Did I say a head-cold? I’ve had nothing of the sort, dear reader. I didn’t have the physical strength to make it to the doctor, so never managed to get diagnosed. Nonetheless, I’m pretty certain I had an as-yet undiscovered variant of Ebola that lasts about a week. Either that or a temporary case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or Double-Malaria. Something really nasty anyways.
Well, perhaps not Ebola. All the same, it was no ordinary cold. In all honesty, the last time I can recall being so physically debilitated was when I was struck down with a fever in Brazil and was unable to make the short crawl to the bathroom without passing out at least twice (and that’s not an exaggeration). At least this week I’ve been able to make that journey without losing consciousness. Though it was a close-run thing on a couple of occasions. The weird thing is that it only lasted a few days… on Thursday I figured “well, this is obviously the difference between a cold and a flu”. But influenza lasts a good deal longer than four days. And a head-cold doesn’t send your temperature into the low hundreds, leaving you with full-on delerium and a tendency to pass out without warning. Also, at the risk of grossing you out, dear sensitive reader, I somehow managed to expel my entire body weight in snot and sweat. Which calls a couple of fundamental laws of physics into question.
And let’s not forget the sleep paralysis. When I was living in Brazil I took an anti-malaria drug called Lariam (for a giggle, check out the ‘side-effects’ section on its Wikipedia entry). I didn’t contract malaria I’m happy to say. Of course, nor did any of my companions, and they weren’t taking the stuff (presumably because they’d read the side-effects). So I can’t really credit the Lariam for protecting me from illness, though I can credit it for several months of seriously messed up nightmares. The most powerful of which was a terrifying instance of sleep paralysis.
I awoke in the middle of the night because — I felt — someone was shaking me… urging me to wake up. I was lying on my back, eyes open, staring into the darkness. But except for my eyes I couldn’t move any part of my body. It was difficult to breathe, and I became more and more terrified as I struggled vainly to move or to cry out. This was no ordinary fear… it came from a place dark and oceanic… a place of madness… and it was utterly overwhelming. Then, as my eyes slowly adjusted to the near pitch black, I became aware of another presence in the room. A small child — a girl of about seven or eight years old — was standing at the foot of my bed. She radiated an indescribable malevolence.
Time seemed to pass very slowly. And I wasn’t quite ‘right’ for several days.
I’d had a similar experience a couple of years earlier in Mexico. But I’d been consuming a lot of visionary plants during the preceeding few days and had — I believe — shifted my consciousness enough to allow me to better take it in my stride. When I explained it to my guide the following morning, he informed me that I’d had subida del muerto… a visit from the dead… an experience not uncommon to those who’d taken a lot of mescaline in a short period of time.
And then a couple of nights ago, it happened again.
This time I can point the finger of blame at neither mescaline nor lariam. This time it was fever-induced, but was no more pleasant for it. I awoke in the early hours of Saturday morning, again with the feeling that someone had shaken me awake. A faint grey twilight filtered through the curtains, indicating it was sometime around dawn. I was staring straight up at the ceiling, still in the grip of delerium, and that dark ocean of terror began to rise up within me just as it had in Brazil. It felt as though someone was pressing down on my chest but thanks to my position and the way the duvet had bunched up around my neck, my field of vision was restricted to a narrow strip of the ceiling. I was convinced that someone (or something) was there, standing next to my bed, leaning on my chest with their full weight. I urged my body to struggle against this pressure, to convulse in some way, but to no avail. A scene from the film The Serpent And The Rainbow, where a character has been ‘zombified’ and is unable to move during his “post-mortem” examination, leapt to my mind and I tried to scream… now overwhelmed with terror. But still I lay there completely immobile.
Once again, time seemed to pass slowly. Though in truth it may have been only a minute or two before I started to cough (thank heavens I’d been too ill to make it to the pharmacy for some cough medicine) which seemed to confer life to my body. I leapt from the bed, forgetting just how feverish and debilitated I was and promptly passed out. I regained consciousness a split second later as I crashed onto my bedside locker knocking over the almost full, but open, two litre bottle of water.
After a few moments of lying on the floor, I managed to pull myself back onto the bed and open the curtains. And there I sat, soaked and freaked out, staring at the gradually brightening sky while my terror subsided.
I hope, dear gentle reader, that you had a more pleasant St. Patrick’s Day.