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19 February 2015

In which I have a bout of pneumonia and a ménage à trois – and make my debut as a basketball reporter

"I am delighted until I see that the paper has spelled my name, at the end of the column, 'Nicholas Zloozman'."

By Nicholas Lezard

Illness: real illness, the kind that leaves you prostrate and gasping for breath; the kind that makes you hand over your spare uncooked pizza to your flatmate because you know you will never live to eat it, so she might as well have it before the sell-by date. For you have reached your own sell-by date. And this kind of illness, the kind that makes you want to go to A&E yet you do not have the strength – but you feel you could just about make it to the doctor’s surgery down the road – arrives on a Saturday morning, when the doctor’s surgery has gone away to play golf for the weekend, or visit its nan.

So Saturday is spent alternately shivering and wheezing in bed, with all clothes on and all the covers on, including even the Star Trek blankie the wife gave me for Christmas. (Did you see that coming? I certainly didn’t.) It is also spent looking up “pneumonia” on Wikipedia. Oh dear. I don’t have a “productive” cough (is there any part of me, I wonder, that actually is productive?) but then Dr Wikipedia says it is not always the case that sufferers of pneumonia have productive coughs. Sometimes, although Dr W does not put it exactly like this, they have coughs that are idle good-for-nothings, and exist only to make their owners miserable. But at one point a coughing jag, a real three-day meth bender of a cough, very nearly makes me throw up, it is so bad. That certainly is productive: rather too much so, I fear.

Deprived of alcohol, the mind starts playing tricks on me. In that strange half-state between sleeping and waking – I spend only about an hour of Saturday in a condition that could even loosely be called alert wakefulness – I imagine, or dream, that I am in a ménage à trois with David Beckham and Viv Albertine (whose superb book I recently reviewed, and on whom I seem to be developing a talent crush). Viv is off-screen, so to speak, but David is by my side, holding my hand, a tender and considerate lover; but he has to shower, because he is playing for England in a friendly against Sweden that evening.

I do not even want to begin to ask myself what the hell that is all about.

And later, in what is, for some reason, more identifiable as a dream to my fractured consciousness, I have moved to New York and had my first piece for the New Yorker published: a polished and witty report of a basketball match, the subject chosen deliberately so as to catch the eye of Barack Obama. I am delighted until I see that the paper has spelled my name, at the end of the column, “Nicholas Zloozman”, which, as you will agree, is not even close. I wake up while still on the phone, trying to get through to someone I can yell at.

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Naturally, or unnaturally, the sleep cycle gets all screwed up. On Sunday night I lie awake in the small hours, counting the ways in which I have messed up my life. It’s sort of like counting sheep. Quite a few sheep.

And so to the doctor’s on Monday, after a call to explain my symptoms. For some reason, my legs have gone funny below the knees, both wobbly and pins-and-needly. The doctor asks me to remove my shoes and socks. The latter are mismatched, of course, and one is out at heel; but at least they are clean, thank heavens. He prods my toes and calves. Both are quite numb.

“No, the circulation is good and the pulse is strong,” he says. He turns to look at my notes on the screen.

“Do you have diabetes?” he asks, in an offhand manner. The question surprises me somewhat: not only had it never occurred to me that I might have the condition, you’d think that if I did, my notes would say, somewhere on them, in big red letters, “THIS PATIENT HAS DIABETES”.

So I say I don’t, as far as I know, and he books a blood test and gives me a scrip for antibiotics. Which start to do their trick fairly quickly. And, what with this, and one thing and another, I find the deep gloom under which I have been living, for some time before this lurgy began, beginning to lift. Really quite a bit.

Was it depression, I wonder, if the sun can shine through the clouds like this? What was all the misery about? I feel purpose, activity, stirring within me like emotions; like spring.

And look! There, in real life, is an email from Viv Albertine! I blush, to the roots of my grey hairs. 

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