Nil By Mouth

Nil By Mouth

“Sore throat, cough, fever, chills, diarrhea?” The doctor peers out from behind a clear plastic face shield and ticks off one more question. “Been around anyone that’s sick?” I’ve already answered all of these questions the first time they were asked. That’s what got me shoved into the “this sick fuck has possibly got covid” zone.

The nurse practitioner guarding the front door of urgent care had taken down my stats and then ushered me straight into the clinic. Usually it’s at least an hour wait, but right now there isn’t even a room that one can wait in.

Everything is triage.

Now I’m in that one place you don’t want to be.

“Yes, yes, no, yes, no… and not that I know of.” I horse whisper through two facemasks. A precaution they’re taking just in case I do have the big C (and we’re not talking cancer). 

“Excuse me?” The doctor’s eyes are puffy and red. What little else I can see of her looks tired. All around us are sick people getting tested for covid. Some are failing.    

I point to my mask, shake my head. Make a puppet talking with my hand and then draw a finger across my throat. I’m hoping she gets the pantomime.

My voice gave out on me last night mid-sentence. I’d had a sore throat for two days. A slight cough turned into a rasp. Then the ability to enunciate actual words was suddenly gone. Replaced by a guttural wheeze that no one could hear and made breathing hard.

“Have you been tested for covid?” All the doctors and nurses are dressed in makeshift hazmat suits; white disposable gowns over scrubs, two pair of gloves, mask, protective eyewear, face shield, hats, and booties around their shoes.

I shake my head no.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have covid. I’m not some nutter running around without a mask. I believe in science. I don’t watch Fox News. I’m not around people. I don’t do crowds, or public transportation, eat at restaurants, take ubers, or get in my building’s elevator when someone else is there. I got a flu shot. I eat healthy. I exercise.

But I do breathe the same air as the rest of the population and a lot of them are seriously stupid.

“I’m going to test you for strep. We’ll get the results for that real quick. So we can rule that out first. Okay? Then we’ll do a covid test.”

There’s a loud commotion outside the examination room. The doctor opens the door. I catch a glimpse of the woman who stood behind me for the two seconds we were waiting in line to get in. She’s in a wheelchair freaking out. “I can’t breathe.” A flurry of activity surrounds her. Before a nurse wheels her away. An orderly rushes along in their wake. “I don’t want to die…”

This is not helping.     

I didn’t want to come to the hospital. But where else was I going to go?

If you don’t think the ability to verbally communicate is important. Try not talking for a couple days. It’s fucking hard. I know people that go away to silent meditation retreats, take a vow of silence, or just plain hold their tongue around people that need to be told the truth—and I’m in awe. Up until now I didn’t know I was such a talkative motherfucker. I thought I was bordering on stoic. But apparently I have a lot to say. I want to comment on everything. I have opinions. I’m judgmental. I think I know the right way. I want to be funny, sarcastic, witty, and sometimes even informative.

But I can’t and I’m “verbally” fucking dying here. 

I lean back against the examination table. The thin paper covering crinkles under me. I’m hoping its strep throat. My lungs already suck. I don’t think I’ll survive if its covid.

A nurse materializes out of nowhere. I didn’t even hear her come into the room. She’s quick and precise. It’s a double whammy of cotton swabs. One for strep. Back of my throat. Two for covid. In the throat again, and up my nose.

“You didn’t even flinch.” The nurse gives me a thumbs up. Like I actually achieved something. I’ve heard people describing the covid test as extremely uncomfortable. I imagine being hooked up to a ventilator is worse. For some reason the last time I had surgery they were unable to insert a breathing tube. Now I have “history of difficult intubation” forever stamped on my chart. Which sort of worries me. Not that I want to be hooked up to a machine. But if that’s what it takes when you’re dying from covid, then okay. It’s not like I was planning on getting do not resuscitate tattooed on my chest.

If you’re one of those people not wearing a mask, denying that covid exists, shaming others to do them same, putting everyone else at risk, and prolonging this goddamn lockdown… then they shouldn’t provide you medical care when you get sick. This is Darwin’s survival of the fittest. And no that doesn’t mean “herd immunity.” That means if you’re so fucking stupid you can’t follow simple precautionary measures, then you’re just not cut out for survival.

“Good news. You don’t have strep.” The doctor is back. “Covid test takes two days. You get worse you come back in.”

“What’s wrong with me?” I hold my hands out, palms up, shrug my shoulders—the international distress signal of what the fuck.

“You have laryngitis. Go home. Gets some rest. Drink liquids. Gargle with warm salt water.” She gives me a half-hearted wave of the hand. “You’ll better soon.” But then she shakes her head and that somehow implies that the rest of the world will not.    


It’s been three weeks now. Another covid test (both negative). Three telehealth visits with three different doctors. A pile of antibiotcs. A week long regime of steroids. And I still can’t talk.

The doctor is now saying I’ve chronic laryngitis.

“Usually this lasts a few days.” This latest doctor has a cheery voice. Like he’s giving me good news. “But when it’s chronic, it can last three weeks. Even a month.”

“What am I supposed to do?” I say, which comes out as, “wus suss a do?”

“You’re already doing it. Rest your voice. Gargle with warm salt water. Drink tea. Try turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. They’re natural homeopathic remedies. Be happy you don’t have covid.”

“Are you fuckin’ serious.”

“My prayers are with you. Take care of yourself.”

The phone goes dead.

Did the doctor just give me absolution?

Apparently my vocal cords are enflamed. Which almost matches my enflamed disregard for the medical profession. I can’t help but think if the pandemic weren’t ripping through every hospital in the world right now I’d be getting better care.

But it is.

And I’m not.

I am grateful I don’t have covid.

But I’d like to be able to speak some day soon.


I sit at home and think of something “brilliant” and then I’m silent. It’s too much trouble to try and covey it to Jenn. I’d have to role play with finger puppets or write it down. I feel depressed and stupid at the same time. Overwhelmed by feelings of futility in these futile times. Apparently I’m not very good at nonverbal communication. I don’t know the first thing about sign language. I’m not overly familiar with the miming techniques needed for charades. Turns out my total non-verbal response repertoire is limited to just one finger.  

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