Monday, December 27, 2010

Ho Ho Bleeping Ho

It began sometime around two weeks ago.

One of the consultants in the office began a hacking, bronchial cough1 worthy of a Dickensian consumptive. The sounds were so bad that I was certain he would take a few days off, but he decided to soldier on and the cough has been ringing through the office now for three weeks. In only a week this thoughtless clod had given his disease to the woman in the next cube, who has just returned from maternity leave.

The woman is on the same team I am. I tried to avoid close contact with her mostly because having spent my Thanksgiving in bed sick I had no wish to have my Christmas ruined, and with each hacking roar from her next door neighbor had to restrain myself from walking over to The Clod's desk and explaining the wisdom in taking sick time, even if you have to foot the bill for same from your own consultant-level wages, at blunt instrument point. Surface. Whatever.

My boss didn't help matters. He likes to call meetings on the spur of the moment, too much of a spur to secure an official conference room in which to host it. He gets around this by ingeniously using his office as the location for these meetings. The office can comfortably hold about four people, four people who must be on very friendly terms given the proximity in which they must sit. Meetings of late have involved from seven to nine people (and in one spectacularly bizarre instance, fifteen bewildered people).

I have pointed out in so many words the wisdom of crowding the workforce, sick and well, into tight spaces and forcing them to share air and the aerosol of spittle we each of us produce as a by-product of speaking. I shall from now on be attending such meetings by phone, but I'm getting ahead of the story.

On the 23rd of December, the last work day in our operation before Christmas, the guy in the next cube to me and I began coughing almost simultaneously, suggesting that something had made its way through the A/C system to the register situated over our desks. Whatever the vector, by Christmas Eve I was so ill I had to cut my participation in the traditional Famile Mrs Stevie Xmas Eve Extravaganza very short and go to bed.

This was a bad idea, because although I was sick as a dog and getting sicker with every breath, lying down with this sort of upper respiratory tract infection only makes things worse for me, and in no time I was in for a sleepless night hacking until my throat ruptured and the post nasal drip reduced the entire back of my throat to one huge sore.

Christmas Day was canceled.

We were supposed to wander over to my In-Laws after we'd had at the prezzies under our tree, but I was so ill I begged off for an alternate plan involving lying on the sofa groaning and calculating how far I could push the dosage limits on the old Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu given that I had already redlined the limits on Vicks Dayquil and the even more warning-infested Vicks Nyquil.

The day wore on with the room rocking back and forth ever more violently while I made an attempt on the world record for facial tissue usage and snot production. The cough periodically made its presence known and by the time the afternoon had reached the point at which in the UK the Queen appears on the telly to tell everyone to buck up and stop whining I had pulled all the muscles in my chest, severely limiting my nose-clearing efforts (but not my body's ability to produce nasal mucus).

That night I decided to sleep on the recliner sofa, but I woke up once or twice an hour through the night and hence managed to get precisely no value from this "sleep".

I cannot sleep sitting up, even if that is the only option.

Now the problem with all this was that there was an awful lot of liquid involved, far more than I could comfortably consume. Every time I awoke I would take a couple of mouthfuls of ice-water (or stagger to the kitchen to refill the pint glass with ice and water, then take a couple of mouthfuls of water), and every four hours I would undertake the chemistry set nonsense of turning Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu tablets into Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine.

Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine is an almost-soluble, effervescent product I find efficacious in mitigating the downside of colds and flu-like viruses. One adds two tablets to water, they fizz for a bit and dissolve - mostly. The process can be brought to more full completement by vigorously stirring the mixture until it stops fizzing. I've found it to be a very effective treatment but it is another 4 ounces of liquid.

There was also the matter of the Metamucil fiber product I have to take at least once a day in order for my digestive system to stay in line and not mutiny with extreme prejudice. This is an orange-flavored almost-soluble powder that upon mixing with water produces a suspension of powder in faintly orange-ish tainted water. I've found better solubility can be had by placing the mixture in a Magic Bullet blender and spinning everything for a couple of seconds.

Better solubility does not mean better flavor.

I have, over the course of a few months of this torture come up with the technique of using not water, but a mixture of 50% thin orange juice and 50% water, and blending in the powder. This works, is palatable in the same way orange ice-lollies that contain no hint of real orange are palatable on a hot day when the thirst is on you, and does what it is supposed to do.

But it is another 6-8 ounces of liquid.

