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Published: Sat Jul 1 2006
Eva Lundsager, We are quiet (nowhere to hide) (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
plenty of fluids

She had a cold: runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, scratchy throat, body aches, a little fever. She called the doctor. No, antibiotic would not help. Get some rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Why fluids? The overt reason is to restore the water lost during fever, to bathe the throat, and to wash away irritants. But there must be more; why else the emphasis?

Is not the subtext ritual cleansing, ablution? An ancient theory holds that disease is contamination. Restoring health, therefore, must begin with cleansing. Suppliants to Asklepios underwent a ritual bath on the night of sacred sleep in his temple, awaiting cure. Roman Catholics anoint themselves with holy water on entering a church. Muslims begin prayer with ritual washing (Wudu’). Devout Hindus undergo ritual bathing every day; they say they are connecting with water, the source of all life. So many colds, so much water: contact with sacred Ganges.

Charles Bardes is a physician who practices and teaches medicine in New York.  His book-length prose poem, Diary of Our Fatal Illness (University of Chicago Press, Phoenix Poets, 2017), narrates the illness and death of an aged man. Other poems, essays, and ruminations have appeared in AGNI, Raritan, Ploughshares, The New England Journal of Medicine, and elsewhere. Pale Faces: The Masks of Anemia (Bellevue Literary Press, 2008) is an extended lyric essay that probes the mythological and cultural aspects of a common disease construct. In 2018 he received the Blackwell Prize in Writing, which “honors a writer who exhibits exceptional talent on the printed page, as well as meaningful social commitments on the public stage.”  More info at charlesbardes.com. (updated 3/2020)

Charles Bardes and Tom Sleigh coauthored “A Viral Exchange, under Lockdown” for the AGNI blog.

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