The Flu—A Personal Review
The flu. The name sounds mundane in this age of modern vaccines and miracle drugs. For most people, if they think of it at all, it is only as a reminder of that annual rite of passage: the late fall or early winter vaccination.
But it hasn’t always been such. We should not forget that at one time, and this was not so long ago, the flu—influenza as it is more properly recorded—killed more people than any other illness in modern history. The 1918, pandemic killed fifty million people world wide, fully three times the number of folks killed in all the years of World War I, which was one of the most terrible wars in all of human history.
The 1918 flu was the great equalizer, afflicting a whopping 25% of the US population. Incredibly, so many Americans died in that one year that the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by twelve years.
The 2012 flu is nothing like the 1918 flu, of course. A few people have died, perhaps even a few more than usual, but it certainly isn’t creating a panic in the streets. Nonetheless, it is out there. And I am living proof of that.
I was vaccinated against the flu in the late fall. A few weeks ago it nearly killed me.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. I was never anywhere near death, though the idea had a certain appeal at the worst of it.
It began one evening with achiness in my legs, which quickly spread to include every muscle in my body. Such myalgias are common with the flu. What was different this time was the severe and unrelenting nature of the aches, as if I had run a marathon. Uphill. In a cold rain. Ever fiber of my being became involved before this little piece of misery was over. The soreness was biblical, with an absolute sense of being not just ill, but afflicted. And this was before the headache, which came on within a few hours and was its own little torture. At times, my head positively swam between nausea and a vice-like pressure. Misery abundant.
I took to chanting: “there is no pain there is no pain there is no pain there is no…” For brief moments, this mantra seemed to clear not only my mind but my body too, and I would lie still for minutes at a time, afraid even to breathe for fear of breaking the spell. In this fashion I passed several barely tolerable days, though in the nights my tormentor seemed to redouble her efforts. She seemed a jealous bitch, determined to keep sleep from me.
The early mornings, 2-6 am, were the worst. I couldn’t get comfortable and tossed constantly. Sometimes I got up and showered, which somehow seemed to relieve the worst of it, if only for a few moments. I took four showers in ten hours on the third day.
My appetite was not affected, though eating was a chore because I was always so tired. And I never had any trouble breathing, no pneumonia, no cough, no belly pain. Nonetheless, the flu engulfed me, occupying every part of me in the worst way. I was hot, with perhaps a moderate temp of 101-102. The world alternated between burning and freezing. And just wiggling my toes spun my head till I felt like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. I couldn’t imagine a world in which head splitting misery wasn’t at the forefront of existence.
By the morning of the fourth day, the aches had begun to recede, though it took another thirty-six hours for them to dissipate altogether. The headache was a bit more tenacious, especially at the back of my head and top of my neck. I wondered for awhile if I might have a bit of viral meningitis. If so, I appear none the worse for it.
I never tried tamiflu. Possibly that antiviral agent might have reduced the intensity and or duration of the illness. I dunno. I did drink constantly, as staying well hydrated in such a circumstance is key. Rest and relaxation are the other orders of the moment, though, to be honest, I had no choice but to stay horizontal. I couldn’t function for the best part of five days.
The verdict: A difficult five days, but tolerable enough in the end. If you gotta be sick, you could do much worse than this little piece of genetic material. As a deadly illness, I give the 2012 influenza a flimsy 2/5 Stars (uncomfortable, potentially life-threatening, but a pale imitation of the real thing—though as close as I care to come for the foreseeable future). In terms of the more mundane flu we have come to know over the past decade however, this was right up there—a real whopper.
Give it a pass if you can.