Years ago I could put away several pints of beer over a Saturday lunchtime, but now the sheer volume of liquid called for by that program of events is terrifying. I can't get that much through the old kidneys fast enough that I could even make the attempt today so naturally I looked for ways to reduce unnecessary fluid intake during this fluid-intense Christmas.

Back at Thanksgiving I had been in the same bind vis-a-vis liquids and colliding Metamucil and Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu schedules, and had come up with what at the time seemed like the perfect solution - I would combine the two products in one Orangey Drink of Health.

I reasoned thus: I would first produce the Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine and stir until all nascent effervescence had been excised from the mixture. I would use this instead of water in my water/juice/Metamucil charge with which I would load the Magic Bullet. Simple. No downside.

I had, of course, neglected to factor in one quite major downside: that this plan was conceived in Mr Brain, and that the proof of concept mental experiments were run in that perfidious organ's grey matter. I have mentioned before that Mr Brain is demonstrably not my friend2 and this was not to be an exception to that rule of thumb.

I spent a depressing amount of time stirring the Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu mixture to induce all the treacherous carbon dioxide to come out of solution, then added it to the juice and Metamucil and gave the result two seconds in the Magic Bullet.

A sad mistake.

The stupid Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu solids still had some oomph in them and the vigorous swizzling they got in the blender produced enough gas to lock the blender's container onto the cutter base. Indeed, I could see it was about one more swizzle from blowing itself apart. It took a while and many, many class four Words of Power but I finally managed to rotate the base one quarter turn in the "unscrew" direction.

At which point it did blow apart.

This was foremost in what passes for my mind when I concocted the Christmas Day version. First rule was "No Blending of anything that has come into contact with Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine". I would blend the Metamucil with the juice, then add the Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine, pre-dissolved and fizzless. The result would be stirred, not blended.

This plan was carried out as the kitchen reeled and span around me and there was no problem with exploding blenders. There was however a problem in that Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine is all-but immiscible with a suspension of Metamucil in orange juice. Drinking this while all visual stimuli were urging reverse peristalsis in the most strident tones was...challenging. I would go into more detail, but I'm half-convinced I hallucinated the worst parts.

Boxing day was spent feeling horrible. My headache vied with my pulled muscles for who got second billing to the throat. I was now at the point of adding a shot of Southern Comfort to both the juice/Metamucil concoction and the Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine.

And then it began snowing.

It snowed all Boxing Day, all that night and all this morning. This was made infinitely more inconvenient by sustained winds of 40 mph gusting to about twice that. By morning there were over 7000 reported power outages on Long Island and the TV morning news programs were begging people to stay home.

This was made even easier for me by the LIRR, who sensibly shut down, abandoning only the bare minimum of poor bastards to the unheated facilities unequipped with so much as drinking water that pass as waiting rooms on that blighted mass transit abortion. There was an actual American Red Cross mercy mission to Hicksville in order to prevent someone proving that if no-one makes any effort to make things otherwise we live in a world still capable of killing people the same way it did in the Dark Ages - with weather.

I felt well enough to beak out Troll, The Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness and clean out driveway around 11 am, once the snow had stopped and the wind had dropped. The kid from across the street offered to use "a bigger snowblower" on my drive for me, but I declined, reasoning that there were enough blocked driveways to go around. No sooner was our driveway looking clear than this same kid asked me if I could help him and his brother clear his own driveway! I would have offered anyway so I said I would and did, during which time they disappeared out of theater. Once I had cleared their drive (a little miffed that I had been left to do the job alone, I admit) I did the Singh's driveway as best I could, then nipped down the road to help Pedro and Mike with their drives3.

And so to lunch, and an all-afternoon session with my Jeeves and Wooster DVDs4.

  1. I used to get these regularly as a side benefit of my pack-a-day cigarette habit. The sound of the tubes in the lungs abrading destructively against themselves is one of the most easily identified sounds in my sound memory bank
  2. And hasn't been for much longer than I suspected when I began writing The Occasional Stevie. Going over all the shenanigans that that miserable brain has set me up for by denying me access to intelligence at key moments of my life has revealed a most insidious pattern. How could I, a chemistry student, have not known that adding Magnesium powder to Ammonium Dichromate would result in a rather weak but still powerful Thermite recipe? Only by having the image of the Periodic Table blanked from my consciousness during this sorry business, that's how. The relationship between Chromium, Oxygen and Magnesium is obvious just by looking at the Periodic Table (at least, the one I used to use; the new one is daft) which was, after all, designed to help spot and avoid accidental stuff like this.
  3. Mike called to say that the same kid had offered to clear his drive for cash but had never appeared
  4. A present

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