I’ve been sick for the last week–nothing special, just your basic garden variety flu. It laid me out, though. Even a week later I’m still achy, and I’m out of gas after a couple of hours of activity. This morning I changed the battery in my daughter’s car and went grocery shopping, and I feel like I need to sleep for a week.
It’s embarrassing how poorly I react to a little virus. I have friends and family who live with chronic afflictions–heart problems, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, Republicanism. They aren’t taken out by a trip to the grocery store, at least as far as I know. That’s the thing: They don’t bitch and moan about their disorders, they just live their lives. But me? At the first sign of the flu I’m holed up in my darkened room.
Part of that is self-quarantine. I wouldn’t be fighting this stupid flu if the weasel who passed it to me had locked himself away for a couple days. More than likely it was someone who works at my regular diner, a server or line cook who couldn’t afford to take a sick day. He or she just sucked it up, drove to work, and coughed it up–all over my breakfast. I don’t have to do that, though. Hiding in a darkened room until my cooties are no longer contagious won’t be the difference between paying my power bill and not paying my power bill.
I also have to factor in the “man flu,” that mysterious notion that men turn into giant babies at the first sign of post nasal drip. Man flu may be a stereotype, but at least in my case it’s one grounded in sniffly truth. There’s no point trying to deny it: I’m one fainting couch away from Miss Scarlett melodrama when the flu hits.
But inevitably I think the biggest factor in why a simple flu whacks me so hard is that I’ve never been sick a day in my life. This is something my grandmother used to tell me right after telling me about the cold she was getting over or whatever was bothering her since the last time we spoke. I never asked her how she could both be getting over the flu and never have been sick a day in her life, but I think I get it now. For my grandmother, “sick” was the cancer that took her husband. It was the diabetes that afflicted her favorite grandchild, or one of the various chronic maladies that her siblings complained about. Heart disease was “sick,” the flu was just the flu. If I’d ever dealt with being truly sick, my piddly little flu would probably feel like a great day.
I have been extremely lucky so far in terms of physical health. Sure, I’m batshit crazy, but physically I have remained in exceptional health throughout my entire life. I’ve never had a surgery that wasn’t related to an injury, nor am I on any prescription medications. I don’t even have any allergies. Filling out the health questionaire at the dentist’s office is a breeze, though I probably linger too long over the “are you currently pregnant” question. Would they refuse to clean my teeth if I checked “yes”? One of these days I’ll test the theory.
The truth is probably much messier than “I’ve never been sick a day in my life.” Chances are I’m allergic to a bunch of stuff, for example. I’m just not allergic to the point that it affects the quality of my life. When that day comes, I suppose I will have to redefine myself as a person with allergies. Yes, and chances are that I have a bunch of little time bombs ticking away inside of me–cholesterol, blood pressure, nasty little cells replicating in destructive ways–but they’re just ticking. Until they explode, I can’t think of myself as a sick person, nor should I.
What scares me is this: When that day comes, will I be able to handle it? If I deal this poorly with the lousy flu, how in the heck will I deal with the degenerative disease that killed my mother, the cancer that took my grandfather, or any of the other myriad chronic conditions lurking in my family’s medical history?
I don’t know. Hopefully I’ll take a cue from my grandmother and simply decide that I’ve never been sick a day in my life, all evidence to the contrary. All I know for certain is that right now I need a cough drop. And a nap on my fainting couch.