It might be bad form to complain about some unidentified winter ailment while the coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, has the attention of the world’s public health community. But the fact is that the flu or related crud pretty much dominated my world for the last couple of weeks.
Before you ask, yes, I got my annual flu shot, the stronger one they give to older people. I get one every year, and if my personal history is any guide, they have worked rather well. I’ve also been a regular hand-washer for a number of years. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.
My luck ran out this year, as it happens, on the same day I visited my doctor for my annual physical. I passed the physical but I knew something hostile was coming on before my appointment. I also knew that whatever virus gained a grip on me would go directly to my lungs, where I’m most vulnerable. That vulnerability stems from 29 years of smoking two packs a day, and it exists even though I quit that awful habit in 2000.
So if the flu didn’t get me, the ensuing lung infection did. I had antibiotics, decent cough medicine and my usual array of inhalers, but life was lousy.
Being awake wasn’t any fun and sleep was almost impossible. It was no exaggeration to say that rolling over in bed took my breath away, at which time I would sit up straight in bed and try to slow my breathing.
When I finally got a deep breath, I tried sleeping again.
I wondered briefly if I was being punished for pretending to be sick as a kid to I could stay home from school to listen to the World Series between the Cardinals and the Yankees on the radio. I haven’t playing hooky lately.
I thought about resorting to extra oxygen, but you know that little device the nurse puts on your index finger when you visit the doctor? Well, it told me I had ample oxygen in my blood, so I just stuck it out. That was small consolation giving the wheezing I was doing, the fact that nothing tasted good and the insult of being reminded that Coke Zero is not one of the liquids I was supposed to pour down my throat under these circumstances.
Speaking of my throat, that was another source of misery, aggravated by all the coughing, which also took a toll on my ribs. What’s worse, the coughing wasn’t the kind doctors think of as “productive.” I think of it as stupid coughing. That is almost as stupid as beginning to feel just a little better one day only to go backward the next.
One of those episodes was enough to convince me I had pneumonia; fortunately, a chest X-ray said otherwise. I think that was the unseasonably warm day when I dared accompany Maggie and our dog on a routine neighborhood walk. I made it about 200 yards up a gentle slope, and after resting against someone’s pickup truck and then warning some other walkers we encountered not to come too close, I had to turn around. That was wimpy.
I realize I’m not the only person in our fair city to get sick this winter, or the only person to go to bed shivering and wake up perspiring. Misery loves company, and from what I’ve heard, there’s plenty of it. Surely some of these folks have needed emergency care, but I wouldn’t wish what I had on anyone. A dose of the flu can bring a different perspective on the coronavirus and other infectious elements, and it can sure make one appreciate modern medicine.
Fortunately, Maggie did not get what ailed me. I hope her luck holds. She is and always has been a better caregiver than I have been a patient, and, I might add, less demanding when she does get sick. I certainly put her to the test this go-round, what with her fetching things I forgot, picking up all the tissue in my wake, making sure I took all my medicine and just letting me be crabby.
In hindsight, I actually had it pretty good.
Walt Braun retired in 2017 as the Mercury’s editorial page editor.