My husband and I have had the flu since Saturday evening. To make matters worse, our symptoms began while out to dinner for our birthday. Yes, we share a birthday. We share germs, too. Adorable.
I was midway through duck confit nachos at Little Donkey in Cambridge when I felt it: a dull, haunting ache that settled into my bones like a grandpa collapsing into an overstuffed reclining chair. Don’t mind me, it said. I plan to stay awhile. Then I began sneezing all over my husband’s octopus.
The next morning, he woke up coughing. By Sunday afternoon, he was staggering around the house draped in three blankets, hunched over like a six-foot gnome. I’d taken to hiding in bed beneath my 15-pound gravity blanket (they’re great), unable to focus on anything except the same paragraph in a dusty Miss Marple novel, overdue from the Lexington public library.
Oh! But our children! Yes, we have two children, one of whom doubtlessly brought this dreaded germ into our house. Our toddler was sent home from school early on Friday for being clingy and mildly feverish. We put him to bed on Friday night and hoped for the best on Saturday morning. Putting a child to bed is kind of like rebooting a slow computer. You hope it’ll just start up in the morning good as new, as if the past was just a silly little joke. No such luck.
It is now Thursday. My husband hasn’t been to his office all week, save for an ill-fated two-hour stint on Tuesday wherein he was told that he looked like a corpse who forgot to lie down. He was sent home.
I have not left the house since Sunday. I look like a cross between Nick Nolte’s mugshot and a tarantula. I am wearing a plaid maternity shirt of unknown origin and a pair of girthy fleece pants that stop mid-ankle. My contact lenses have melted into my eyes.
There are some things that happen when you’re sick: to your home, to your children, to your sense of reality and proportion. For instance:
- You don’t know what day it is. It could be Sunday afternoon. It could be Wednesday morning. Who knows? What is time, after all? The only reason I know that it’s a different day is by reading my older son’s school lunch menu. On that note…
- You throw your children to the culinary wolves. My older son has been buying school lunch every day since neither of us feels like slapping together a sandwich. Doesn’t matter what it is: broccoli florets with a fresh fruit medley? Taco “flavored” meat arranged atop a Hoodsie? Yeah, I don’t know. He’s buying it. He was even sent home with a sad little index card from school saying his Cafeteria Bucks account was overdrawn. I re-upped that thing to $35 immediately. My toddler, on the other hand, is welcome to eat anything that comes in a squeeze packet or that isn’t directly poisonous.
- Strange food combinations just don’t matter. That dusty old can of Spaghettios in the back of the cupboard next to the sardines you bought on sale from Ocean State Job Lot? Never sounded better. A stale heel of bread? It’ll do. Pedialyte? Might as well be a martini.
- You carry Lysol like Mace. I’ve taken to walking through the house spraying everything with it. My furniture has become the enemy. Countertops are criminals. I spray and spray, with abandon. There isn’t enough Lysol in the world to protect me, but I don’t care. I will vanquish my dirty iPhone, and I will win. Or else disable it completely, making it a lot harder to play Words With Friends with strangers.
- Your threshold for amusement is a lot lower. In the past four days, I have watched reruns of “The Merv Griffin Show” (yes, it’s on Amazon Prime, in case you’ve ever wanted to see Mr. T as a young man, full of banter); YouTube biographies of Florence Henderson and “Bewitched”; the episode of “Friends” where Rachel discovers she’s pregnant at Monica’s wedding; and played at least 30 rounds of Words With Friends with complete strangers with names like “LakeHouseBev” and “RetiredSweetMuffin.” I don’t care.
- Everything is scary. The terrifying tales of people checking into the hospital with the flu and never leaving begin to feel all too real. You Google every twinge and symptom, studying up on the Asian flu pandemic of 1958 and wondering if the dull ache you feel in your lower back might also cause blindness. You terrorize your spouse by comparing symptoms. You post on parent message boards inquiring about the duration of symptoms and potential homemade cures. (Elderberry syrup is a big one.) You discuss projectile vomit with strangers. You mourn for your left nostril, the one that used to function.
- Your bedroom becomes a war zone. Piles of magazines, balled-up tissues, half-drained thimbles of Nyquil, wrinkled sheets, a plastic cup of ginger ale, dirty laundry, a stray sock…your sanctuary looks like a 1930s boardinghouse for hobos. The air is as fresh as a bathroom stall at the Port Authority. You have begun to use old T-shirts as Kleenex instead of trying to find a new box. Those T-shirts are now hibernating under your bed.
- Your entire living room carpet has turned into one large, crushed Cheerio. You no longer care.
How are you coping with flu season? Any strategies for keeping it at bay besides staying inside until April? What kind of tea pairs nicely with elderberry syrup?