I’ve always felt like I’ve done well when I’m sick. I don’t complain about it. I know I need rest. When I was a kid, I would just lay on the couch until I felt better. If it got worse, my Mom would take me to get ibuprofen from the Phoenix Indian Medical Center. But I usually recovered fine after a few days of laying on the couch and some sleep. I didn’t learn till the military how fortunate I was to have that time to recover from sickness. The worst cough I had was in the army during basic training; it’s also where I learned the worst insults… or the best depending if you were on the receiving end.
In week three of basic training, I got a cough, like everyone else it seemed. But having a small cough was worse in the army than it was at home. Reason being that we were only getting 4-5 hours of sleep interrupted by intermittent fire guard duty to watch weapons, wash clothes and clean the barracks. I sat there on top of my crisply made green wool olive drab blanket, nicely cocooned by my black military issue sleeping bag.
They don’t tell you this, but you don’t make your bed every morning. You could, but that would be stupid. There’s so little time between wake up, morning wiz, brushing teeth and shaving (even if it’s just natural beard hair) that making your bed was nonessential. So you make your bed perfectly once, and you sleep on top of it in a sleeping bag that you can stuff away in the morning. A semi-overweight kid in the platoon tried to make his bed each morning to which our drill sergeant said, “Private, you look like a can of biscuits that’s just popped open.” Surprisingly that one semi-overweight soldier who made his bed and was late most mornings only lasted a few more months past basic before getting washed out.
But I laid there in my black sleeping bag coughing every 1-3 minutes, enough to keep me from reaching any deep REM cycle. And just as you feel your body tire from the back to back sleepless coughing nights, someone taps your back for doing work that could have been completed when the sun was out. Even though according to the drill sergeant our clothes needed to be cleaned because our barracks smelled like a, “bag of smashed butt holes.” Coughing in your sleep is the worst, but it’s worse when you’re in the army.
Towards the end of the 9-week cycle, I remember standing in freezing weather with just my Army shorts and shirt shivering and coughing at sand hill in Fort Benning, GA. My desert blood wasn’t used to any cold weather, but there was no way I was going to sick call to risk being recycled. After finishing basic with a 6-week cough, I eventually ended up getting nasty flu during officer candidate school. Our platoon sergeant sent me to sick call where I received a magical Z pack that gave me 24-hour sweats, bubble guts and lucid dreams that ended with no cough and healed body. I always try to remember that some people out there are still walking around with sickness and haven’t found healing. It’s an awful burden to hold and life to live.