Covid, Bronchitis and a Miscellany of Pastimes

For three weeks I’ve been triply sick. The illnesses began with covid. A mild case. But, after four or five days, bronchitis set in. Next came a nasty sinus infection. All the good things I was doing lessened the discomfort only a little. Extra vitamins C and D, steamy showers, ivy leaf cough syrup, lots of rest, litres of hot fluids, echinacea capsules, oregano oil, Tiger Balm.

Me, fresh from a hot shower, pretending I’m not sick…the creases in my brow give me away

At the two-week mark, on the advice of the nurse on the heath-care hot line, I visited the emergency department of our local hospital. What a speedy experience that was! A prolonged cough rattled and wheezed under my tight-fitting medical mask. A concerned nurse whisked me off to a solitary waiting area. In record time she had me registered then placed in an isolated room. During the next two hours I was seen by a different nurse, a doctor, two x-ray technicians, then the doctor again. Between visits I read a few chapters of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat.

The novels I am presently reading

The good news—no pneumonia. That possibility concerned me a lot. During three consecutive winters, I suffered with pneumonia. Each case lasted longer than the previous one. In the spring of 2012, a CAT scan revealed scar tissue in one lung. I got a pneumonia vaccine. Was told it would last 10 years. The emergency doctor said they now recommend one every five years. When my health improved I was to arrange for the shot. In the meantime, the viral bronchitis would have to heal on its own. Antibiotics would cure the bacterial sinus infection. Or, so the doctor said.

The week of antibiotics ended two days ago. My health has seen little improvement. Maybe the sinus problem is viral too? My wise yoga teacher suggested that I take the antioxidant NAC—N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine. Here’s what the label says:

NAC is a highly stable form of cysteine and is a precursor in the body to the critical antioxidant glutathione. [It] helps to reduce the severity and frequency of influenza-like symptoms in adults over 65 years of age.

As I am an adult somewhat older than 65 with flu-like symptoms, I researched several brands. I bought a “Bonus Size” bottle of the capsules. Three days and six doses later, I can almost breathe through one nostril or the other. I also began taking an echinacea-based tincture five times a day. When I had bronchitis in the winter of 2002, it held me hostage for six weeks. I plan to extricate myself much sooner this time.

So, how have I occupied these sick days?

1. Reading novels. Most just okay. One exemplary—I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. The same author wrote One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I never knew that the Disney movie was first a book. I wonder did the firm studio do it justice? I will have to read the novel. The castle book is extraordinary. It boasts one of the most original narrators I’ve encountered in years. Young, clever, confused, honest, and at times hilarious. The eccentric characters are treated with vivid details and much good-will, the ordinary ones give balance and believably.

2. Reading non-fiction. My 91 year-old far-away friend regularly sends me hand-written letters. How happy I am that she never learned to use a computer. Words penned on paper are intimate. They speak to your heart. And, how much we can learn from their physical presence. Pat always uses thin, pale blue, letter-sized sheets. She’s been doing this for years. I wonder if her supply will ever run out. Oh, I do hope not. Few of her words are ever crossed out. However, there are sometimes carets inserted to add a necessary adjective. I think of Jane Austen writing entire novels on tiny sheets of paper in minuscule script. No delete, backspace, edit, cut, copy, paste. Maybe brains worked differently back then.

Pat never fails to mention the book she is reading at the time of the letter. The last was Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, copyright 1968. I wondered, would I enjoy it as much as I did Walden so many decades ago?I looked it up. Excellent reviews, especially with regard to the writing. The library system on Prince Edward Island has only one copy and there was a hold on it. I broke my rule about not buying any more books and ordered it online. Now I will have to discard one. That shouldn’t be a problem. Lately I’ve been eyeing a few that have lost their lifetime-of- pleasure promise.

3. Completing challenging crosswords. Two or three a day. Usually in bed at night. When the pen falls out of my hand and stains the sheets, I know it’s time to quit and try to sleep. By the way, I don’t use a pen because of extreme confidence. Rather, it is easier to see in the semi-light of the darkened bedroom.

4. Making soup. Mornings are best for serious endeavours. I have some energy then. I like to cook. I haven’t been able to taste much for weeks. Some say that’s a result of covid. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that my sinuses are full most of the time. Homemade soups are equally time-consuming and rewarding. Yesterday I roasted russet potatoes, turnip, fennel, yams, celery, carrots, onion and a whole head of garlic with bay leaves, several sprigs of fresh rosemary (I over-winter a plant in my garage) and generous sprinkles of dried thyme. Organic veggie broth and more seasonings produced an exceptionally fine soup…so said my husband. I couldn’t taste it but the compliment rang true as Gilles is a mostly honest man. He wouldn’t lie to me just because I’m sick. Well, he may. Perhaps, when my sense of smell is recovered, I should cook with a clothespin on my nose and trust that end result will also be “exceptionally fine.”

