As a health reporter for this newspaper, I don’t actually dispense medical advice, but report on those who do. And every year, like clockwork, I trot out warnings about the upcoming flu season and recommendations from public health officials. I try to make sure readers know where they can most conveniently get vaccinated against influenza.
I should have taken notes on my own notes.
It began the day after Christmas. This is the day I traditionally cannot stand another moment of shiny red and green clutter. Up come the plastic totes and in goes Christmas. This timing is not for everyone, of course, but I just can’t really get de-holidayed until this happens. I tend to want to stay in jammies, drink cocoa and read magazines. My boss frowns on this.
I fought a tickle in my throat the whole day, but scoffed at Camo Man’s suggestion I might want to forego the annual take-the-whole-clan-to-the-movies night.
“It’s a cold,” I assured my husband. “We’re going.”
I warned the young man in the ticket window to use the hand sanitizer after handling my cash.
“I have a cold. Do it, or I’m calling your mom.”
He smiled, as any illness-exempt teen would. Hope he’s smiling now.
The next morning, Friday, I used a vacation day to take care of some business. I want to apologize, right now, to everyone at my bank, even though I offered the standard warning that I had a cold. I shudder thinking of how many people might have touched the pen I used. I’m so, so sorry.
IT WAS ME AND I DIDN’T KNOW.
Even when I donned my man’s cozy cotton jammies and crawled into bed later that afternoon, I thought my increasing cough was the incoming tide of a robust chest cold.
I also figured a little nap would help my body defend itself and then I would enjoy Christmas leftovers with my family at dinner.
My feet, however, would not touch the floor again until Sunday, about the time the sky was leaking light as dusk elbowed its way in.
This, I thought, as I lay in sweaty sheets and tried to figure out where that incredibly annoying rattle was coming from (answer: my chest), this is the flu. This is how people die.
If it had not been for faceless people placing water containers in my clawed hand and standing there until I drank, I would have happily drifted off to a dehydrated death. I dreamed of being in the emergency room, taken care of while resting on cool sheets in a darkened room. As I seesawed from Sahara Desert to Antarctica, I fought with the covers and whispered to the disembodied voices coming from my bedroom door.
By Monday, I was officially unwashed for the longest stretch of my life. Didn’t care, either. I was in the same plaid pants and too-big T-shirt, mummified in blankets on the couch. I couldn’t bear the thought of water touching my fever-sore skin or peeling off the only thing between me and the frozen particles of air at my house.
My lungs were threatening to come out of my chest with every hack, I had no desire for food and I could only read when my eyeballs didn’t ache. I moved slowly when forced to. My fingertips were too tender to dial a phone or touch a keyboard.
I bemoaned my stupidity for failing to heed my own stories and get a flu shot, even when that added to Camo Man’s smugness for taking such action. He got vaccinated while at work, so it’s not like he gets a prize for being the first man to take responsibility for his health, by the way.
A few friends told me, “I don’t believe in flu shots.” Be that as it may, the flu believes in you. Oh, so much — enough to attach itself with tentacles and burrow in like in those horror movies. The flu does not care how you feel about science, medicine or going to work. The flu wants to be your best and final friend, it does.
Me? I now believe in flu shots like never before. Underscored by having donated a day of vacation and two of sick leave to the enemy.
On Tuesday, I worked up the courage to shower. I ate soup. I cared that there is nothing but drivel on TV. I begged my family’s help with laundry. I wore real clothes for a few hours. It was quite the New Year’s Eve, followed by a party the next day of more crap TV and one frenetic hour of family cleaning.
Today, Jan. 2, I am at work. Just walking to the building from my car seems worthy of a nap. I’m no longer contagious, but I sound like I am — I’ve sent out the apologetic email for subjecting all here to the disgusting sounds of my body ridding itself of the souvenirs influenza left behind.
That’s the end of this flu saga, children. You know what to do. I do, too, A LITTLE LATE.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or email@example.com.