My recent illness and absence from the public sphere EXPLAINED...
Not too long ago I was washing dishes, and saw through the kitchen window that there was something out in back slinking along under a grapevine. I jogged out there and saw that it was a possum (Opossum? Different ideas about how to write this). It was creeping along the fence pretty casually (they don’t move very fast anyhow) until it saw me and stopped. I got as close as I could so that I could zoom in on my phone without the video getting too shaky. I filmed it staring at me for a few seconds, then waited for a while to see what it would do. It didn’t do anything. In pictures the face of a possum looks extremely long and pointed, much more evil than in person. I think the fur has a softening effect. Also, it’s eyes seem larger in person, less beady than they come across in pictures. Maybe if an animal is staring into your eyes it makes their eyes seem larger? I figured I’d leave it alone, and it ran into some bushes when I got up. This was on May 2 (check my instagram, I posted the video).
Only two days later I was working out in the back and figured it was time to put in those fence posts, so I went around checking the holes and emptying out any extra dirt that had fallen in. A lot of stuff seemed to have fallen into one of the holes, so I dug down into it and brought up a spadeful of dirt. When I tossed the dirt onto the ground, guess what was in it? Give up? A possum head. It was mostly skeletonized, with bugs crawling all over it. I dug the rest of the body up out of the hole, which didn’t look anything like a body. Just bones and connections with some hair and dirt hanging on to everything.
Those holes were about 3 feet deep, so the possum must have fallen into one and not been able to get out. I buried what was left of it and then we put in those fenceposts. I kept working back there most days for the next 3 or 4 week, until I got sick.
Now it’s June 21st, and I’m in Glendale Adventist Hospital after having had a fever for 2 weeks. The infectious disease doctor thinks I have typhus, and in lieu of a positive test result (which won’t be possible for a few more days), has decided to treat me for it.
Typhus is passed from infected rats, squirrels and possums to humans by fleas. You get it from the feces of the infected flea, so if there’s some tiny diseased flea turds on your skin near a flea bite, and you scratch the bite, you could scratch the turds into the open wound and get typhus. Also, you can inhale dried up diseased flea turds if they’re in the dust. How would I have contracted this? I don’t know. I was reading today about how fleas will leave a dying animal to look for a new host. (This was an article on typhus written for workers that do dead animal pickup. God bless those guys, what a job. I wonder if any of them like it? Also, I wonder if any of them are women? Maybe they have a trade convention where amateur journalists can find out more. Something tells me these guys would love to be interviewed.) At any rate, there were most likely lots of ex-possum fleas hanging around in the yard for a considerable part of the time I was working back there.
Wasn’t this encounter with the possum too long before the onset of my fever to be the cause? Maybe, the incubation time for typhus is 6-14 days. My symptoms started on June 8th, so I would have had to been infected 3 weeks after finding the dead possum. Can fleas live for 3 weeks crawling around in the dirt? I hope not, but I don’t know. They might have just crapped all over for a few days and then died, and when all that dust got kicked up, pregnant with flea turds, I inhaled some of it. Also, these could be different possums, and this could just point to a possum problem. The literature I’ve looked at shows that in Southern California, typhus has hung on mainly because of the fleas that move between possums and cats. Texas, and Southern California (and sometimes Florida, of course) are the only places in America where you’ll get typhus. Also there’s another potential culprit.
I was tucking my kids into bed on Jun 1st (I think), and as I was laying on my son’s bed looking out of his bedroom door into the kitchen I saw a rat just walking past the doorway. I ran out, and it had disappeared into the wall, and then the attic, where I heard it later scratching all around. The next night it walked under my chair while I was sitting in the kitchen. I leapt out of my seat when I saw it, and it frantically skittered in place until it could get traction on the kitchen floor, then took off out the back door. I bought some rat traps, and two days later one of them smashed it up in the attic. The bait? Cheese. Classic. Around this time I woke up one morning with what I think were some flea bites on the back of my neck.
I don’t feel like I live in squalor. I’d never seen or had a rat on our property, or a possum, until last month. We have 3 dogs, though, and for some reason they kept getting fleas on them, even after giving them the drug Advantix. I take a holistic view of all this. Rather than pointing the finger at any one cause, it’s most helpful to imagine a vibrant tapestry of disease, woven together from threads made of fleas, possums, and rats, living and dead, and their turds. And their blood. And I guess some dogs too.
