I've never had a flu shot in my life. While other people hack, sneeze, wheeze and complain their way through winter, I normally sail blithely right on through with nary a cough. I've always been seemingly impervious to winters' ills. This year, however, was different.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk working away when I noticed that my throat felt slightly scratchy. It wasn't sore, and I didn't have a cough. There was just that faint unpleasant feeling at the back of my throat, as if a small, invisible finger were ever-so-gently scratching away. I made several trips to the water cooler, coughed a few times, even gargled with mouthwash, but that unpleasant feeling remained.
By the time I got home that night, I had a slight head ache. It wasn't one of those pounding, throbbing things that feels like somebody whacked you across the head with a base ball bat, it was a gentle, insistent pulsing. A nagging reminder that it was there, coiled comfortably somewhere mid-brain, taking up residence for a while. I'm here, it seemed to be saying, and I'm gonna hang out with you a while. I took a BC powder and racked out early that night.
The next morning that gentle, insistent pulse had turned into a full-blown, raging headache, a 4-alarmer, one of those that has you reaching for the aspirin as soon as you wake up. My nose was clogged up so badly I could breathe only through my mouth. I stood up and immediately groaned. My legs felt as if someone had repeatedly whacked them with a rubber mallet, and my back felt as if my grandchildren had used it for a trampoline all night. I shuffled into the living room, walking in that peculiar, swaying side-to-side manner my grandson has when he's walking with a diaper loaded to the brim.
"Basil?" Ann looked at me from over her coffee mug. "Are you feeling any better?"
"Ugh", I said. "I think I've got a cold or something." I walked painfully to the bathroom and spent the next 5 minutes blowing my nose. I wobbled out of the bathroom and into the kitchen, where I fixed a cup of coffee and stood blearily slurping it down.
Ann came into the kitchen. "Don't you think you should stay home from work today?" She felt my forehead. "You're warm, but you're not running a high fever." She stood on tiptoe, reached into the medicine cabinet, pulled down the Alka-Seltzers and plopped 2 into a cup of cold water.
"Aw, not the Alka-Seltzer." I took a step back.
"Yes. Drink this down now. You know they'll make you feel better."
"They taste terrible. Isn't there anything else?"
"No. Now drink."
I drank, complaining petulantly the whole time. I choked the Alka-Seltzer down, called in sick at work, wobbled back to my bedroom and crawled under the warm covers. Lying there in the darkness I listened to the sounds of Ann and Mary getting ready for the day. Cars from the highway were rumbling past outside, and I had a feeling of being separated somehow from the rest of the world. Everyone else was getting ready for work and school, I was lying in bed hacking away like a 2-pack a day smoker.
I tossed fitfully in my bed for the remainder of the day. The pile of used Kleenex on my nightstand grew as I blew my nose repeatedly. I only got out of bed to shuffle to the bathroom where I leaned tiredly against the wall as I did my business. My head throbbed, my nose grew red and sore and my throat felt like it had been scraped with rough-grit sandpaper.
That afternoon Ann brought home a flu powder that, when mixed with hot water, smelled like cat urine and tasted like boiled turpentine. I grumpily drank it down and went to bed, where I tossed and turned all night, feverish and sweaty. And so it went for the next 5 days. I'd wake up, blow my nose, hobble to the bathroom, take a dose of the flu medicine, then go back to bed. By the end of the week I was feeling better, and was so tired of drinking the boiled cat-urine that I was ready to do anything to get out of the house and go back to work. The mountain of paperwork that greeted me when I finally made it back to work convinced me that it was time to change some of my priorities regarding preventative medicine.
Next year will be different. When those flu shots become available, I'll be right there in line waiting to get stuck. No piles of Kleenex, no pounding headaches, and no more boiled cat's pee to drink. Bring on the needle.