GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Spring, despite her reluctance, has finally arrived. The breeze is warm, the ground is soft and everyone I know all over hell and creation is ... sick?
It happens every year around this time, right as I am ready to dive into the dirt and get the garden rolling and right as the kids take their final week of rest before the two-month push to June.
My yearly catastrophic illness began to rear its ugly head at precisely 11 a.m. last Wednesday, while on a pilgrimage to the Bronx Zoo with five of my nieces and nephews and my own two children. What timing.
Lucian, my 7-year-old son, had no sooner shut the car door when he was off like Seabiscuit through the entrance gate. I yelled to him not to even attempt to climb over the fence to "visit" the American bison that seemed to be waiting for him on the other side. The attempted yell morphed quickly into a pathetic, nonthreatening bark.
By the day's end, several thousand dollars' worth of souvenirs and hot dogs and three Pepsis later, things did not improve. In fact, by nightfall I was sweating and no sound came out of me save for raspy squeaks and a spine-rattling cough, complete with phlegm.
By morning, it was official. I tried calling my doctor to make an appointment, but couldn't speak. The receptionist nearly hung up on me, but I managed after several tries to convey my name.
"Oooh my god," he said. "Don't talk. I'm pretty sure I know why you need an appointment."
They got me in early and the waiting room was packed, and very silent. It seemed that all of us poor souls – young, old, man, woman, carpenter and journalist – were there hoping for a cure to our miserable speechlessness. The nurse called my name and I simply smiled at her as she led me to the examining room.
"So what's the problem today, hon?"
I smiled my goofy smile again and wiped the sweat from my neck.
"I ... I ..." I pointed into my throat as if a Smurf had just jumped in. The nurse put her hand up, gesturing for me to stop. I think it hurt her to watch me attempt to speak.
"You sound like everyone else in Berkshire County."
If that's the case, then everyone in Berkshire County needs to know my secret to getting oneself on the mend – and quick. My diagnosis was laryngitis coupled with a sinus infection (and walking pneumonia because I'm lucky that way). As if being unable to speak wasn't bad enough, the coughing further eviscerated my vocal chords and the fever, despite the sun and beautiful sky, made me sweat and shiver at the same time.
What I needed I was not going to find at the prescription counter at Rite-Aid (although I was put on a very strong antibiotic, the side effects of which are almost worse than the illness). What I needed was right across the street from Rite-Aid. My good ol' friend and salvation: soup. Not just any soup, mind you. Nope, this plague was going to require some big guns.
After dropping my deadly horse pill script off at Rite Aid I dragged my sweaty self across the street to Great Barrington Bagel Co. I tried to order, but ended up pointing instead.
"Do you want that soup for here?"
I shook my head and pointed to the giant quart-sized container of chicken and matzo ball soup and gave the woman behind the counter a thumbs up. She handed me the warm amber liquid, filled with bits of chicken, golden matzo balls, carrots, dill and a random scattering of egg noodles. My heart filled with hope that I would be cured by dinner.
It took me a day to get through a quart of the self-proclaimed "Jewish penicillin." My body gathered strength with each slurp. It didn't hurt to eat the matzos, which weren't too salty and eased past my throat. It was almost as if the soup had a life of its own. It knew, or at least somebody at the bagel shop knew, exactly what needed to be done. My body was being nourished from the inside out and all I had to do was let the soup work its ancient magic.
Of course, I did not actually speak until Monday morning, having to conduct interviews via email or, as in the case with Gov. Deval Patrick, who was here on Saturday for a book signing, via written notes and hand gestures. Even the governor winced when I tried to thank him. He was, however, seemingly unafraid to shake my hand. I guess he doesn't mind the bubonic plague.