Pleurisy is a glamorous Gothic ailment known mostly by its theatrical nickname "Blue Roses", a handle given to it by the immortal Tennessee Williams in "The Glass Menagerie". Young Laura mishears her diagnosis and romanticizes the result, transforming a pulmonary condition into a strange and wonderful flower.
I have twice had the misfortune of falling under its spell.
The first came on the heels of my appendix surgery as I recuperated at my parents house. My system was quite weakened from the surgery and I tried to come back to work too early, resulting in a near total collapse at a middle school in mid-performance.
I've never been good with spare time. I was at loose ends. I was too young and dumb to do everything I needed to do to get healthy. I drank. I smoked, both legal and illicit material. The mental aspect of my convalescence was non-existent. There was a profound disconnect going on, my pessimism surrounding my health kept me from making any real effort at getting better. This would continue long past this episode, seventeen years into the future to the second time I got pleurisy.
But back to 1993. I began having massive chest pains. Earlier in the year I'd been diagnosed with a cartilage tear in my sternum from doing push-ups. So for a week or so I ignored this deep ache, thinking it to be the result of resuming light workouts. But it soon was keeping me up at night, which wasn't hard to do as I'd become a determined insomniac by this point.
I slept on the couch in my parents living room even though there were three open bedrooms at my disposal. This drove my father crazy. He would bark at me in the mornings to get in a bed for chrissakes but something about the transience of the couch felt more accurate. I channel surfed for hours at a time and took cigarette breaks on our back porch, staring out into the quiet dark hush of our gorgeous back yard.
A quick word about me and cigarettes. I am always tempted by porches, balconies, rooftops, fire escapes, or exposed stairwells. If I am not on the ground, if I am raised at all above the landscape, I instantly want a cigarette. Thankfully I've been off the sticks for a couple of years now and will never go back but a nice balcony can give me that nostalgic urge.
The weight in my chest seemed to deepen considerably one day and I reluctantly went to the doctor. My reluctance isn't out of any fear it is simply that I have been so consistently plagued that I have emotionally trended towards a Christian Science attitude towards medicine. Not out of scorn or disbelief but simply out of annoyance at how much TIME I've spent in some tiny antiseptic office with a puzzled doctor drawing at straws.
When the doctor said the word "pleurisy" it rang a faint bell. I'd of course seen "The Glass Menagerie" and performed scenes from it but I mostly connected to Laura's limp, probably because of The Wheelchair Storm Tableau.
Pleurisy, by definition, is an inflammation of the lining of the lung. People complain of stabbing pains that worsen when they take deep breaths. This was what it was like for me. I was given anti-inflammatory and anti-biotics. I was told to rest which was ironic since I'd been sitting on a couch for a month already.
During this time I was suffering great pain and uncertainty in my personal life. I was trying not to hope that Maria would break up with her husband and choose me. This made the complications my romantic life had cultivated in college look like junior high dance intrigue. I felt guilty just thinking about it. It forced a new-found sense of morality out of me, made me see how much I craved a real relationship, one based on trust and mutual attraction.
The ache in my chest seemed to be an outgrowth of this heart pain. I burrowed deeper into the couch and wondered if I'd ever have the kind of ache that would come from a heart bursting at the seams instead of encroached upon by infection.
Like a locust the pleurisy dug back into the soil.
When they say "the more things change the more they stay the same" I am inclined to agree with them. In 2009, I was still trying to get healthy. I had quit smoking on January 1, 2008 and lost almost thirty pounds by taking up swimming. But I was still shooting myself in the foot. I let unchecked anger rampage on a regular basis. I had quit cigarettes but I had regular cigars and occasional happy grass. The pattern of self-abuse continued, much like it did as I stood on my parents porch and smoked cigarettes in the dark. I refused to truly believe in my ability to achieve a healthy constitution so that let me off the hook in much of my choices.
I tend not to talk in terms of regret because I prefer to accept whatever choice I make as the best one I could make under the given set of circumstances. But I regret that flaw in me, that inability to perceive a different reality for myself. In quick succession, as I made effort to get healthy, I inhaled myself into pneumonia and a second blooming of Blue Roses.
The double whammy was terrifying. I spent weeks in bed, exhausted to the core if I had to so much as go to the bathroom. I simply could not shake it. Now, I don't want to give the wrong impression. Once I began to feel ill I wasn't lighting up Cuban cigars and saying, "What the hell does it matter?" No. I took my medicine. I drank loads of water. I desperately wanted to heal.
But the cumulative damage I'd done made any kind of quick recovery difficult. This was the last straw for me, the final health camel that broke my bad habit's back. I've vowed never to inhale smoke again. If I am hired to do a part that requires cigarette smoking I'll use herbal cigarettes. It hasn't been hard once I closed the door.
I still struggle with my health. I might always. Just last hear I had shingles, for fuck's sake. But I won't do anything to impede the machine anymore. I refuse to court disaster. If there is a blue rose I want to smell it, not suffer under its symbolic implications. I don't think that particular locust will crawl up out of my forest floor again.