by Renée J. Lukas

If you don’t want to get sick, don’t. Live a healthy lifestyle, work out eleven times a day, and eat only fruits and grains and things found at farmer’s markets. And by all means, avoid places where there might be people with germs. But if your antibodies start to slack a little, watch out.

stethoscopeThis happened to me last week. I got a never-ending cold, with a touch of upper respiratory infection. Or, as I call it, the plague. The world seemed to be buzzing by me like the opening sequence of House of Cards, and all I wanted to do was sleep—or lie on my bed—in the center of it all.

After realizing that I couldn’t rely on my own natural infection-fighting devices, I finally decided to drag myself to the doctor. This brought up the question: how should you dress for the doctor’s office? If you want them to take you seriously and get antibiotics if need be, you must look appropriately disastrous. It’s all about the hair. If your hair is washed, it means you had the strength to take a shower. If it’s styled well, forget it. You’re not sick enough. If it’s greasy and unkempt, it means you’ve passed the point of being able to take care of yourself.

On this particular day, I did style my hair because I had other, more frightening issues on my face that would surely pull focus from the hair. After days of nose blowing, I’d developed what could only be described as a pink blotch above my upper lip, but worse, as though someone had crushed a strawberry onto my face that wouldn’t come off. It had become chapped, so my top lip was now appearing like a Hollywood collagen implant gone wrong.

All the concealer makeup in the world wouldn’t hide the disaster. So I looked in the mirror and did a final defeated shrug before gathering my things to go.

When packing for the doctor’s office, always make sure you have enough tissues to build a small house should the need arise. Stuff a million cough drops into your purse, although you’ll never find them if you should start to cough. And if you do find them, you’ll never be able to peel off the sticky wrapping fast enough. But take them anyway.

My sickness had entered that stage where I could be seized at any time by a cough that wouldn’t let me go, perhaps for several minutes. It was the kind of cough that makes anyone who hears it ask, “Are you all right?” The kind of cough that makes people stare at you, then look away, as if you’re already dead. So I had to pray the cough wouldn’t kick in once I was inside the super quiet waiting room. Luckily, they called me back quickly before the cough had a chance to come out and scare the other patients. They should know what they’re getting into, though, just by being in a doctor’s office, by the way.

So being sick gave me a new thing to worry about. A little background: In my books, particularly The Comfortable Shoe Diaries, I like to explore the funny side of mental illness, because I have my own anxiety, OCD, and overall lovably crazy side. (I added “lovably.”) Anyway, it seems I’m not fully happy unless I have something to worry about. So as the congestion settled into my chest one really bad night before visiting the doctor, I lay in the dark imagining the feeling of suffocation and what a terrible way that would be to die. (Because before you go to sleep, what better way is there to pass the time than imagining all the different ways to die?) It seems I’ve now developed an irrational fear of getting sick, with feelings like, how much worse is this going to get? What if what started out as a cold ends up very serious, and at my funeral everyone will say things like, “It started out as just an ordinary cold. . .” And I’ll become a cautionary tale for people to go to the doctor at the first sign of trouble, because, remember the woman who paid the ultimate price for not going to the doctor soon enough because she was worried about her hair?

I’m okay now. The infection has finally left me. But now this new strain of anxiety will take hold and fester for a while, because that’s what it does. And I’ve come to accept that it’s just how I’m wired, and hopefully, the crazy inside me is what fuels my imagination. I have to believe there’s something good about it. Unfortunately, my anxiety seems to be much stronger than my immune system, and my antibodies are really going to have to step it up next time.