“How are you feeling?” Dr. Vogwall asked.
A cough sent pain through my chest and back. “Better,” I replied wincing.
“That cough still sounds bad,” he said.
Nodding, I winced again then held my head still until the pain subsided, “It is.” Then blurted, “I’m not contagious any longer. If I’m up to it, I’ll return to work on Monday.”
Dr. Vogwall smiled, “I’m not so concerned about you being contagious. You do need to take it easy until you’re better.”
“I will. I’ve been through this before.” I told him. “This is a bad bout,” I mused.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I’ve had strep every year — sometimes twice a year — since I was about five or six,” I said. “I get sick three times every year.”
He furrowed his brow, “Every year?”
“Yes,” I gently lowered my head in a brief nod. “Usually in May, I get strep but sometimes at Christmas too. Conjunctivitis near my birthday. If I don’t get strep near Christmas, I usually have flu, an ear infection, or bronchitis. Once in a great while, the strep becomes bronchitis, like this time.”
“Doesn’t your doctor suggest any long term strategies? Tonsil removal? Ways to bolster your immune system or nutrition?”
“He’s done all that. I’m often anemic. I have some markers for autoimmune disease but nothing specific.” I shrugged, “I just get sick.”
“And always at the same times every year?”
“Yes.” The tone of my voice rose so that it was sibilant squeak.
“Why those times?” he asked.
I shrugged, “I’m not sure.”
“Do you recall being sick when you were a young child?”
A smile spread from my mouth down into my body. My shoulders relaxed, “It was almost Christmas. My throat was terribly sore; my body hurt. Papa wrapped me in a duvet and carried me into the lounge. He was decorating the Christmas tree and placed a shivery, silver ornament on the palm of my hand. ‘Gently. Gently.’ he told me. It was of some sort of glass fiber like a star.”
“You look happy,” Dr. Vogwall said.
“I was,” I replied.
“What about your birthday?”
“I ate his sausages and toast. And I went to see Marmar and ate sausages and toast from her breakfast tray.” A tear threatened to escape my eye. I blinked it away.
My head gave a gentle shake. I winced.
“What comes to mind?” he asked.
Fog descended about me. Tears threatened a downpour. In a small voice I said “Maraschino cherries. I made a picture of maraschino cherries.”
“That’s when they sent you away.”
“Your birthday, Christmas, when your parents sent you away. Does that mean anything to you?”
Again in the small voice, “Important times.”
Dr. Vogwall laughed, “To a young child, very important.”
I blinked at him. My lips pulled themselves into a small pout.
“I think you’re grieving,” he told me.
“Grieving?” I asked.
“I’m sick, not sad.”
“You’re sad all the time. You just don’t realize it.” He continued, “When you’re as sad as you are and don’t grieve, your body will do the grieving for you.”
A small laugh broke through, “Are you saying I’m sick because I have a broken heart?”
“Pretty much,” he replied.
“But I can’t just stop my heart from breaking,” the shrillness edged my voice.
“But you can grieve,” he said.
Wide-eyed, I stared at him. The pout reshaped my mouth. “How?” The word burst forth of its own volition.
“That’s what you need to learn.”