• Daniel Ethan Finneran

On Sickness

November 2019

Among the boundless multiplicity of species found here on Earth, there are some, though not many, who choose as their period of dormancy the summer months. These animals, collectively ancient in their origin and amphibious in their habitation, are known to us all, yet we forget their shared scorn for the summer’s gilded months. Among them we number such beasts of the field and the stream as the diffident turtle—ever ready to enclose within himself his cautious manner and thoughts; the wrathful crocodile—a mammoth, crawling on his stomach, with skin as pachydermatous as his fangs are sharp; and the devilish snake—whose lithesome lies and sinuous sins are the unforgotten sibilant whispers by which our first mother, Eve was tempted.

It’s true, all animals—regardless of the antiquity, biology, or imaginative theology from which they’ve been spawned—require for their restoration a particular few months of the year. They need for their preservation a specific time, often one of long duration and commitment, for uninterrupted rest. It is an unperturbed and sacred remedy without which they’d no longer live. Sleep, during this interval, is crucial. For the turtle, the crocodile, and the oh-so slippery snake, and doubtless a few others, the summer is that time of the year for their pursuit of this panacea to toil and strife. Their summer slumber is the respite and the answer to that struggle for existence from which none is exempt.

As a boy, upon my learning of this fact, I was struck quite dumb. Granted, being quite void at that age of any real flickers of intellect and refinements of speech, I hadn’t a far way to go to. Dumb, for me, wasn’t so precipitous a descent—not so frightening a drop. I suppose, ultimately, the judgment is yours, but I like to think that it’s a pit—whose occupancy, one might add, won't soon be exceeded—out of which I’ve since climbed. But at that age, I was incredulous to learn of these animals and their wasting of the summer’s holiest months.

What prodigality! I thought, as I considered all these animals, once so vigorous and wild in the opinion of my youth, carelessly throwing away the best part of the year. I, for one, would never dare be so impudent a recipient of the summer months, that triune of perfect temperatures to which we’re exposed once a year. I cherished very greatly the munificence with which they discharged and shared their matron sun.

You see, I was born and raised in the annual gloom of the great northeast—a region so parsimonious in its distribution of fair weather, that one who calls that corner of the world “home” can’t be blamed for his occasional lapse from his Semitic creed (be it Jewish or Christian). An apostate in waiting, he casts aside his rabbis and his catechisms, his Testaments Old and New, for a shameless new worship of the sun. Perhaps the epithet of “pagan” here applies, but—at least while you’re in the presence of the sun’s holy rays—no charge of profanation could be too severe. Helios, at least throughout the duration of those months, is the only deity—blazing and immovable in the heavens above—to whom northerners like me prostrate ourselves.

Summer, then, was pure salvation. To those like me, it was a divinely sanctified season deserving of our breathless gratitude and prayer. It was a time of the year, indeed a narrowly fleeting quarter of it, into which no interloping gust of wind nor flurry of snow ought to have been allowed to barge. Nothing, then, I thought, could be so wasteful, so torpid, and so unforgivably foolish as to spend one’s life as these animals do—in languid retirement from this pinnacle of the year. How could these creatures, whose antiquity and perseverance join in confirming their native genius, forgo the warmth, the radiance, the exuberance of the summer’s invitingly long days? Have they not encountered the gentle, fertile bliss that is June? How could they knowingly dispense with July’s celebratory glee? Why would they ever ignore August’s dizzying rush? Do they not know of the extension of the day’s holy light, of the activities to be done, of the deferral of dusk until every backyard, block-party, charred and grilled victory has had its say?

Evidently, they do not. A fact that would be destructive to my very soul, it’s one by which these beasts are very minimally bothered. They, care not, at least during the course of the summer months, for the vitality of that blessed season. As opposed to the act of hibernation—a term with which, in observation of our neighborly bears and our bantering bats, we’re mostly familiar—we call the conduct of the turtle, crocodile, and snake, this curious bestial proclivity to rescind from the liveliness of the summer months, estivation. One hibernates in the winter, fleeing the ravages of sparse nutrients and the copiousness of the cold, while one estivates in the summer, denying oneself the many splendors of those gentle UV rays and those engrossing, passing months.

But a reliable ailment, one by which I’m annually disturbed, has led me to believe in the wisdom of the animals of whom I have, so far, regarded so little. I’m beginning to see the value of an estivation during the summer months and it’s because, like clock-work during that time of the year, I become ill. It’s here worth noting that I’m not the type of person to whom illness comes easily—certainly not amicably. I rather pride myself in the impregnability of my body’s system of defense. I’m punctiliously well-rested, never risking fewer than seven hours of sleep each night. I’m diurnally devoted to exercise, paying the most careful and narcissistic attention to my body—dare I say my physique. I’m salubrious in my habits, abstemious in my drink, temperate in my consumption of food, and endlessly concerned with the equanimity of my mind. Meditation, though often incorporated into my day with negligence and strain, is but another of many salutary practices to which I’m committed for the continuance of my lofty state of health.

