Friday, January 11, 2013

Never get out of the boat... Flu on the high seas.

A number of weeks ago my good friend Mark Ryan, a doctor, posted an ominous status update on Facebook about making sure that people in Richmond get a flu shot because he had already seen a number of cases come in through his office.  This was back before the holidays and for some reason that premonition stuck with me.  “I should really go get a flu shot.”  I kept saying to myself, week after procrastinated week.  Until, well, bam, I got the flu.  The flu sucks, people.

Back when I used to work at VCU, they had a number of days during the cold and flu season when they would offer free flu shots to any and every employee that showed up to the designated locations where we managed to kill work time with other staff waiting in long lines.  At the time in my twenties, I thought that not only was it a great time killer at work, but also covering my butt from a potential influenza outbreak.  I wonder if they still offer that and if the lines are still long?

During the first few years of my new job at the library, I actively sought out the location for my free flu shot.  It took a number of phone calls to find out the information, but once I pinpointed the place, it was pretty convenient and there were no lines at all, it was as if no one was getting them any more.  I guess VCU just advertised it better.  After a few years, a lot of excuses were made; it’s a scam, they are actually putting dead flu virus in your body and you still might get sick, and just because you are inoculated for one flu doesn’t mean you won’t still get the flu.  I don’t remember if I wound up believing all the nay-saying or just became lazy, but I stopped getting mine about 7 years ago.  

I am not trying to advocate going to get a flu shot necessarily, but, well, now I have the flu, and I am just expressing this notion.  I think it’s the worst case of it I have ever had.  It is certainly the first occasion that I have been tested and diagnosed, so it’s extra special to me this time.  I’ve had chills before, headache, fever like crazy, but this is all of those at once for a nearly a week now.  After being diagnosed Tuesday, and not told till later that I had a fever of a 102 while in the Doctor's office, I went home and straight to bed.  

That first night, after knowing it was flu, well, finally being out of the state of denial that is was flu, was transcendent.  I wanted to recall every heinous feeling to write about later. The way the chills shook me from the skin down deep into my body, coursing through till I literally “va va va” my chattering mouth in hopes to relieve some sort of pressure.  How when the fever rose up its dragon head, I felt like it was an atmospheric pressure surge, that the meat on my bones and skin on my forehead were possibly, in all hallucinogenic actuality, cooking from the inside.  I imagined how long my body would have to simmer at 102 to achieve a cannibal’s medium rare.  At one time in the middle of the night, the fever was so fast and strong that I thought I would perhaps be the first case of spontaneous human combustion in a decade.  Aches in the body that swarmed over me like african bee stings, joints that throbbed with every pulse of the blood pump.  Layers of clothes changed several times that night, from overdressed sweats under flannel sheets to shorts and a long sleeve shirt, probably settling on the exhausted discomfort rather than actually finding something comfortable.  

My dreams were annoying looped bits from this brilliant online comedy show with Jerry Seinfeld called “Comedians in Cars getting Coffee”  -- yeah, Super Dave Osborne is pretty funny being crazy in a Bentley, but Super Dave Osborne is not funny repeatedly badgering his hoarse voiced wit in your fever dreams.  Other times the dreams fell to the fever; sweating profusely on a beach in my Don Ho shirt, wearing a panama jack hat, sipping on a rum drink from a coconut.  What the hell?  No, it was hell, surely that had to be me in hell.  I knew going into the restless toss and turns of attempted sleep, that eventually I would pass out from exhaustion, but would it be sleep?

The doctor’s office gave me a note to be bedridden for seventy-two hours, three days, so no work for me.  Well, I have this stubbornly American ideal that I have still have to work, that taking sick time will burden others, which technically it does in this day of less staffing.  I was leaving my workmates stranded on overworked island while I slept in the luxury of the 102 degree fever dreams of pina colada hell.  I called my boss, she was understanding.  I told her that I really was in no condition to work, I was ragged out, but that I would definitely come in Friday if I felt better.  I was on this med called Tamiflu which shortens the length of the flu and helps ease the severity, I should be fine by Friday, right?  She told me to go ahead and take off the Friday too,  I won’t have the energy, plus I could still spread flu.

I had so much other stuff to do this week that I was looking forward to as well.  I was to attend and photograph a storytelling event, I was to have an author dinner with the contributing authors of our new book, I was to attend my wife’s award ceremony, and we were going to see The Producers Friday night.  I had to get subs for my DJ shows.  I was bedridden, the flu sucks.

I sleep most of the day that Wednesday, I sleep a lot of the day that Thursday.  Each morning the routine;  I get up, make french toast, go back to bed and sleep till noon.  Get up and then rummage around and snack, I think feed a cold is in my bloodline, then I lay back down.  This is why the scene in Master and Commander (a great sick day movie, by the way), where they are dead in the water for days on end and they start to believe that  the curse of the phantom ship is starting to be true, is significant while ill.  That holds a certain relevance to me under flu.  You may think you are ready to roll, that you got this, that oh yes, Friday you will be ready.  Fat chance.  You get up, move around a bit, then suddenly bam, you are weakened, tired, and you’ve hacked up more yellow charms from your throat.  You may fancy yourself a Captain Jack pursuing that French man-o-war and ready to take her on, then bam, the pursuit is gone, the sails have bellowed the last gasp of the breeze and you are stranded in the middle of the bed wondering when was the last time you dosed the alka seltzer cold remedy.  Flu takes the wind out of your sails. The flu is exhausting.

Trust the government or not, their website is vastly helpful and should be adhered to.  Yeah, sure, they offer really obvious stuff you should do to treat it; rest, plenty of fluids --just like mom used to tell you.  It also advises you to stay in bed when you need to, do not feel obligated to go do things, rest for pete’s sake.  Google has tracked searches for flu trends in the U.S. and it is astonishing.  Red zones across every state practically, and with Tamiflu becoming short in supply, you have to wonder if it is going epidemic.  Sure, the fear is there, we as Americans are great at that, but do we have as much fervor about treatment?  Less than 100 years ago, the Influenza epidemic wiped out a ton of people. Sure, we've made advances in treatments, but the virus has mutated too. Adaptation. Okay, I am rambling now.  It’s Friday, I got up this morning around 9:30, made some french toast and am now back in bed, slowly succumbing to tiredness, lack of energy and heavy eyelids.

I have a bit of a twisted metaphor to end this.  You know that scene in the movie Jaws, when Richard Dreyfuss is arguing with Robert Shaw about the Anti-shark cage he is bringing along on the Orca?  

Quint: Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark's in the water. Our shark.
Quint: Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we've received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.

I kind of have this weird idea that the shark is the flu and staying in the boat is a flu shot.  Getting out of the boat?  Not getting a flu shot.  So I guess that makes my friend, Mark, Quint.  This I believe is sage advice from a professional and a friend, get a flu shot, never get out of the boat. 

I know, it’s probably the antihistamines talking...