Only after you’re feeling better are you ready to compare notes, and then it becomes the most interesting thing you’ve ever discussed.
But while in the dark throes of it, I didn’t want to talk about the flu. It was all I could do to keep two heavy comforters and a blanket pulled up around my chin. My full-time job was to drink water and remind myself to breathe. My grasp of time was all off: some hours passed like minutes and some minutes like hours. I kept the TV on for company, and I listened as a 15-second commercial for hair color seemed to stretch out into epic lengths. A commercial for mayonnaise came on and I fumbled to find the remote quickly enough to silence it. (This morning a TV doctor said there’s no such thing as a stomach flu, but my flu sure did end up there.)
They’re calling this the worst flu outbreak in 10 years. All the news channels keep referring to the ER tents set up outside some hospitals, and how some patients are being turned away. But they’re not saying whether the flu is making that many people desperately sick, or whether people are still using the ER as a family doctor. During this illness, I never felt the need to go to the emergency room, but if teeth chattering and whining counted as life-threatening, I probably should have gone.
It’s as sick as I’ve felt in probably 30 years, and that includes a year of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. You hear flu and you think really bad cold. I’d forgotten. Flu is a body snatcher, replacing every cell with icy, hard misery. You’re so cold, but you feel like your head’s on fire. Your teeth hurt, your hair hurts, your skin is crawly and when you try to sit up there are thick, gray hands pushing your shoulders back down. For two days, I was flat in bed. Day three I felt well enough to get up and check my email and have some soup. Days four, five, and six brought the return of a shower and a little bit of food. Day seven, I was doing some laundry and walking out for the mail.
This is day eight. I still look like I should be included in a Worst Celebrity Mugshot slideshow, but at least I’m up and around.
And did I mention I got a flu shot? I lined up in October, like always, and rolled up my sleeve. The TV doctors are saying lots of people got sick despite vaccinations. I remember my arm hurting a bit more this time, which my pediatrician friend says means I had an immune reaction to the vaccine right away. Not enough of one, apparently.
When you are that sick, you forget what it’s like to feel well. Your brain tells you that this will pass and you will be better, but your body doesn’t believe it. And so you are draped in a wet blanket of hopeless.
And the first hour you start to feel better, the shroud peels back a little and you can see sunlight. And you ask yourself what would taste good, and this time you actually have an answer. Pancakes!
Your family welcomes you back. They tell you so-and-so called to ask about you, as well as this friend and that co-worker. And when you start calling them back, you realize you weren’t the only one who was sick.
That’s when you tell your story of the worst flu ever. You share your tale of coughing and sneezing and trying to hold it together for just one more hour. You commiserate and compare temperatures. And then you hang up knowing that your flu was worse. And you are so grateful it’s over, because you can see the future again.