Virtue & Mischief: It is January in Ohio


A few inexorable truths follow from this simple statement: The sky is a thin, gray soup. Precipitation, currently in the form of frigid rain, falls from above. The pavement is perpetually wet and my office is perpetually cold. My fingers and my feet crave warmth, but they only time they find it consistently is when I wrap myself in the blanket that Krista and I share as we sleep.

Sadly, I have to re-emerge from said blanket at 6 a.m. each morning, when what I REALLY want to do is lie ensconced in its soft, gentle heat for, oh, another four hours or so. I leave for work each morning in the dark and command my windshield wipers to work overtime. Again.

I knew it was a matter of time, knew I was in a state of vulnerability. The viruses were coming. They had to be. I had witnessed recently the scores of sick and exhausted law students in the hallway, heard their coughing and sniffling and honking. Several had sat in my office, a scant three or four feet away, wheezing and sputtering away, sharing my air space and touching my door handle.

And what of my own children? They roam their own school buildings, swap germs by the billions with classmates, and return home with those nasty, uninvited, illness-bearing guests. Then, of course, there is Krista. And let’s face it—is there anyone more at risk to absorb (and spread) all manner of viral mischief than an optometrist? I mean, c’mon. As she’s inspecting corneas and retinas from close range, gazing at her patients from the business end of a slit lamp (“now just remain still and look over this shoulder, here, please….”), how is she to protect herself from a sudden, unpredictable hacking fit from the person on the other side?

Last Friday afternoon it finally happened. I felt the microscopic invaders taking over. They began in my joints, the devils. They caused my knees to ache, then worked on my fingers and toes—small, burning pin-pricks, no more than a minor annoyance, but a depressing and certain sign of worse things to come. Luke wanted to attend the Greenville High School basketball game that evening, a welcome alternative to hours spent in front of the computer or PS4, to be sure. So I took him and sat for the next couple of hours in the hot, loud gym attempting to fight off the fever and headache that rolled toward me like a summer storm whose thunder you hear rumbling in the distance hours before it reaches your doorstep.

By late Friday night/early Saturday morning I was fully engaged in the “my-head-and-body-are-on-fire-oh-wait-now-I’m-sweating-and-freezing” dance that makes the flu such a fabulous experience, and a drummer from some unnamed heavy metal band was doing a prolonged solo inside my cranium. I craved hours spent in a quiet, dark cave.

Children, alas, have other agendas—basketball games and homework and activities of various types, activities that involve scores of other people who are depending on your child (and you) fulfilling commitments, 102-degree fevers and headaches be damned. So I shuffled through my parental duties as best I could on Saturday and hibernated on Sunday and Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day). By Tuesday my fever had left, no doubt vacationing in some other poor, Greenville parent’s host-body. Still, the headache persisted and I became the proud father of a torrent of nasal drainage (children, as well as other less pretentious folks, prefer the medical term “snot.”).

“Nasal drainage,” I confess, has long fascinated me. It appears my fascination has rubbed off on my youngest, and in between nose-blowing episodes Luke asked me questions I myself have often pondered.

“Dad, where does snot (there’s that fancy-pants medical term) come from? And how can a person make so much of it? Like, where is it stored? It doesn’t seem like there’s enough room in your head for there to be so much of it.”

“Great questions, Luke. I’m thrilled to see you’re using your considerable intellect in such a productive way. Where does it come from? Where is it stored? How is producing that much even possible??! Now those are puzzlers that have been debated for millennia, son, and it’s beyond my pay grade and IQ level to supply you with answers.”

“Hmmm. Too bad. I thought you would know.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Luke.”

“That’s okay. It’s not, you know, the first time.”

“Nor will it be the last. Say, could you hand me that box of Kleenex, please?”

“Sure, dad. Hey…you know what?”


“No offense, but when you’re sick like this…you’re pretty gross. Like I said…no offense.”

“None taken. And while you’re up, could you bring me the bottle of ibuprofen?”

By Tim Swensen

Virtue and Michief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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