So what happened to me? First the fever, then exhaustion, joint pain, headaches, and terrible night sweats (Every night I’d need 1 or 2 changes of clothes to cycle through, and I slept on three or four towels so I could peel them off as they got drenched). When the fever would heat up and get bad, I would become really disoriented. It was hard to follow what people were talking about, hard to write out text messages. The worst part was that if my eyes closed, I’d start seeing all this crazy stuff; lines and patterns, labels overlaid on everything. I knew it wasn’t there, and would start getting very stressed out about it and have to open my eyes to get it to stop. This was hard at night because even with my eyes open I’d start seeing this stuff if it was too dark in the room for my eyes to focus on anything. I’d have to shine my phone up at the ceiling fan and look at it to try and get my brain to calm down.
As I type this, I feel okay. I’m tired and feel slightly dumb, but about a billion times better than I did last week, when I literally would sit for hours looking out the window because my brain couldn’t handle anything else. I am much improved! And nobody knows why. Probably because thousands of people have been praying for me.
One of the many small tragedies worth mentioning here is that I don’t get to tell anyone that I got “typhoid fever.” It’s a different disease than typhus. Typhus is fine (I supposedly have Murine Typhus, to be specific), but it’s not one of the real heavyweight diseases that you never hear about anymore; consumption, cholera, dysentery. The diseases of great literature. Those are conversation starters. When someone at the party overhears that you have typhus, they may make a mental note, but they don’t turn around 180 degrees and stare at you. To be fair, I know some people don’t want to be stared at this way. The thing is, being turned around and stared at could be interesting, if only for this reason: moments after someone turns around to stare at you, you can tell if they’re the type of person you’d like to talk to. You can tell just by looking at them, and how they move, and how they stare. Since they’re the ones who inititated an unconventional encounter by turning around that way (not innately a negative thing), you have full license to just walk away if you don’t like the looks of them. It’s a kind of ultra-fast platonic speed dating. Granted there are a lot of variables at play here, most notably that you need to have recently recovered from a bout of cholera, dysentery, or typhoid fever, and that this person needs to be impressed enough by that to abandon social mores and act like a child in your presence. Once that point is reached, however, the process is very fast, and you are in total control.
I was inspired by all this to write the poem below. Please enjoy! I should clarify, the poem was not inspired by my illness, it was inspired by my recounting the story of that illness. Please enjoy!
Think of all the animals, how they move;
Slithering, soaring, crawling through the ground
Winding, slinking and lunging
They push and pull each other
Into the ravine, out of the lake
Off the branch and into the vines
And when they relax they really do
Wouldn’t it be nice to have no plans or regrets!
This is how I’ve tried to live my life, but it has not been helpful
I am called a flake by friends and frenemies alike
I spend all my money before I can count it
I do lots of drugs, mostly weed and shrooms
I just take it easy and do what comes natural
Slither down the beach, whatever. I hitch rides all over
Before we met, I had been living in an underwater city
Not really a city, more of a fort, or a base?
I was just working there, though, various menial jobs
I stocked the vending machines, I cleaned all the plexi
That’s what we called plexiglass
There were a lot of thick plexiglass windows, like, wall-sized windows
And plexiglass hallways and ceilings and all that
So people could see the animal life and the reef while they worked and ate
Which was novel, but also expected?
It just seems like a given that there’d be plexi everywhere
No one imagines a windowless undersea city
Anyhow, in practice all the plexi needed a big maintenance crew
And I did that full-time for a long time
My windex and squeegee were like extensions of my arms
A lot of us got really obsessive about keeping the plexi clean
And when it was time to abandon the city, a lot of the crew stayed behind
They just felt like there was nothing for them on the surface
It took me a long time to recover
To get used to the sun and all that
And it still feels weird to be outside, to feel the wind
My bones haven’t adjusted yet, but the prison doctor
Has assured me they’ll be fine in a few years as long as I
Maintain my stretching regime, and do my breathing exercises
And stay out of trouble
So, I’m real optimistic!
It’s been great talking to you, thanks for getting in touch!