The Working Waterfront

A good deed was the best medicine

Non-COVID illnesses are back, but so is kindness

Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2022-01-20
Last Modified 2022-01-20

It’s no secret that these are trying times. It’s a metaphorical rough ferry ride, with the news cycle and pandemic sending us up into an optimistic high, only to bring us crashing down into yet another trough. In a recent column, I wrote about the small gesture of leaving patches of milkweed standing for the monarch butterflies. It must have really resonated—a lot of you wrote to me about it. So, I want to offer another anecdote about a little bit of hope in trying times.

One ray of light during last year’s masked and distanced school year was the fact that nobody seemed to get sick. No colds, no flu, no norovirus. Not for me, not for the kids. When I did finally catch a cold this summer, it was a shock to my immune system, and I was way sicker than I anticipated.
While masking and vaccination are keeping COVID at bay on the island (knock wood!), we seem to have gone back to our old ways of catching whatever little bugs are milling around. A cold went through the school a few weeks ago, which my daughter caught, and last Saturday, she woke up with a temperature of 102.

I was heading off that afternoon for a Halloween show in Portland, and Bill stayed home with Pen. Over the weekend I got a few updates—her temperature was hovering between 102 and 104, she had a negative COVID test, she felt better when she took ibuprofen, and worse when it wore off.
I came back Sunday afternoon, and quickly vetoed the idea of trick or treating. She had also missed the community center Halloween party. She cried, carved a pumpkin, and went back to her spot on the couch under a favorite fuzzy blanket.

When they realized that she had missed the greatest of all kid rituals, trick or treating, they banded together, unprompted…

Her condition remained mysterious. On Tuesday, when I was home with her, she found two clues: a tiny blister on one finger, and a round rash on her forearm.

Back at the clinic, she was quickly diagnosed with hand, foot, and mouth—that dreaded fall virus—and a likely case of Lyme, which became even more definitive as the rash spread the next day. This meant a full week out of school, missing a test that she was looking forward to (what can I say, she’s my kid!), and four play rehearsals.

We were glad to know what was going on, but it didn’t help poor Pen’s mood. She had turned into a little couch lump, binge-watching The Simpsons, eating plain noodles, and napping. Her bearded dragon, Cliff, kept her company, but she truly missed her friends and routine.

Her friends missed her, too. When they realized that she had missed the greatest of all kid rituals, trick or treating, they banded together, unprompted by adults, to form an elementary school meal train—one comprised entirely of Halloween candy.

She received four huge bags in all, left on our porch, my desk, or delivered to our front door. Parents looked relieved to pass off some of the massive stash, and the kids understood that they were performing a true mitzvah.

Pen was delighted. Her friends missed her, they understood what she was feeling after missing out on Halloween entirely, and now she had a candy hoard for the ages.

Once her antibiotics arrived she started to feel better, and she’s on track to be back to school on Monday. She spent the end of her convalescence writing thank you notes to her friends and happily doing a little school work her teacher sent home.

I wouldn’t wish the double whammy of HFM and Lyme on anyone, but when bad circumstances lead to good works, they become a little easier to bear.

Courtney Naliboff parents, teaches music, theater, and writing, and plays music on North Haven. She can be reached at: