FLU: personal gateway to Dante’s Inferno

When you first start wondering if you’ve caught the flu, and where, you’ve already got it. In my case, it started with a deep, distinctive, rattly cough from the passenger in seat 8C on the December 15th flight to Phoenix. “Just what I need”, I thought. I was seated in 7A.

Friday: Deplaning at Phoenix, I congratulated myself as I strode the lengths of vast Terminal 4. I had recently beaten back a 1-week chest cold. I felt great. But, by bedtime, I was coughing uncontrollably. Any sleeping at all was difficult. I found I sometimes had to sit up for long spells so the coughing would be productive, then settle down. I took a slug of a generic chain store Tussin syrup, but that seemed to loosen up even more stuff and make the coughing worse. I do know from my own medical history that I do NOT want to take any product that tends to dry the “stuff” up in the lungs, such as Dimetapp did to me once.

Saturday: Days are always much easier than nights, perhaps because we are more likely to be standing or sitting upright. I move slowly, sitting down to rest often. I know at the time this is very bad. I have to be able to get to the airport Sunday morning. Fer gawdsakes, I have to drive to the local Walgreens for a plumber’s helper. I am OK on Tussin, but the toilet is acting up. Throughout this whole ordeal, I never rememember TheraFlu, which consistently used to help us through bad nights of flu and colds. Saturday night is one of my worst ever. I grab the comforter out of the guest bedroom. I am starting to think what I would have to gather if I dial “911”, and end up doing nothing. The next morning the bed looks like some kind of jumbled patchwork mountain of bedding and pillows.

Sunday: I manage to shut down the house. Friend Todd picks me up and we share a 16-year-old Sunday breakfast tradition at one particular Dennys, but I am unable to eat much. I give our favorite waitress a special Christmas tip, and get a hug for it, and I do not cough. She is a working mom. I celebrate a free first-class upgrade by sleeping most of the way. All I want is a half a glass of tonic and a blanket. The drive home from SFO is manageable. I take in the mail and newspapers and turn into bed almost right away.

Sunday night is another really bad night, but I’m learning the drill. When the coughing turns to spasms, wrap yourself up and sit upright on the edge of the bed until the spasms go away and the passages feel clear. Sliding back down to the pillows may allow brief sleep periods ranging anywhere from a minute to a couple of hours. I feel myself running out of energy to fight this thing. I get through the long night trying to think of something I could manage to eat in the morning (toaster waffles).

I am having feverish recurring dreams when able to sleep at all. In one of them, the little plastic cup that comes with the Robitussin bottle was said to contain microchips and a dip switch built into the plastic base. You set the switch to a value of 1, 2 or 3 depending on whether you want cough suppression, expectorant, or both. And the instructions do not say how to set it. Of course this is crazy, and I knew it even in my dream. I had this same dang dream several times and “the answer” never came.

Monday-Saturday: Each day starts getting just a little bit better. I had called in sick at the office. At first I am sleeping 18 hours a day; toward the ends of the week, I try to stay up to make sure that I’m really rired when 8PM rolls around. I have called the Advice Nurse, who offers the standard liquids-chicken soup-bedrest formula. I aleady know all that and am doing it. She says she will send a note to the doctor about putting me on Guaifenesin. I do not realize until talking to the doctor later that this is just Robitussin -DM. When I talk to the doctor later, he says (in so many words):

Flu – Bronchitis – Pneumonia. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. Get some Robitussin-DM.

I can drive down to his office and camp outside the door next week to pick up the Note From The Doctor my employer requires when you’re out 3 or more consecutive days. 30 years ago, we in retail management saw this as a tool to help protect the company against malingerers. Today, it protects the company against liability claims.

By midweek the temperature is back down to normal. I venture out briefly a couple of times to stock up on chicken soup, Robitussin and a couple of other local items I need. I see that I still move slowly, but I no longer have to plan each trip from the couch or bed like I am conserving energy for the final ascent of Everest. I am quite sure I am learning tricks of the trade I will use again in my “golden years”.

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