Columns / Discourse / February 11, 2009

Illness

Innocent onlookers into the state of my dorm room have never been surprised when I say that I come from a long line of untidy people. Every time I try to determine which massive pile of clothes has a higher ratio of clean to dirty articles, every time I push aside twelve half-empty bottles of varying liquids off my desk to reach the homework I should have turned in two weeks ago, and every time I cannot remember how a vacuum works I am satisfied that I have upheld my family’s startling lack of concern toward the cleanliness of our surroundings. The home I grew up in was littered with landmines in the guise of Happy Meal toys and bottles full of what was once possibly milk. Perhaps it stems from our transcendence of worldly comforts that we rarely saw the need to cleanse. My family did try every once in a while, devoting entire weekends to being able to see the floor, but our crusades against perpetual mess were always in vain. By Tuesday, it was once again possible to find a hearty meal in the carpet.

The near-squalor of my early home environment was a constant source of guilt to my mother until about five years ago, when a multitude of legitimate scientific articles were released about the dangers of our ultra-clean modern lifestyles. By Lysolling away all that salmonella, scientists cried, we were underexposing our children to important bacteria, weakening their immune systems, and turning them into lily-livered brats who can’t even deal with the chicken pox. My mother beamed. “See, daughter? You can thank me for never getting sick.”

She is correct. Illness is foreign to me. My health is something from which I draw a lot of pride, especially because there is no good reason for my possessing it. My diet consists largely of bleached sugar and lard, I chill out with notoriously disease-ridden elementary school children three times a week, and, in my youth, I had been known to lick the windows and poles of public transit vehicles to elicit uncomfortable giggles from friends. And yet, I have never been hospitalized, I have never been on any prescription medication, I have no allergies to any known substance, including poison ivy, I only get headaches immediately after suffering significant blows to my head, and I have both perfect vision and completely straight teeth without the aid of any professional intervention. My genes and white blood cells are Vikings. Viruses crumble before me, bacteria flee my wrath, and insurance companies give me presents on my birthday.

In this life, however, we all shall fall.

However, as this column goes to print, I am popping down Advil and Tylenol alternately in a desperate attempt to get my skin to stop feeling like I slept in a microwave, and my sparkling conversational abilities are ruined by the disgusting hacks emanating from my diaphragm. My friends offer no sympathy; instead, they sit just outside my room, laughing snidely at the girl who compares her immune system to Nordic warriors when they complain of tummy aches. I am unable to participate in any of their suddenly exhilarating-sounding activities, or defend myself against their derisive remarks, and it is almost too much to crawl out of bed to get my eighteenth bottle of Vitamin Water. J’accuse, mother! Is this what I have to thank you for? A lifetime of beatitude in health, derived from eating expired fish sticks out of the bathroom sink, only to be completely unable to cope with what is, at worst, a moderate cold? I am enraged. This is a reminder that I, too, am only human, plagued by illness, and I really do not have time to contemplate my mortality during midterms.

Rachel Perez


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