Three times in my life I have been ridiculously sick. Not sick like major illness, scary life-threatening disease sick. Sick like ridiculous.

The first time was twenty years ago. I got sick over Thanksgiving and I stayed sick until February. It was the first Christmas after my grandfather died. We spent it in Florida, and I can remember being absolutely miserable, trying to be a good tourist, visiting Disneyworld, shopping at flea markets and so on, but with the energy of a sloth. I went to the doctor when I got back home with a fever of 103. She told me I had the flu. I said, “but you don’t understand, I’ve been sick for six weeks.” She said, “you’ve probably caught every flu going around.” Gee, that’s helpful.

The second time was the summer of 2000. We lived in a second-floor apartment. The laundry room was down the stairs, across the parking lot, and down another flight of stairs. I sat on the steps and tried not to cry between loads because I was so tired that the walk felt like a marathon. At one point during that summer, I called to make a doctor’s appointment. I wound up spending an hour on the phone with the nurse, because she was very committed to the idea that I should go to the emergency room right away, and I was very committed to the idea that I was much, much, much too sick to go to an emergency room. After about two months of being miserable, I was watching television and saw a commercial for my allergy medication that said “side effects can  include flu-like symptoms.” I promptly stopped taking it. I promptly got better.

The last time was in Santa Cruz, right before we moved to Florida. I got sick in March. I went away on a business trip. I got better. I came home, I got sick again. After about a month, I went to the doctor, was diagnosed with a sinus infection, started antibiotics, went on another business trip, got better. Came home. Got sick again. More antibiotics. Went on vacation, got better. Came home. Got sick again. Then got seriously sick with shingles.

Some people apparently have mild cases of shingles. I was not one of them. The pain from shingles felt like bolts of electricity zapping my side. It was … well, I did natural childbirth. I’ve got a pretty good pain tolerance. One time, I twisted my ankle and four days later a friend — a former professional biker who’d quit because he’d injured himself so badly — told me it was the worst-looking sprained ankle he’d ever seen and he couldn’t believe I hadn’t gone to the doctor. (I did after that; it was just a sprain.) I’m not really tough — I hate pain, I do my best to avoid it. But I’m reasonably stoic while experiencing it. Not with shingles. Shingles was hell.

After that, I put two and two together and figured out that my house was making me sick. We had a mold problem, I have allergies, it was a bad combo. We moved out, and I got better.

All of this leads us to now. R and I have both been sick — with ups and downs, but more lows than highs — since he came home on New Year’s Day with a cold. I am very, very tired of it. I’ll be better for three days, start to feel like life is in my control again, and then, pow, back down. I’ll have a day or two where I think, eh, I’m just a little allergic and then I try to get something done and have to take a nap halfway through. But it’s most frustrating not to know for sure what the problem is. Is it 1) flu leading to colds leading to flu and back again, the viruses simply winning or 2) a reaction to my current allergy pills or 3) allergies or 4) something else entirely?

We are both on antibiotics now. I have a horrible history with antibiotics, absolutely horrible. Emergency room visits and side effects that lingered for months. And yet I’m desperate enough to take the chance because in nine days, we are getting on an airplane and going to Belize. And damn it, I am not going to be sick.