Occasionally we'll read a story or feature so predictable or flaccid that we'll wonder how hard it could be to write one ourselves. In that spirit, we now debut How Hard Could It Be?, an occasional series in which we actually do write one ourselves. The inaugural topic is the Times Magazine's much-loved True-Life Tales from The Funny Pages.
Pain doesn't really scare me. I donate blood every eight weeks (although mostly so that anytime I do something dickish I can try and rationalize it by saying, "But hey, I give blood!"), so needles don't scare me. I'm not particularly risk-averse. But I will not go to the doctor.
Why not? Well, mostly there's no need. I'm a thirty-four-year-old man. I'm carrying a few extra pounds, sure, but I'm not morbidly obese or anything. I smoke about a pack of cigarettes a day and drink about four alcohol units per evening, but I haven't shown any ill effects (barring the occasional mystery bruise) so far. I am so against exercise that I'll cross the street rather than walk by a gym, but apart from the occasional sore back, I haven't had any problems. (And even then, I have friends with access to painkillers).
Still, there are certain groups of people who insist I have a physical: Insurers, potential employers, my mom. No matter how well-intentioned, I consistently refuse. Go see some guy in a white coat who's gonna tell me to quit smoking, reduce my drinking, start working out and then film a documentary set in the darkest recesses of my colon? Pass, thanks!
Like everyone, though, I do occasionally fall ill. Generally, it occurs around this time of year, and it's usually a cold or flu that lingers for a week or two. As the frigid weather descended last week, the annual sickness came upon me. I was fairly blas about it, on the expectation that sufficient quantities of bourbon ("to open the throat") would kill the germs. Even though my throat was pretty sore, I continued to smoke, even if I didn't inhale ("just to keep the nicotine coming.") In fact, so confident was I that I had conquered 2007's sickness, I spent Thursday evening drinking wine and eating steak frites. It was almost as if I were taunting the cold in some bad French accent: "Ah ha ha, Monsieur Cold, I have vanquished you."
Well, the next day I was shivering so badly at work that people around me not so subtly moved their workstations far away. I went home early and managed to take my temperature, which came in at an even 105. They say a fever like that does something to a man's brain, and I believe them, because for the next hour-and-a-half I rolled around on the floor absolutely convinced that I was a linebacker for the Chicago Bears, and the reason my joints ached so much was because "Coach" kept putting me back in even though I had sustained a couple of concussions. (This is bizarre on a couple of levels: I've never had the desire to play football at any level; if I somehow ever made it to the pros and took a concussion during a game, I would close my eyes and pretend to be passed out until they carried me off the field, at which point I would raise my arm briefly to get all the cheers and then close my eyes again and pretend to be unconscious for the duration of the season. Also, I would be playing for the Saints. Go Saints!)
I somehow showered and cooled my brain down, but a couple of hours later it was just as bad. Hank Williams, Sr., stood by my couch and tried to convince me that if taking two Aleve would reduce my fever, surely taking four would get rid of it altogether. He's a tough guy to argue with, Hank, but fortunately I was all out of pain relievers. On the plus side, he sang me all his "Luke the Drifter" material before he went. On the other hand, he left something surprisingly filthy and spectral in the toilet.
Clearly, action needed to be taken. The only thing that saved me from having to actually go to the doctor's office was that it was a Saturday, and doctors on Saturdays are like rapists in alleys: They don't want you to see them. (Also, they rape you.) So I got a consultation over the phone.
Doctor: Congestion, runny nose, fever?
Me: Check, check, check.
Doctor: Do you find yourself sweating so profusely that you need to change your bedclothes?
Me: My mattress looks like the Shroud of Turin.
Doctor: How high did you say your fever was?
Doctor: You know you could have died?
Me: Look, do I have to come in there or what?
Doctor: Oh, no, no. I'm going to diagnose you as having pneumonia. I'm calling in a prescription. If you don't feel better within forty-eight hours, you should make an appointment.
Me: But if I do, I don't have to?
Doctor: That's right.
Me: Marry me.
And that's pretty much how it went. I took the pills, I recovered, I stayed out of the doctor's office. But I've learned my lesson. The next time the mercury creeps above 103, I'm off to medical center. Because, man, those Hank Williams dumps are a bitch to clean.
Alex Balk is an editor at Gawker.com. His last True-Life Tale was about roaming the American west while accompanied by an orangutan named Clyde.
On the Next Page: Some stuff happens to some detective while some other stuff happens somewhere else. Part 30 of 80.