47: Riverbed Fever

47: Riverbed Fever

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family

Riverbed Fever

An imaginary ailment is worse than a disease.

~Yiddish Proverb

It was nearly 6:00 A.M. when I awoke surprised to find the pillow beside me unoccupied. Since retirement, my husband John lived on California time and had at least two more hours before reveille. I decided I’d better investigate his disappearance.

Faint groans, barely audible as I descended the stairs, grew louder. I followed the sounds into the great room and found John shivering under the afghan on the sofa. His six-foot frame filled every inch of the overstuffed couch, and his toes peaked out from under the fringed coverlet.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” I asked.

“Don’t know. I’ve never had anything like this. I’ve sweated so much that I had to change pajamas twice,” John responded. “My side of the bed is soaked, so I spent the rest of the night here.”

I felt his forehead; he was cool to the touch. He settled back and tried to sleep as I obsessed over the litany of recent health warnings. We live on a river bluff surrounded by trees, once thought to be our friends. Now they harbor villains: tick-infested deer, blood-sucking mosquitoes, and West Nile-ravaged crows. Little wonder after a night of wakefulness that my husband’s symptoms set off an alarm.

“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable back in bed?” I asked John as he flailed against the unyielding sofa.

“But the sheets are drenched,” he protested.

“My side’s fine,” I said. He trudged up the stairs, only to return within the hour.

“I’ve started sweating again. I can’t stop. It must be a really high fever.”

The last thermometer had gone off to college with our youngest, but my mothering instincts kicked in. I gently kissed his forehead—the never-fail temperature test developed over the span of three children’s parade of maladies.

“Honey, I really don’t think you’re warm.”

“But I’m sweating so much. Could you check one more time?”

If he weren’t so sickly-looking, I’d have suspected an ulterior motive. Once again, I bestowed the medicinal kiss.

“Fever-free,” I announced. But the beads of moisture on his neck and his saturated hair caused me to doubt my lip reading.

“Maybe your fever has broken,” I said.

My mind began computing symptoms. I pored over a four-inch-thick medical encyclopedia and vowed not to share the fatal diseases with my patient.

“Honey, you don’t have any small pink spots around your ankles or a headache? No excessive thirst? You can still swallow, can’t you?”

John is not one to go to the doctor, but the advantage was mine. I had him itching, twitching and worried. We negotiated a doctor’s appointment for the next morning if he didn’t improve.

I kept him afloat with ice water, chicken soup, and grape-flavored sports drinks. We were on a mission to replace lost fluids, although he didn’t show any signs of dehydration.

“Strange, I’m not even thirsty,” he said, and I force-fed him another bubbling glass of soda.

He held court in his recliner, armed with the remote and a refillable 48-ounce tumbler. By supper, he devoured a full plate of macaroni and cheese, his comfort food of choice. With no excessive perspiration since morning, we hoped for a full recovery.

After the day’s ordeal, we decided to turn in early, just in case of a relapse. I grabbed a good mystery, propped up my pillows, and flopped on the bed. Immediately, I felt a cool, damp sensation and doubled over with hysterical laughter.

“What’s so funny?” John asked.

“Remember how we thought you might have the West Nile Virus?” I asked, gasping for air. “It’s definitely not West Nile, but it is water-related.”

I stood up and showed him my soaked nightgown.

“Our water bed is leaking.”

~Carolyn A. Hall

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