly nothing. Unless you count the moaning, of course. When sick, I am a world-class moaner. Back when my children were little, it was understood: mothers don’t get sick. They may have triple-digit temperatures, cough like the death scene in La Bohème, and pop ibuprofen like M&Ms, but as our neighbors in Virginia said, mamas don’t take to the bed. They make chicken soup and do laundry. (Note: see column from 1990 to see how I did it back then.)

But now the kids are grown, I’m working at home, and here’s the thing: I don’t know how to be sick. I tried googling “How to be sick in bed”. Turns out I was supposed to be doing a lot of things the past nine days. Wiki-How’s list includes art projects, crafts, sewing, playing computer games, pedicures, catching up on my texting, watching all anigif_enhanced-buzz-6398-1393360748-11the TV programs I don’t usually bother with, making to-do lists, yada yada. I didn’t tick off a single box on that list. My toenails look terrible. As a fairly competitive person, it’s painful to admit that I’m an abject failure when it comes to being sick in bed.

So instead, I checked in with the one expert who outranks Google. I called my mother. Both she and my sister listened unsympathetically as I poured out my despair over being unable to get Nyquil or any simulacrum thereof here in England. I could almost feel them reaching through the Skype window to slap me upside the head. “Have you had a hot toddy?” (Warning: here comes fever-induced digression. I guess I’m lucky there are 5500 miles between us, or I would have been dodging spoons. During dinners as we were growing up, my mother enforced discipline among her ten offspring through judicious spoon flinging. As my sister pointed out, Mother must have loved us, because she never threw a knife. And we knew she could throw one, because it was a skill she’d picked up as a girl on the south side of Chicago. Occasionally she used to show off her technique out in our backyard. These demos left us impressed, jealous, and a bit worried.)

As soon as we hung up, I grabbed the whiskey, lemon, and honey. The smell alone brought back so many memories. Yes! That’s how to be sick in bed. I slept like a log that night. Despite the other occupant of the marital bed’s complaints about snoring that frightened the dog and set off seismographs in neighboring counties, by the next morning, I could tell I was finally getting better. Thanks, Mother!

Rx: Take one. WTH: take several.

Rx: Take one. WTH: take several.


  • 2 Tablespoons whiskey. (You should probably put some into the cup too…)
  • Juice of one lemon**
  • Honey (generous dollop)
  • Boiling water to fill cup

**There are people who put in orange slices studded with whole cloves and stir with a cinnamon stick. There are also people who order mixed drinks with little umbrellas. You know who you are.