Do you know that ad? I do, quite well. Whoever created the Allstate “Mayhem”-type character to represent the flu season has it down pat–the words “little” and “flu” do not belong together.
I have spent the better part of the past month on my sofa fighting two colds and what I thought was a third, telling everyone my allergies were acting up and vowing I would shake it off because, “How in Hell can I be sick again?!”
I do not get sick. Okay, that’s a lie. I came down with the dreaded bird or pig or whatever animal flu it was that we were all so terrified of a few years ago but have forgotten about now, when I lived in the Keys. I have never been so ill in my life, and I literally could not move for four days. When I finally managed to get to a doctor’s office at my boss’s insistence, the staff made me put on a mask and sit in a corner away from everyone. When the nurse and doctor examined me, they too donned masks and gloves and disposable paper “coats.” Yeah, that was a comforting moment. The best they could do medically for me at that point, however, was prescribe codeine cough medicine.
“Codeine doesn’t really help a cough, you know,” came the muffled laugh from my masked doctor. “It just knocks you completely out so you can’t cough. Your friends will be jealous.” Ah, medical care in the Keys.
That I succommed to that insane celebrity virus, becoming ill for the first time in many years, was a bizarre blip on my clear medical-history radar, a quirk that temporarily upended what is otherwise a superb, nay, perfect immune system. Or was, until January and February 2012.
The first cold I caught not long into the new year was merely a sneezing four-day nuisance. I work with a staff of mostly 20-somethings that is always complaining about this sniffle or that tummy ache or that “migrane” headache in such an unoriginal yet supremely earnest effort to disguise a hangover, that I think they actually believe they have contracted these ailments from sources other than their pals Jose, Jack, Jim and Johnny.
“Oh, I have that cold, too!” chirped one of the cute girls with whom I actually like working. “My taste buds are all off because I can’t breathe, and my head is killing me,” she said.
“It’s already better since yesterday, so I guess it’s just a little cold,” she added.
Ten days later, I felt the tell-tale tickle in the back of my throat and a kind of congestion that was a harbinger of more than allergies run amok. Are you kidding? Another cold?
“Yeah, it’s going around. I feel like crap,” moaned a guy with whom I don’t love working but have to tolerate because what else can you do with a co-worker who always has to be cut first because he’s late for his other job, or his wife needs the car seat for the baby and it’s in his car and she has to be at work in 45 minutes, and he’s so sorry to leave us with all the side work again–he’ll do it all next shift.
“I was up all night with the baby,” he continued, sniffing for emphasis. “She’s got it, too. I gotta get out of here early today so I can get some sleep, finally.”
Okay, maybe he did have a cold, because I sure came down with one, and this one was a bit more virulent than the one before. I felt bad enough to lay around my house when I wasn’t working, but not bad enough to call out. I drank juice and vowed I would wash my hands more and hug people less, even though I certainly hadn’t been hugging my co-workers, but I knew what I meant–get strong and tough again! Two colds in three weeks? No, no, no. I don’t do multiple colds in years, much less weeks.
You can kid yourself into believing this will the last cold forever, or at least a decade, as you stock up on DayQuil and NyQuil and wish you hadn’t tossed out Dr. Codeine when you moved back from the Keys.
“I’m really sick,” sighed a girl a mere week after I finally felt well enough to go for a run, a girl who has chronic underlying health issues for real, but who never calls out, even though a cold would make her feel a billion times worse than it would any of us.
“Oh, yeah, that cold sucks. I just got over it,” I told her with utter certainty and confidence. “Plan on four days of misery and then it’s done.”
“I hope so,” she said. “I really feel like crap.”
When she called me the next morning to cover for her lunch shift, and she didn’t show up to work the following three shifts, I admit, I was a tad worried about her.
“She’s fine,” said my manager. “She’s out of town for a few days with her family.”
Huh? Okay, I guess.
Two days later, the co-worker with whom I like working shuffled in five minutes late, her skin tone the color of dust. Good lord.
“I’m really sick,” she said, her voice raspy and weak. “But I never feel like I can call out here, you know, because, well…” she didn’t finish that servers’ lament that usually ends with “because they might take me off the schedule” or “I can’t afford to call out again” and so on.
“Can you take all the tables?” she said, sounding breathless. “If you get busy, I’ll try to help.”
No problem. Good money for me!
Until it got crazy busy. Until my manager yelled at me for hogging tables despite his directing my co-worker to the office to “sleep it off for a half hour.” Until my co-worker said she was taking a cab to the ER because she couldn’t catch her breath and her chest was killing her every time she inhaled or exhaled. Until I felt an odd aching sensation in my wrists and ankles when it finally slowed down, which I attributed to having run a restaurant marathon the past four hours.
Until I woke up the next day aching all over and feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest and my head was about to explode. Even then, I refused to accept my symptoms. I swilled DayQuil. I made and ate two bowls of chicken soup. I scrounged a couple of years-old packets of Emergen-C from a random kitchen cupboard and hauled my sorry self to work. Because I couldn’t call out….
As luck would have it, if there’s anything lucky about being sick, I was off the next two-and-a-half days. So was my great guy, something that never happens. I tried to rally by slurping the now-familiar DayQuil-chicken soup-Emergen-C cocktail, and it sort-of helped for a few hours.
“This one’s a really bad cold bug, maybe even a little flu or something,” I sniffled to my great guy. “I gotta go home.” And with that, I slept for the next 48 hours, awaking only to move from the bed to the sofa and back to bed.
And every ten minutes, it seemed, the ad would come on, taunting and mocking me: “There’s no such thing as a ‘little’ flu.”
I slogged into work after two days, still achy and miserable, but what the hell. Everyone else at work, from management to the front of the house to the back was sick as those dogs who claim flu shots don’t work and they only make you sicker, and they weren’t calling out.
“I have four packets of Emergen-C,” I told my two co-workers. “Help yourselves.”
As an aside, I don’t know what ingredients are in Emergen-C that are not listed on the label, but wow, does it work to infuse you with super-hero-like energy when you really have the strength of a newborn kitten, and give you a temporary sense of wellness you won’t feel for real for five more days. It is now my drink of choice during every shift, because I’ll be damned if I’ll get sick again.
I have instructed the 20-somethings to drink the stuff every shift as well. “Maybe with all the vitamins and whatever, we can stay well for a few months, you know?” I cajoled them.
“Yeah, I already drink that all the time,” said the girl who seemingly started the flu binge, even though my flu-laden manager blamed it on the “snowbirds bringing their frickin’ northern viruses with their sunscreen.”
“I still got sick,” she pointed out. Okay, but she’s sick all the time, anyway.
I am holding out hope that this was the last of it for me for a while. I am trusting the Emergen-C to continue to work its magic as I promise myself, my dogs and my great guy that I will consume heaping servings of fruits and veggies every day and get off the sick bus once and for all.
As for getting a flu shot next year…we’ll see. Because I never get sick, you know?