Down with the flu, out for the count
February 22, 2008
If you haven’t gotten it yet this year, you’re lucky. If you have, then you’ll know what I’m talking about ” the abject misery, the isolation, the feeling you’re going to die in about five minutes as your spouse, your loved ones, and your dog gather around the bedside and look helplessly on, slightly worried that they might just get it too …
I’m talking about the Black Plague of the winter of 2008, the mother lode, the insidious illness that is taking at least a week out of our well-ordered, sane lives, robbing us of time, money, and reason. I’m talking about the flu.
If anyone wants to make a movie proving that this year’s flu bug is a conspiracy to render us all helpless for a week while some sort of international chicanery is going on, I’m all for it.
No other explanation seems logical for the viciousness of this year’s bug, a widespread menace to society capable of felling the hardiest humans and reducing them to a blubbering wreck, while Nemesis laughs, “Flu vaccine? What flu vaccine?”
This week, the CDC finally let loose a statistic that tells us that the two strains of flu this year ” known as “Brisbane” and “Yamagata,” are impervious to all but 40 percent of the nation’s flu vaccines.
I suppose this information was supposed to make us feel better. But to me, it smacks of the general uncertainty we all seem to be living under these days. If the CDC can’t handle a flu bug, how can they handle the worldwide epidemics/pandemics of stronger, scarier stuff?
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It also brings to mind the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, which killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide ” more than were killed during World War I. In some cities, people were required to wear a gauze mask in public at all times.
Stores couldn’t hold sales because of the danger of crowds gathering. And worst of all, just when the flu was under control, it gained a resurgence after Armistice Day, thanks to the number of parades and public celebrations to mark the end of the war.
And because there’s gallows humor to be found in everything, someone ” probably a newspaper columnist ” came up with a little ditty which became a popular rope-skipping rhyme for kids during those germ-infested times:
I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m just getting over the flu. It hit me last week like the proverbial ton of bricks, with an ocean liner or two thrown in, and I’m still reeling.
Two days after I came down with it, Tim was struck as well. With both our fevers spiking to 102 ” and my usual is 97-ish, so you can imagine what a jump that was ” we sat around weeping and drooling in misery for a few days, sharing a roll of toilet paper to cough into and taking turns making TheraFlu for each other. At least, no one had to worry about cooking, since we couldn’t eat.
We’re still not over it. We’re hacking, wheezing, coughing, sneezing.
Thanks to the flu, we missed our Valentine’s Day dinner last week, as well as an important hospital appointment. But if it’s true that misery loves company, then at least we got to share our suffering. There’s nothing worse than being sick and being alone.
It’s a funny thing, but the faint stirrings of nostalgia can be triggered by anything ” even illness. Somehow, when you’re a kid, any illness great enough to keep you home from school seems memorable.
I seem to remember every cold, every flu, every stomach bug that resulted in a good stretch of time away from the classroom and in front of the TV, being regaled with hot buttery potato soup (our own family version of the chicken soup that’s supposed to cure you, and often does).
The smell of the potatoes boiled in their buttery broth comes back to me at the first sign of even a slight head cold ” followed by the alcohol smell of the glass thermometer, and the faint, pungent scent of menthol that never left our faded flannel pajamas, no matter how often they were washed.
Illness in our home was always accompanied by the hiss of an ancient turquoise and white glass vaporizer with a black cloth cord, adding an element of danger to the proceedings.
Mother always threatened dire consequences if the water completely evaporated, and I always had a thrill of fear that the thing would explode due to a moment of inattentive carelessness.
When you’re a kid with the flu, your day is defined by how many TV shows you can cram in before the regular time rolls around when you’d be home from school anyway.
In the generation before mine, it was the radio that defined the luxury-of-illness parameters for childhood.
My mother remembers that she always hated it when the radio soap opera “Our Gal Sunday” came on at 4 p.m., because it signaled the end of her day off from school. For me and my brother, it was the advent of “The Popeye Club” at 4 p.m., which we watched every day anyway.
But oh, the joy of seeing those illicit TV shows when you’re supposed to be in math class! I guess that’s the main difference between adulthood and childhood.
No kid ever worried about missing a pop quiz or a lesson in fractions while he was lying on the sofa having his temperature taken, reading comic books, eating hot soup and watching an afternoon of game shows.
When you’re an adult, a sick day home from work is a day of worry and stress. When you’re a kid, it’s a gift from God.
Of course, there are those people who shrug off any illness. Good luck to them with this one. But if you do catch the flu this year, just remember ” the comforts of childhood can be somewhat replicated if you’ve got a good spouse or significant other. Get them to bring you TheraFlu and soup, and put an old radio show or two in the CD player.
And above all, make sure you reciprocate the favors a couple of days later, when they’ve caught it from you.