Or tasting spoiled milk

The thing about me being not such a good traveler anymore? Apparently I need to confine my journeys to large cities in America, where I can find both an English-speaking doctor and a well-stocked pharmacy less than fifteen minutes from where I may be at any given moment. So that at 6:00 a.m. I can wake up Jack and tell him that I've been laying in our hotel bed for the last four hours listening to my heart go THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP at roughly 160 beats a minute and trying every meditative trick in the book and would he help me somehow? By doing something? Maybe just holding my hand? But Jack's not about comfort in these situations, Jack's about phoning the 24-hour walk-in clinic in Waikiki and telling them that we're on our way; he's about finding a wheelchair to push me up to the hotel taxi stand because if he doesn't he'll have to carry me piggyback, and at least this way Jackson can have a thrill by riding through the deserted halls of the Kahala Mandarin Oriental on my lap.

My doctor looked like Alan Cummings, but with farcical facial hair and a tropical doctor shirt. He gave me an EKG and diagnosed a slight case dehydration, the cure for which would be Gatorade. (See! I'm high maintenance, but at the same time I'm low maintenance!)

Then Alan Cummings heard me cough like Phyllis Diller after ten stogies and a quart of rye and said, "Whoa, how long have you had that?" "About a month," I said. He suggested, "A month perhaps indicates infection. You want an antibiotic?" Then he looked right, then left, arched his eyebrows in a way that rather deftly avoided being vaudevillian, though did not avoid bringing the word to mind, and whispered, "I have cough syrup, too."

I took his Zithromax; and though I appreciated the way the codeine in his cough syrup knocked me flat on my ass, it also made my lower back ache in a way that suggested kidney damage, and so I threw the rest in the trash.

While still at the clinic, Jack took the opportunity to follow up with another doctor about a rash that was threatening to move beyond the confines of his Speedo, and got a shot of cortisone in the ass. Jackson, riveted throughout the entire procedure, then turned to me and said, "When I get a shot next time? I'm not going to cry."

When we got back to the hotel I suddenly began to feel chilled, so I wrapped up in bed while the boys went to the beach and thus my last three days of vacation were spent curled up in bed with yet another case of the flu. It's really not such a bad thing to lay around going in and out of consciousness in a nice hotel. You draw the curtains and time passes. You drift through sleep for several days while room service brings you $8.00 bowls of soup and $4.00 pots of tea, and spouse and offspring come and go in various stages of sunburn and salt encrustation. Really, it's fine.

I was well enough to travel by the fourth day, and now nine days later I can breathe through both nostrils again, but my sense of smell hasn't returned, and it seems to have taken my sense of taste with it. Thus, Thanksgiving dinner was a flavorless festival of textures and colors. I can bury my nose in clean laundry and sense somehow the fullness of that odor -- its dimensions, if you will -- without any of its brand-name (Tide, Bounce) specifics. The dog farted this morning and cleared the living room of children, yet all I sensed was an ineffable presence of the fart's weight, of its density, without breathing in the full flower of my canine's colonic decay.

As far as taste goes, I can tell when something's sweet or salty, but I estimate I'm only getting about five percent of the total flavor. Overall, I feel as though about ten percent of me is missing somewhere; is, like, not even asleep, but is in a coma. And though I feel more sexual than I have in quite some time, orgasm is a mysterious effort, is like asking me to flex a muscle in my head that I'm not sure exists. My sense of humor, too, has been sanded down to a dull edge, and it feels like the only things left to perceive in life are the blunt facts. Frivolity is missing; delight. I'm starting to wonder if the combination of flu, infection, and antibiotic destroyed part of my brain, gave me some sort of viral icepick lobotomy.

I looked up "losing your sense of smell + flu" online. One guy is suing the makers of Zicam, claiming overexposure to zinc destroyed his sense of smell (Jack had Zicam in his kit but I decided to take all his Alka Seltzer Cold Medicine instead). Others describe losing their sense of smell after having an upper respiratory infection but having it return slowly, over days or months, or sometimes years. God, years!*

I suppose now would be a fine time for me to get a job collecting garbage, or gutting fish, or feeding pigs. Or spraying people with perfume as they step off the escalator at Macy's.

*Others, of course, have brain tumors.