A bumper sticker told me I was going to get walking pneumonia.
Look, I’m not what anyone would call religious, mostly because I don’t belong to any religion. I also don’t think of myself as superstitious. I’m too contrary for it. As a kid I decided thirteen was a lucky number for me purely out of spite. But hey, my Brego was born on Friday the 13th so perhaps my contrariness appealed to the universe.
And that tends to sum up my set of beliefs. There are powers in the universe that respond to irony.
Well, I also believe in God but mostly as a benevolent force who finds it puzzling when we’re so mean to each other, especially on His alleged behalf. My belief about the universe’s enjoyment of irony extends to God as well.
Most of all, I think we sometimes get a heads up from the universe when something’s about to happen, good or bad. I know the human brain is engineered to see patterns even when there are none but I’ve seen too many tips of the hat from the cosmos for me to take it for granted. Anyway, I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be eccentric.
My mother was driving me to the airport when I saw the bumper sticker. I already knew the flight would be rough because it was a red eye to New York and then that morning I’d be registering for my senior year in undergrad. Before I could even go to bed I’d need to unpack a few boxes to get to my sheets. But I wasn’t too worried about it. You know, until we drove by a van with the bumper sticker that said, Pray for Kate.
Not encouraging, universe. Not encouraging at all.
I remember laughing at the time because explicitly ominous bumper stickers are kind of funny in the moment. Whoever owned that car probably chose that sticker as a sort of touching gesture to whatever Kate was in their life. But for the random Kate on the highway, it was unsettling.
Er, why do I need prayers? Is something happening? Someone know something I don’t?
The plane didn’t crash so that was a plus.
No, no. What did happen was the day after registration I woke up with a raw spot in my throat. Initially this didn’t seem important. I’ve been sick before and getting sick the beginning of the year wasn’t the end of the world. I’d probably picked a bug up on the plane, boo hoo.
That it was a very weird raw spot in my throat didn’t faze me. The strange, aching pain that would spear up my jaw into my left ear before returning to my throat was probably nothing.
And then my luck got worse. I’d been bumped from one of my classes, a thing that in itself wasn’t so much bad luck as consistent luck since I’d been bumped from a class every year of undergrad. Inevitably it would also be the one that was most important to me, in this case my writing workshop. So to my delight I got to frantically sprint around campus to get a replacement class.
You know that thing people say when they speculate as to how a situation could get worse?
Order up one New York downpour for the girl in the jean shorts and t-shirt, please!
Interviewing for a class soaking wet was just more fun than I can say. Who doesn’t love waterlogged sneakers?
After that, the cough was hardly a surprise.
Okay, I lied. It was a surprise to me since generally when a cold starts with a sore spot in my throat the next step is my nose running. The cough generally attends on the last days of the cold as a sort of herald of glad tidings. Like hack hack, congratulations! Gasp, wheeze you’re almost well!
That was when I cottoned on to the fact that this cold was behaving in a strange manner. So I got my bedrest, drank fluids, and tried not let my teeth clack too hard that one night it felt as though my bone marrow had been replaced with liquid nitrogen. But the cough didn’t get better. Even when I caved to the need for medicine and one of my very dear roommates bought me some Mucinex, it didn’t do the trick.
Then I had to spend my first class of the year alternately strangling myself to silence the coughing or hurrying out to the bathroom for water. On one such trip, after hacking into the sink, I looked up into the mirror and was struck by how pale my skin had gone and how red my lips were. It reminded me of what I’d heard about tuberculosis victims in bygone times, how they left lovely corpses.
Still, I didn’t want to go to the health center. There didn’t seem much point to me since I thought it was just an extremely bad cold and they’d only give me antibiotics, completely useless for a virus.
But then came the day I noticed I was coughing up green phlegm. Finally, it dawned on me.
This thing could be bacterial! I’d been sick much longer than was normal for me and with no improvement made I suspected foul play. After consulting Dr. Google the most likely culprit was walking pneumonia. The only way to know for sure was to finally involve an actual medical professional.
The doctor didn’t make a diagnosis, just prescribed antibiotics as a sort of ‘well, let’s see if that helps but it won’t if it’s a cold’. She made that pretty clear, actually. It was all she had to offer but it might very well not help. When she had me breathe as hard as I could to test my lungs she noted they were in good shape, but then I’d only had the thing a little over a week.
What would determine if I had what I thought I had was how the antibiotics worked.
After the first day’s dosage, I felt almost entirely recovered. That more than anything convinced me I’d been hit with walking pneumonia. With antibiotics, taken as prescribed, that bacteria was wiped out in no time flat and after the second day I was back to normal.
While I was sick, I didn’t think of the bumper sticker. It was only when I was recovered and wondering at how strange an experience it had been that I remembered I’d been given a warning.
Although how exactly I was supposed to get Wear a facemask on the plane unless you want walking pneumonia, Kate from Pray for Kate I’ll never know.
Maybe obtuse warnings from the universe aren’t as useful as they could be. What I like about them is the sense that someone out there is rooting for you. Even if you don’t know what they’re trying to say, there’s a force that wants to help.
Or a force that wants to say, “I told you so” after the fact.
It’s nice to think the universe has a sense of humor, even when the joke’s at your expense.
So keep an eye out for those signs! They probably won’t be the Powerball numbers but inclusion in the ineffable isn’t such a bad prize at the end of the day.
But if you’re listening, I’d also really appreciate the Powerball numbers. Please?