Yet every year for at least the past three, I’ve gotten sick at precisely the same time in precisely the same way. The following is a description of the genesis and progression of that illness by which I’m inescapably burdened. First, a febrile cloud, a moving miasma of disquiet and foreboding, descends upon me. Though it is, as it induces a headache and a bodily chill, an inevitability from which there is no escape, I attempt some futile holistic remedy like chamomile tea, broth barren of meat, or Vitamin C. Hydrating, yes, but unavailing, I’m soon engulfed by the illness. My preventive measures all fail. The cloud of a fever has broken into a storm and I’m caught in its thunderous grasp.

My sinuses, large cavities within my face so quiet that, on most occasions, they evade the detection of my sense, make fully known to me their contents and purpose. They take a peremptory position in the structure and contents of my skull. Phlegmatic, yellow, and gross, their rivulets of mucus rush through my nose, through that noble nasal orifice through which I normally inhale with such aromatic ease, into the exasperated embrace of a tissue waiting in hand. But the hand is no better off, for its every joint, from the tips of its fingers to the anchoring of its wrist, aches with unmitigated pain. So too ache those other multitudinous organic hinges—those knees, hips, and elbows over which the long and lumbersome bones are conditioned and expected to move. But their expectation is thwarted, and they’re made to stiffen in their place. Morning pandiculations and stretches do them no good, as they recoil, after the conclusion of a moment’s exertion, to their guarded and original resting place. Expectoration, rather than locomotion, is the only stimulus by which the body is now moved. Inertia, at this point, is only with exceeding difficulty overcome.

In this manner, shorn of energy, clogged with mucus, stifled by pain, and empty of thought save that of the wretchedness of my state, I succumb to the illness for five days to a week. It is a most unwelcome week of the year.

To this annual summer illness, this routine disease from which I can’t seem to escape, I apply that which I call my tripartite “S” treatment—a remedy comprising three sibilant components: starvation, sweat, and sleep. The first, starvation, is a somewhat controversial approach, but one, regardless of all the learned medical opinion of which I’ve no need, to which I’m devoted. At first encounter, I’ll admit, it does sound counter-productive, as if by emptying my stomach of all nourishment, I might somehow void myself of the nettlesome bug. I think, by abstaining from all incoming aliment and refusing entrance of any food item through the portal of my mouth, I actually rid myself of the ailment by which I’m consumed. The body, now bereft of sustenance, can use the entirety of its powers toward one unwavering end. It can direct its normally diverted attention—of which much goes into the transformation of calories into power and glucose into thought—to the uninterrupted fight against the disease. Untrammeled by its ceaseless digestion of food, it can recruit all the necessary respondents in a fight for a self-initiated cure.

After starvation, next comes sweat. Deliberately to strain oneself and to perspire is to make a movement toward the enhancement of good health. This is a maxim of mine from which I never deviate when well, and so commit myself with exuberant abandon to its practice when ill. Light to moderate cardiovascular exercise is what’s needed above all else. Walking is essential, a light jog more uncomfortable, but riding a bike, be it stationary or real, might be best. The ground reaction forces by which those vulnerable joints are abused are negated when one’s seated on the merciful rump of a bike. The exertion and the stress, a combination conducive not only to a fit body, but mind, awaken the hormones and the endorphins of whose normal production you’ve been dispossessed. They are, without a doubt, most helpful to healing, and fully to turn them on, one must open his pores to sweat.

Finally and, in my opinion, most importantly, the crowning “S” of my triangular treatment is sleep. Seven hours of it simply won’t suffice—nor, for that matter, will eight or even ten. On consecutive days, one must commit what amounts to a day, twenty-four whole hours, of pure and uninterrupted rest. Twelve hours each night, for at least two nights, will be requisite for the restoration of health. The need for this extended and excessive repose can’t be emphasized enough. One shouldn’t cringe at this seemingly interminable allotment of time during which sleep is to be deemed sacrosanct. Though seemingly slothful and contrary to the work ethic by which humanity is known to progress, there’s nothing indulgent about it. In deference to the sinuses, who regard with phlegmatic indifference the black of the night and the light of the day, one should elevate his torso for the purpose of facilitating his breath. A supine position won’t be one in which one can get through the night—and twelve hours of it is an awfully long time.

The combination of these three tactics—starvation, sweat, and sleep—is my “go-to” response to my annual summer cold. It’s the remedy, however medically suspicious, upon which I’ve relied for the past three years. The results, however, are admittedly inconclusive. Its efficacy leaves me in doubt; I’m not so sure that I rebound to wellness with any greater speed with its application. I might just be starving, and sweating, and sleeping a lot more than I should. I might even be doing myself harm. Maybe I just need to let this August illness, this Thermidorian Reaction against a libertine year of health, run its ruinous and natural course.

Or maybe I should model my medicine cabinet upon the wisdom of the beasts. Those who’ve lived longest, after all, have lived best. The turtles, crocodiles, and snakes—those Cambrian creatures of ageless life—know how, as healthfully as possible, to prolong and sustain their life. Their elixir is estivation, their salve a scorn of summer. It’s a practice of which I can hardly conceive, but might do well to practice. Next year, then, I join them in their languor.

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