March 19, 2003
Doctor's Orders

The automatic coffeemaker goes off at 5:10 a.m., right on schedule.

Even from two rooms away, through a lead curtain of oxycodone-induced sleep, the gurgle and the aroma nudge me into consciousness more reliably than any clock radio ever invented. For a long fuzzy moment I lay in bed, in the darkness ... savoring the aroma, gauging my pain levels, planning my day. And that's when it hits me: the coffeemaker isn't supposed to be gurgling and chuffing and aromatic at 5:10 a.m. today, because today is my day off.


I could have sworn I hit the manual start button when I was setting up the coffeemaker last night. ("I'm going to sleep an extra couple of hours in the morning," I specifically remember saying to David, as I dumped four scoops of Italian Supremo into the filter.) But then again, I haven't exactly been firing under all eleven cylinders the past few days. 

The emergency room doctor was very specific yesterday afternoon. "Try to limit all physical activity for the next few days," she said. "Go home, lay down and rest your back as much as possible." She prescribed other measures as well -- alternating ice and heat, mega-doses of ibuprofen for the inflammation around the rib, a course of antibiotics for the inflammation -- but the thrust of her diagnosis appeared to be lots and lots of horizontal time. "Call your boss when you get home," she said, "and tell him you won't be coming to work for the rest of the week." 

I nodded gravely -- Whatever you say, Doctor -- and then I went straight back to my apartment and called JoAnne at the office.

"I'll be staying home tomorrow," I told her. "But I'll definitely be back at work on Thursday."

For the first time in my life, I actually don't want that much Alone Time. Ordinarily I would view three unexpected days off from work as a gift from the gods ... especially right now, while we're in the middle of The Copying Job From Hell (seven boxes' worth of litigation documents for an upcoming court case, all due on Friday) and the entire Dirt Company has been thrown into an unprecedented state of bedlam. But for the first time I can ever remember, I don't want to be isolated from the office -- or from the world -- for that many days in a row.

I don't trust myself, basically.

I don't trust myself not to sit glued to the TV all day long, watching the news and gnawing my nine remaining fingernails down to bloody stubs. I don't trust myself not to overeat or overmedicate or overspend on the Internet, buying a lot of useless junk I don't need and can't afford, in a misguided effort to make myself 'feel better.' I don't trust myself to respond rationally to my e-mail ... even the non-hate-mail. I don't trust myself to stay away from other Internet journals, even though the divisiveness and fear I see building there is simply adding fuel to the fire of my own anxiety. I don't trust myself not to write another useless *FootNotes* entry, thereby adding my anxious, ineffectual voice to a virtual Medean Chorus of anxious, ineffectual voices. I don't trust myself not to simply yank *FootNotes* off the Internet and be done with it, once and for all.

I don't trust myself not to curl up into a little knot of despair and defeat and just stay that way for the rest of my life. Or at least for the rest of the war.

But for today, at least, I'm stuck here at home. There isn't much I can do about it. I'm thankful that the back problem has turned out to be nothing serious -- a kidney infection, for instance, or some hideous injury that would require me to stay home for weeks rather than days -- and that I'll be on my feet and plunged back into the real world tomorrow. There is something to be said for the distraction of office nonsense and pointless busywork. In the meantime, I should probably roll over in bed right now, close my eyes, ignore the coffee smells and drift back to sleep for another hour or two. Later, when it's time for David to wake up and get ready for work, I should make us both some oatmeal and a fresh pot of coffee. After he leaves, I should take half a pain pill, curl up on the sofa with the heating pad and the ice pack, and spend the rest of the day snoozing in and out of "The Lovely Bones." If I were a doctor, that's what I would prescribe for myself right now.

Instead, I carefully ease myself out of bed and limp quietly out to the dark frigid kitchen, where the coffee and the computer -- and the war -- are all waiting for me to come spend the day with them.

So much for following doctor's orders.

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