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both in its six-fingered grip
december 29, 2001
Mary and I kicked off the holiday season this year by getting the flu.
We come down with influenza only about once every decade.
Mary caught it first, probably since she's out more in public than I have been lately. Hers started the Sunday before last, December 16, with a mild clearing of her throat while we lay flat on our backs in bed, watching a half dozen new video releases (we do this about once a month, always on a Sunday, getting out early to rent an armload of the latest releases while everyone else is still on their knees in church, then stopping on the way home to pick up steaming white bags of fast food.)
Monday morning, she was coughing as we got ready for work. That evening, her cough turned racking, and her eyes got red. We went to bed early. I woke up before the alarm on Tuesday, throat raw, pajamas sweaty.
By mid-week, we were both in its six-fingered grip.
Anyone reading this has probably had the flu at least once, so you know how terrible it is. We lay buried in our bed most of the time, too weak to do more than occasionally roll over to drink ice water, our voices so raspy we spoke to each other, when we did, only in single words. For me, the worst was the fluctuations between fever and chills. I'd drowse off, wake up ten minutes later kicking the sheet from me, drenched in sweat. Five minutes later, I'd start shivering so bad no amount of blankets pulled on top of me could stop my teeth from chattering. It got to the point where I dreaded getting out of bed to urinate, knowing how violently my body would tremble by the time I got to the bathroom and back. By the end of the week, our abdomens hurt so bad from coughing, the muscles contracting each time, hundreds of times a day, that we tried to come up with any position we could assume just before the cough that would make it even slightly less painful. Mary discovered the best, curling up in a fetal position.
We took all kinds of over-the-counter medicines, to where we had a constant, pharmaceutical taste in our mouths, like eating bad cheese.
But you know, there always is that moment in an illness when you realize you're coming out the other side. For me, it was early Saturday morning, the 22nd. I had slept for only an hour or so at a time the past several nights, turning raccoon-eyed, usually managing to fall back asleep eventually if I just lay quietly, coughing and moaning, but this time, when I woke up around three o'clock Saturday morning, it was like there were headlights in my head. There was no way I was going to be able to get to sleep again. But as I lay there, pulling Kleenex out of the box to wipe the sweat on my chest, it dawned on me that actually, I felt a little bit better.
That's another trick with the flu, of course. You start to not feel quite so miserable, to where you get up to do some household chore you've neglected the past few days, like load the dishwasher, but then halfway through that, dirty soup bowl in your hand, that tiring weakness gets on top of you again, bends your knees, and it takes everything you've got just to slap up the dishwasher door and press the Start button.
Later that Saturday, I lay in bed storing up my strength, then hobbled into the bathroom, brushed my teeth, shaved, got back in bed for an hour or so to rest, then showered.
That hot, soapy water felt wonderful.
By then we were on vacation (we were scheduled for vacation the week between Christmas and New Year's), so we could lie lazily in bed all day, drifting in and out of sleep, gradually getting stronger. Saturday night we trudged upstairs to work on our projects, having our first beer in a week. By the time we finished it, twenty minutes later, we were both exhausted and got back in bed.
Christmas Day we celebrated with an eight pound USDA prime rib roast, which we ate in bed. It was absolutely wonderful, tender and incredibly tasty, the blue oval platter we placed it on filling with rich, pink juice as we carved. Joe, Mary's dad, sent us catnip-flavored soap bubbles, which we played with in the living room by the Christmas tree, waving the circle-headed wand around, filling the air with transparent spheres that landed intact on the carpet.
Now, two weeks after first coming down with the flu, and a week after starting to improve, we still tire easily and cough occasionally. I've been polishing three stories I wrote recently, and have started a fourth, which I'm excited about, but it's slow going.
That bed just feels so comfortable.