New Year


I started this New Year off on a low note: I almost died.

It wasn’t an adventurous death either, caused by some last minute attempt to live life to the fullest that I keep on meaning to do the other 364 days of the year. Nor was it a surprise blast from a car, or plane, or rogue bullet meant for someone more deserving, giving a tragic ‘wrong place, wrong time’ eulogy. The culprit was quite well known to me and rather boring in the lexicon of lethal things: my old friend Tonsilitis.

It started the way just about any other Strep throat infection did. My throat got sore, head started to pound, the sweats, the chills, the aches, all the fun things associated with a the flu plus grotesquely inflamed tonsils. This was on December 28. I had a plane ticket to Florida on the 30th. As you would expect, this could not stand.

Like any other good, proud moron, I prefer to let my body heal itself. Knowing the symptoms, however, I already recognized that that wasn’t going to cotton to my New Year timeline, so I took measures to cure my bug early. I headed to the old walk in clinic Duane Reade and got a third rate doctor to give me some antibiotics. Always worked before. Why change the system?

Unfortunately, the system did change.

Whereas normally, the antibiotics start showing their muscles around the second day of use, my throat had gotten more tender. The sweats more draining. The body temperature more heated. I could barely stand the pain enough to open my mouth to check the size of my tonsils, which were officially touching and blocking my throat. Come the morning of the 30th, my third day on meds, my tonsils were Hades. I attempted a swallow of water to put them out. The seal between the tonsils would not be denied. And the water, with no place else to go, went out my nose.

Its an odd feeling to try to swallow something only for it to escape out your nostril. Disconcerting. Though certainly not more so than what happened next.

Laying in my own above ground pool of sweat in bed, I resigned myself to the fact that I would miss my trip. This didn’t bother me. What did bother me was the sudden intense, and precedented stabbing pain that exploded behind my tonsil. Paralyzed by the agony, I could only wait for it to remiss, which it very slowly did in a rhythmic drain to the beat of my heart.

I coughed. Blood on the bed.

I ran to the bathroom and spat blood into the toilet.

I looked in the mirror, opened my mouth and saw a pathetic unwashed Gene Simmons trying to prove that he still had it.

This was serious.

I’ll spare more of the gruesome details, but an emergency room trip later and I had put back a bag of glucose, a steroid to bring down the inflammation and two major antibiotics for the fever, the throat, and in medical terms, to prevent death.

They sent me home the same day, but I still missed New Years. Stuck at home healing. Nothing but a lot of time to think. And in that regard, I did get a nice take away from the ordeal.

Last New Years started off on a high point: in a hotel room in another country with a beautiful woman. I remember worrying that it could only go downhill from there.

I wasn’t wrong. But I wasn’t right either.

This past year was not one of dizzying lows or towering highs. I had my successes and failures, struggles and victories just like anybody else. The start of that year wasn’t really indicative of what was to come.

This year, bouncing back from my illness, I’m still tempted to say that things can only come up from here. But that wouldn’t be learning the lesson of last year would it?  The truth was that same beautiful girl and I went on another fun trip just a month before. That we ended up together on a such a valued day had nothing to do with providence, it was a simple design to the give the evening more gravity.

And what of my day of sickness? I’ve been sick on holidays before. In fact, I’ve been sick on New Years before. Perhaps not this sick, but with similar maladies and on similar prescriptions. The difference between then and now was then I was young and growing and now I’m older and (lets go with cresting.)

Each of these events, the romantic evening and my brush with death, hold value to me, but it would be a mistake to attribute that value to the dates they happened. Love transcends time and space. Mortality is the ultimate equalizer. The spiritual equity these lessons bring isn’t from their place on the calendar, but from the seriousness with which the expreinecer takes them.

We all make our resolutions and our promises around this time and watch as they gradually fade away from our attention by February. It’s a common cycle, one I’m sure I’ll also repeat.

But my sickness has taught me a lesson.

I’m not looking for meaning in my New Years illness. It was a dangerous affair that could have affected me any other day of the year, just as I could have spent a weekend abroad with a pretty girl (hopefully) any other time. The intensity of events isn’t predicated on the date, but on the import we allow it to have upon us.  It means that true change isn’t a date to wait for. It’s ever in our hands, always a moment away.

The New Year begins when you let it.

About Jake Serlen

Jake Serlen once published an essay about oral sex in National Lampoon's. He received $50 for his efforts and was happy to get it. He lives in New York City.


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