1. The massive, pounding headache.
Your sinuses have swollen to the size of grapefruits, forcing everything else in your head to adjust, and nobody is really happy about that. Every single pain receptor in your noggin is reporting the dissatisfaction. It’s an overload of misery every waking second, leading to dark moments when you actually consider just cutting your head off, because that can’t possibly hurt any worse. Maybe somebody can staple your head back on later, but for now, you just want the pain to go away, even if it takes a machete. (You can get these at Army Surplus. I checked the Internet one desperate morning at 3am.)
2. The non-productive cough.
So, you get all this fluid buildup in your lungs. This is not a good thing. You want to get all of the goopy stuff out, because it’s cutting off your oxygen and making your extremities turn blue. But does this crap cooperate? Of course not. Apparently there’s some Velcro action going on, because the evil clumps will NOT MOVE. No matter what you do. They cling with determination, laughing wickedly.
Yet your body continues the attempts at evacuation, repeatedly sending pointless signals to your interior coughing mechanism, triggering that whooping, hippopotamus-in-heat, throat-slicing bray that produces nothing. And you can’t stop, because when you try to suck in air and keep from passing out, that satanic tickle in your throat and/or lungs kicks off another round of donkey noises. Every five minutes you’re dying another tiny death. It’s enough to make you lose your freaking mind.
3. The destruction of the rain forest.
At first, you try to have some cultural decency and utilize actual tissues when performing maintenance on your constantly-dripping nose and hacking mouth. This, however, doesn’t last very long, at least for me. Those miniscule tissues don’t hold squat, especially when that nasty phlegm finally gets bored and lets go of your lungs. You need something with a higher storage capacity. This means industrial-strength toilet paper, rolls of it, stacked around your sickbed like an army of casket-bearers.
Now you can rip off great swaths of the toilet paper, hefty amounts that can professionally receive your unsightly shipment. I use far more than I should, because I don’t want that mess touching me after it has left my body. I’m done with it. I don’t want to see it again. We will not be sending each other Christmas cards.
By the end of my standard flu bout, I will have used roughly 300 rolls of toilet paper. I understand that this is somewhat selfish, and that certain people will look at my with disdain over my apparent disregard for the environment. I’m sorry, Bono. But I’m sick and I don’t care. Let the trees die.
4. The nose confetti.
As a companion to Number 3, this mess appears toward the end of the flu cycle, and can continue for up to a week after you are finally healthy again. Your poor nose, rubbed and abraded repeatedly for several days, is now in rehab. It is transforming itself back into a regular nose again. This means it is shedding its former skin. These bits of skin, peppering your honker, will make it look like you shoved your nose up a scarecrow’s ass. It’s not pretty.
But there’s not anything you can do about it other than just deal. Wait for the snowfall to stop. In the interim, try to avoid other people, for their own safety. All it can take is a brief gust of wind to stir things up, and everyone around you could lose an eye from the flying debris. Be kind, don’t blind.
5. The bed becomes your enemy.
It doesn’t matter what position you assume in your sickbed, it’s not going to be comfortable. This is one of the rules of flu life. You will not find the comfort zone, so just arrange your ass in the least painful manner, and then just lay there and suffer. There’s no other way to get through it. If being sick was fun, we’d have amusement parks like Worlds of Mucus and Six Hacks Over Texas. We don’t.
6. The crazed appetite.
If you have any type of hunger for sustenance during your down time (and most of the time you will not), it will be for obscure and bizarre things. You won’t want normal food. During this current round of misery, the only thing I’m wanting to eat are Strawberry Pop-Tarts and Reese’s cups, both of them beacons of nutrition. I don’t want anything else. Yes, I’ve been shoving minimal bits of protein in my mouth from time to time, because I really would like to continue living, but I’m not happy about the arrangement. I want fake pastry and chocolate-covered peanut butter. End of story.
7. You grow to hate people that you love.
I know that my partner is only trying to show support and compassion by checking on me from time to time. I really do. But constantly asking me if “I’m feeling better” only reminds me that I am not, especially if I have finally managed to drift off right at the second you come clattering into the room. I’ll send you a telegram if there’s a status change. In the mean time, if you should peek in the room and I have my middle finger fully extended in your direction, don’t take it personally. It’s the fever. Really.
8. The loss of time.
Wait, what day is it? Why isn’t the sun out? Is it time for more medicine? Have I bathed today? Hey, who the hell USED UP ALL MY TOILET PAPER!
9. The religious conversion.
Nothing puts you in a spiritual place quite like twenty minutes of non-stop coughing, convinced that you are never going to breathe again, and will perish right here in your bed that smells like a locker room. You will promise anything to the god of your choice. Anything. Of course, the second that you start to feel better, you will go right back to sinning and drinking, because we’re flawed humans who screw up all the time and are destroying the planet. Our bad.
10. The incredible pain.
Every single bone, muscle and tissue in my body is screaming in agony from all the coughing and the not-breathing. It hurts to blink my eyelids. But the most painful thing of all? The fact that my healthcare provider offers flu shots. For free, no charge. They even sent me several mailers saying “Hey, might wanna get that free flu shot. Come on in! It’s free! Hell, we’ve even got drive-thru service if you’re pressed for time.” But did I?
Actually, I did. As soon as they were offered, I was in line, hand up. Me! I want one! I don’t care for needles, but I care less for being flat on my back for a week and not being able to eat cheese without repercussions. So stick me!
And I still got sick, which means that somebody lied to me somewhere along the line, which is going to happen in any relationship, even if it’s with your doctor. (We’re guilty both ways with the lies: “Yes, doctor, I’ve been exercising every day, I don’t know why the weight isn’t coming off.”) On a side note, I should probably speak to my financial advisor about investing in toilet paper. I’ve had plenty of time to ponder such things while I was too weak to move, and I think a retirement plan based on desperate people with sinus issues seems pretty sound…
(Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 09/28/10. Revised and updated with extra flair for this post.)