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J.G. Chayko in face mask

The monster in my closet is not your typical monster – when I think of its existence, I don’t see a blue furry creature with fangs, or an ogre salivating at the mouth, reaching out with  razor-sharp claws. My monster is of the invisible kind, crafty, sly, infinitesimal in its size – but don’t be fooled – it packs a powerful wallop. Once it’s loose, its whereabouts can’t be tracked. It could be hovering in the air, keeping company with the dust specks and atoms; it could be lingering on any surface, stealthily out of reach from sanitizers and antiseptics; it could be anywhere, just waiting for an opportunity to strike. I have managed to elude this monster for several seasons, but now it’s loose in my home and there’s nothing I can do but wait…      

The monster I speak of is commonly known as the flu. It’s what most people with arthritis or any autoimmune disease fear – especially if we are on medications that weaken our immune system. Every year, we do our best to arm ourselves against it, but this year, it has foiled its standard opponent. Our vaccination just wasn’t powerful enough to snuff it out– and now, it is has unleashed its power in my better half.

My colds and viruses over the last several years have been blessedly few in number. I can’t say why I’ve been lucky enough to escape their clutches. An invalidated theory has been put forth by family and friends, wondering if my arthritis medications have anything to do with it. Could their efficacy against the damaging threat of RA also be warding off the insidious cold and flu virus? Somehow I doubt it. I do know that I have been lucky enough to elude the worst of many viruses over the years. The challenge I face when feeling unwell, is trying to figure out if I feel miserable because of RA or a because of a flu. There are many similarities in symptoms. Prior to RA, I had a cold every winter and every spring; since RA, I’m prone to the unpredictable and impulsive ambitions of my disease and whatever chaotic virus it chooses to invite along for the ride.

But for now, I must focus on how I can avoid my monster when it’s closest to me. Our apartment is a small cosy unit. There’s little option to escape the transmissible symptoms of the other soul with which I live. I can almost feel it breath in every room; I involuntarily encounter it on every surface. We don’t have the luxury of completely avoiding one another in our small space. We share everything from sheets to towels, cups to plates. We have a pull-out sofa bed in the living area, but it’s not comfortable for either of us to sleep on – not for him in his adverse state, not for me with my swollen joints. There aren’t enough sponges and disinfectants to keep up with its ceaseless pestilence. No matter how careful I am with hand-washing, sanitizers and additional doses of Vitamin C, I feel as vulnerable as a lion tamer with licorice whip.

Is that a tickle in my throat? A chill? Coming off a couple of weeks of flares it’s hard to know what is pestering me now. Besides, we are supposed to be the caregivers for one another. It’s our loving responsibility to tend to each another when we are sick – to make warm compresses, hot tea, and chicken soup. We make an astonishing pair, both of us wrapped in blankets, rubbing salves on sore muscles, taking long hot steam baths, both for entirely different reasons, and yet, for a short while, we will commiserate with a mutual understanding.

And so, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll wait it out with my tissues, face mask and bag of oranges close at hand, hoping that once it’s finished its wicked game, it will return to the closet from which it came and get lost in the shadows with the ogres and monstrosities of my childhood imagination.