As an English teacher and a writer, there are few things in the world I find scarier than when I temporarily lose my ability to come up with the right words. Everyone has moments where they can’t find the right word to describe a concept, or blank on someone’s name (I do that a lot, since my ability to connect names and faces has always been kind of weak). Due to a number of factors (my upbringing probably being tops on the list), I also suffer from moments where my ability to verbalize just completely evaporates for several seconds, but at least I seem to have some capacity to think the words I need then, and I just have to wait for my spoken language faculties to return to me. When the words won’t even come to my brain, though, I can’t help but feel frightened.

Those moments are rare, but they do occur, and I went through one of the longest stretches of those terrors I can remember this past week, on Tuesday. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I was scheduled for my first COVID-19 vaccination shot early that afternoon, and everything went according to plan. I had a funny taste in my mouth for a couple of minutes, but other than that, the whole experience went well for me. I took advantage of the warm weather there and got in a short walk, I did some streaming on my Twitch channel, and even as my arm started getting a little sore near the injection site, I felt like I’d had about as good of a vaccination experience as I could have expected.

Shortly after sunset, though, I began experiencing the “flu-like symptoms” that can happen with the vaccination. At first, I didn’t even realize what was happening; even though I’d gotten a couple of good nights of sleep, I knew that I’d been pushing myself to get all my teaching and research work done, and I figured that I had a sleep deficit to make up there. I had to log off from a (social) Zoom meeting early, and I curled up in bed with my tablet to watch videos until I started feeling better. When the first rays of sunrise shot around the blinds on my bedroom window, and I still wasn’t feeling better, I knew that something was seriously wrong.

I was wondering what I was doing there in bed, watching video after video for hours on end, but I kept chalking that up to me needing to give my brain a chance to relax after what had been a fairly momentous day for me. I do have nights like that, where the “YouTube monster” gets its claws into me, but it took me seeing that light around the edges of my bedroom window to realize that what I was dealing with that night was on a whole other level. It was only then that I took the best mental inventory of myself that I could, and I put two and two together: Either I was getting those “flu-like symptoms” as a result of my vaccination, or I was getting really sick. The fact that I only experienced those two alternatives as vague conceptions, and I couldn’t even put words to them in my own head, made me almost panic.

The class that I’d normally teach (live via Zoom this semester, of course) was doing peer reviews of their papers Wednesday morning, and I’d already prepared my students for that work, but I still had to summon what little brainpower I had at that point to send out a reminder to my students that morning. Exhaustion finally overtook me at that point, and I collapsed in bed for about five hours. I still felt like death warmed over after I woke up again, but at least I was able to form coherent sentences in my head. As I (virtually) attended a rehearsal of my play based off scenes from The Prostitutes of Lake Wiishkoban later that night, though, I couldn’t even give feedback on the performances because I couldn’t trust myself to speak. (By the way, performances of the play will be later this month, from the 25th to the 28th, and you can buy tickets on EventBrite to the showings now.)

It was excellent timing that I didn’t have to teach a live class the day after my problems started, but I wasn’t feeling that much better when Thursday rolled around, and I had two live classes to teach. I stumbled my way through them, but I could tell that I just didn’t have much to give my students that day, and the classes suffered for that. Maybe that was unavoidable, and I knew enough to start talking with my students then and there about how I was willing to make allowances for them if they had similar reactions to their own vaccinations, but I still didn’t like it. Even though my “flu-like symptoms” had disappeared by Thursday afternoon, they had caused me so many problems sleeping that I didn’t feel up to doing much of anything until this past Sunday, by which point my brain had another reason to feel overwhelmed: I had a lot of work to catch up on after the problems I’d had over the previous few days.

Again, the timing has worked out so that I’ve got today and tomorrow off from teaching, so I’ll have some opportunity to catch up on work here, but as if this wasn’t enough to keep my brain occupied, there’s also the matter of me turning forty-five this coming Thursday. (If you forgot, don’t feel bad; just be generous when you’re buying me presents, or, you know, send me cash. Not that I’m putting pressure on you or anything.) It’s impossible to hit a milestone birthday like this one without thinking of how many years may or may not lie ahead of me, and especially after seeing how Mom’s stroke affected her in the last months of her life, it’s hard to look back on the problems I just had after getting my first COVID-19 vaccination, and wonder how much time, and ability, I have left to get out all the words I want to get out here, whether on this blog or in my books or to the ones I love.

My second vaccination appointment was scheduled for me right after I got my first shot, so I already know that I need to prepare for more problems in a couple of weeks here. At least this time I can make lesson plans ahead of time if I’m not feeling ready to teach, and in another piece of serendipitous timing, I have days off the Friday and Monday after my second shot. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, though. Right now, I just want to get caught up on the things I missed last week, and brace myself for another lonely birthday here. At least I have a better chance of putting my sorrow into words now than I did a few days ago.

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