Homemade soup…I ate mine without the yogourt swirl…no dairy for impaired respiratory systems

5. Watching NetFlix. We gave up cable TV three or four years ago. I have never missed it. Especially the commercials. I don’t know how to stream programs nor do I wish to learn. So, NetFlix is my only visual escape. I am embarrassed to admit that I enjoy Korean drama series. Gods and goddesses, monsters, high technology, fantasy, corporate corruption, little-known history, all with a predictable romance thrown in. A bonus is that I can mute the program and just read the subtitles thereby convincing myself that I am not a vegetable.

6. Feeding the birds. Winter blizzards batter houses and trees and knock out power lines. I keep my three feeders full. I spill some on the ground for the mourning doves, jays and crows that are too big to fit inside the caged seed silos. It is so cold this morning that the chickadees and finches don’t wait for the crows to disappear before heading in for breakfast. Courageous creatures. Watching the birds is as rewarding as watching NetFlix.

Out-of-focus bird feeder frenzy…taken through a less-than-clean window

7. Necessary household chores such as laundry and vacuuming. Last week I spent two hours ironing. I forgot how much I enjoy watching wrinkles disappear. I wonder if there is a metaphor in that last sentence. Or a longing. Ages ago I considered writing a piece called meditations while ironing. I may still compose that. My recent happy experience with a steam iron was probably enhanced by my breathing in the hot mist.

8. Communicating with family and friends. Phone calls, FaceTimes, messenger, instagram, emails, postcards, real pen and ink letters, and this blog. Reaching out to others in a time of forced isolation feeds our need for intimacy. What I love best are the moments of shared laughter. Medicine for the soul.

9. Sleeping.

I have always been attracted to multiples of three. So, I’ll stop now. Maybe I’ll nap. Writing demands a lot of energy.

Book Love

The essence of a book does not change with its form. However, the experience does.”

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a book is a written text that can be published in printed or electronic form.

But which format, printed or electronic, gives greater reader satisfaction?

Outside, a blizzard seethes. Frozen pellets smash against window panes. Icy air seeps through poorly sealed thresholds and window sashes. Inside, a white-haired woman, book in hand, burrows deeper into her favourite armchair. Beside her, on a cluttered little table, balances a mug of steaming tea. Her legs, warmed by a heavy throw, stretch across a large ottoman. That same blanket furnishes a nest for her brindle terrier. She gazes at her companion. “Two blankets,” she smiles. The Mozart symphony that bathes the room, fades away as the woman returns to the book. Before her, a mystery unfolds.

Did you picture the woman holding an I-pad or a Kobo reader? The answer might depend on your age. Anyone older than fifty would most likely have envisioned a traditional book. One with physical pages that emit a particular and beloved book-fragrance. How pleased I was to learn that print books still outsell e-books and that, in 2019, sales of the former rose and the latter fell.

With regard to the appreciation of books, Carl Sagan wrote:

The essence of a book does not change with its form. However, the experience does.

Page turning. A most rewarding aspect of reading hard copy is the act of turning over a page, maybe licking your finger to do so. In Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, finger-licking is central to the plot. I’ve never observed anyone wetting a stylus or a digit to “turn” a page in an electronic book. We speak of “turning over a new leaf”, not sliding past an old problem.

Maps. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and most of my favourite English cozies, feature maps to guide the reader on the adventure. How easy to tuck your finger into the front of the book and glance back whenever you need a reminder of place. Referring back with e-books is less convenient.

Manipulation. Dog-ears, marginal notations, asterisks, NB or nb depending on just how important the passage is, underlining, highlighting—fluorescent pink, yellow or green each denoting a different notable feature.

Name plates. Or inscribed dedications. Without the name and address in the fly-leaf of Charles Lamb’s Selected Essays of Elia, Juliet and Dawsey would never have found each other. How would that be possible with books stored on an e-reader? Unless you lost it. Then the finder might get a sense of who you are by your literary choices but would gather nothing from your handwriting, your thoughts, your inspirations, your scribbles in the margins.

Accessibility. Who among us, buried under our bed-covers, flashlight in hand, has not defied curfew to read just a few more paragraphs, pages, chapters? Okay, you can do that with an e-book. However, the blue-light emitted from it might keep your brain awake for hours.

Hardcover or softcover? The latter is preferable. Something about a hardcover book forbids decorating its pages with miscellaneous notations or symbols. Once, my two-year old took a bright blue marker to several pages of an heirloom World Atlas. I was not pleased. Mind you, that toddler later earned a university degree in applied geography.

When I attended high school, students bought their own texts. As the youngest of four siblings, the English literature books that were passed down to me were filled with informative and sometimes blasphemous side notes. Math texts had solutions to problems filled in. Sad was the day when the department of education decided to pay for texts and loan them to students. The expectation was that the book be returned in pristine condition. How much was lost! Not just the answers to math problems but the various interpretations that English teachers gave to lines of poetry or the motivation of a character.

I have read several electronic books. I enjoyed their content. But, I missed the texture, the odour, and the intimacy of holding a traditionally bound book.

As another blogger wrote:

Traditional books look great,

they smell good,

and they last a really, really long time.”