I contracted a throat infection on the New Year’s Eve and woke up voiceless on the first day of 2018. The infection quickly spread into my bronchial tubes. I started to cough ferociously, day and night, shaking up every corner of my insides and draining every bit of energy. The violent coughs kept me awake all night, so I closed myself in a separate bedroom in the house to mitigate my gut-wrenching noises. I picked up Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose that had been lying on my bedside table for a while and read it between my cough fits. It seemed fitting to follow Brother William of Baskerville in his midnight wanderings in the eerie labyrinth of the mountain-top abbey in the Middle Ages’ northern Italy and his confrontation with the devil who concealed knowledge, while I was fighting my own battle with the demon of sickness during the lonely wee hours.
The coughs blazed through my chest and throat like a fire ball leaving a trail of flames and charcoal behind. My forehead was drenched in sweat and my stomach was twisted in a tight knot after each cough attack. The hacks seem to want to eject the bottom of my stomach right out of my throat, like turning a knapsack inside out. The fierceness with which my body defended its airway against mucus invasion resembled the diabolical determination with which the evil character in the story guarded philosophy from intellectually curious monks.
Sometimes I couldn’t cough into my elbows because my hands had to press down my stomach to ease the abdomen muscle strain. Then I saw some tiny wet dots on the page of my book. I wondered whether the book would become venomous when somebody opened it centuries later. I also envisioned that the demon of cough would hide between the pages for a hundred years and leap out when those pages are opened again by some curious hands.
For ten days, I coughed my guts out and poured my soul into Umberto Eco’s philosophical novel. When I finally stopped coughing and slept through the night, I had long naps in the ensuing three afternoons. On the thirteenth day of the new year I emerged at last from my ecpyrosis; my body battered by the fiery sickness but my soul nourished by Umberto Eco’s intellect. I found the outdoor air so refreshing that I inhaled it deeply and imagined “red rose growing in the meadow” of my chest. 2018 promises to be a year of regrowth.