Everyone has at least one decent brush-with-death story. Due to either clumsiness or karma, I have many. Here’s one of them:
The first thing you need to understand about my mother is that she is one of those Southern women who has a jillion home remedies in her arsenal. When you have a cold sore, she gives you baking soda to brush your teeth with. If you’re sick with a cold, she makes you an extremely alcoholic hot toddy (even if you’re a five year old. Yippee!). If you have a cough, she rubs peppermint oil on your chest.
And if your nose is stuffed up, she boils a concoction of salt, vinegar, and water on the stove, covers up your head with a towel, and makes you lean your face over the pot and breathe the steam.
As a child, I hated nothing more rapturously than this home remedy. It was barbaric – you felt like you were drowning in stinky vapors, every inhalation bringing you closer to frenchkissing Satan’s toothy maw. You had to do it for ten minutes, no less, or else the remedy’s “magic” wouldn’t work. I often pretended not to be stuffed up just to escape the torture, but the day of That Time I Nearly Died, Mom wasn’t listening to any of my excuses.
To her credit, I hadn’t been feeling well for a month. I had no symptoms other than a general tiredness, and a fever which presented itself between 2:00pm and 4:00pm like clockwork every afternoon only to disappear by evening. I’d gone to the doctor twice already, was x-rayed, poked and prodded for mono, and the general consensus was simple: “no clue”. Moping around the kitchen, I whined to my mom about how I felt bad, and deciding to shut me up, she began to boil the Dread Elixir. No amount of protest could get me out of it, and before I knew it, I was breathing steam.
I lasted about three minutes before I started to feel… funny. I removed the towel from my head and stood upright, finding that the world didn’t focus as it should. I leaned against the fridge, seeking comfort in its coldness.
“Ten minutes, young lady,” said my mother, who after a month of my whining was having None of My Usual Bullshit.
“I don’t feel right,” I said, and noticed that exciting black spots were beginning to appear in the corner of my vision. The darkness gathered casually, taking its time. I ran a commentary all the while. “Mom, there are all these dark spots wherever I look.”
“Don’t be such a baby, Whitney.”
“No, they’re getting bigger. Hey, aren’t dark spots a sign of a pending loss of consciousn—”
And I passed out.
When I came to, Mom felt very, very bad, because she had thought that I had fake-fainted and had apparently tried to pick me up by my hair thinking I’d stand up (to be fair, I was an exceptionally dramatic teenager, and had fake-fainted before). When it became clear that I wasn’t faking it, she panicked and dragged my unresponsive butt to the couch where she felt my forehead and panicked even harder. That mysterious reoccurring fever had been on full-force while I had breathed the steam, and my temperature had hit 105 degrees – the same level as heat stroke victims.
Spoiler alert: I lived with no brain damage, and in a happy ending for all, my mother has never made me breathe that godawful steam again. Incidentally, I was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia, which I had no symptoms of until the day that I coughed up a bloody chunk of my own lung. Oh gosh, were you eating? Terribly sorry. There’s probably a home remedy for that.