I had the flu.
It’s taken me a little while to come around to that point of view. When asked, at the time I told people things like “It’s just an upper respiratory infection” or “I have bronchitis.” And, even now, I have an occasional, lingering cough.
Let’s go through it.
March 7, Thursday. I was fine. On Facebook I saw an ad for Aldi; they had a special price on corned beef briskets, and with St. Patrick’s Day looming I decided I’d stop by after work. Plus, a friend of mine had said on Facebook a few days earlier that Aldi had Irish Cheddar Cheese infused with stout and whiskey, and that sounded very intriguing. After work, then, I went to the Aldi in Timonium and, while I completely forgot about the corned beef brisket, I bought all of the blocks of the Irish Cheddar Cheese they had infused with stout (two blocks) and whiskey (three). I could always figure out later what to do with five blocks of cheese.
March 8, Friday. I woke with an occasional weak cough. It sounded worse than it felt. I went to work, thought nothing of it, working on some publications that went to press, looked at this recipe for White Chicken Chili that I’d seen on Facebook. In other words, it was a pretty normal day, albeit one with a weak cough.
I stopped at the grocery store and bought the ingredients for the White Chicken Chili, because I thought that would be a pretty good dinner, and I picked up rice and a loaf of French bread as well. I looked at Weis Market’s corned beef briskets, but none looked appealing and I made a mental note to check another grocery store over the weekend or early the following week.
I went home. I fixed dinner. The recipe sorta worked. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I really wanted. I called my mom, she noted my cough, I told her it was nothing. I watched a couple of episodes of Father Ted (again, St. Patrick’s Day was coming up), and went to bed.
March 9, Saturday. I woke and felt awful. The cough was still weak, but it wasn’t occasional anymore. It was a generally non-productive cough, and when it did produce mucus the resulting mucus, besides being kinda yellow-brown, didn’t seem to be in any sort of quantity to justify the coughing.
I fixed a pot of coffee, I put on Weekend Edition Saturday, I took some ibuprofen.
Then began the vomiting.
I wasn’t nauseous. Rather, the coughing would trigger my gag reflex, and I would watch my coffee spew back out of my mouth into my toilet. “Did I see my ibuprofen there?” I mentally asked myself. I did not, so I didn’t take more. And then I would cough again, I would gag again, and I would vomit again, repeating until my vomiting was nothing but dry heaving.
And then the headache arrived.
It was massive and intense and felt like nothing I’d ever had. Is this a caffeine withdrawal? I wondered. I had, after all, vomited up a pot of coffee. When I felt it was safe to take ibuprofen again, it had no effect.
I crawled into bed. I had no energy.
And then I felt hot.
Do I have a temperature? I wondered. I couldn’t tell. I could have been residual and trapped body heat due to my blanket stack. It could have been the heat in my bedroom.
In the afternoon, I had some energy, so I went to the grocery store for Day-Quil, NyQuil, chicken soup, Sprite, tea (peppermint and chamomile), and tropical sherbet.
I went back home and got into bed. When I breathed, I had this subharmonic rattle when I exhaled. I could feel my bronchial passages.
My voice had dropped two octaves.
I slept fitfully that night.
March 10, Sunday. I stayed in bed all day, getting up only to relieve myself, drink Sprite, take ibuprofen and other OTC medicine, and eat sherbet. I had no energy at all. The coughing, still non-productive, was severe. My breathing was still subharmonically raspy.
I could feel the inside of my lungs. It was really strange. I could tell they weren’t the way they should be. “Maybe it’s mucus,” I thought. “Maybe they’re inflamed like an allergic reaction.” They felt tight.
I watched more Father Ted.
My diet consisted of a can of chicken soup and sherbet. The chili I had made on Friday was left untouched. Honestly, even looking at it turned my stomach.
I went to bed early. Like, before the sun went down early, though I woke around two feeling quite famished. I got up, took the sherbet out of the freezer, and sat at my dining room table in the dark and ate straight from the container. Then the headlights of the vehicle directly outside my dining room window came on, and I sat there motionless, feeling like I’d been caught doing something illicit.
March 11, Monday. I woke up, feeling okay. Yes, I was still coughing, but I felt okay! I drank some coffee, I got ready for work.
“I can do this day!” I thought.
Halfway to work I thought about going home. The best word to describe how I felt was “drunk.” I have no idea how I made it to the office in one piece.
I posted a “Biohazard” sign on my office door, shut it, and was quite productive. I felt better as the day wore on, but the coughing remained severe.
“I’ve turned a corner,” I thought.
I went to bed quite early. Another dinner of chicken soup and sherbet.
March 12, Tuesday. Second verse, same as the first. Woke up, felt okay, cough still severe, had second thoughts about work halfway to the office…
…but where, on Monday, I toughed out the day, Tuesday did not fare as well. I look at my checklist of things I did on Tuesday (I keep a modified bullet journal at the office), and it’s extensive, including writing a press release, but my boss told me I looked miserable and suggested I go home, and I toughed it out for a few more hours — besides the press release, I had some reports to run — then went home about 1:30.
I realized I was dehydrated, or rather, my water intake wasn’t keeping up with what my body was doing with the water. I upped my water intake. This didn’t make my coughs any more productive, but it did make me feel better.
March 13, Wednesday. I called out sick at work.
My boss and I had talked about this on Tuesday. He thought that Tuesday was a day I could have safely taken off. I thought Wednesday would have been better; I had fewer urgent tasks on Wednesday. (I have no backup at the office, nor is anyone trained on my daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.) I felt like I was in a good position, vis-a-vis work, to take Wednesday off to get some rest and hopefully let whatever this was burn through.
My neighbor asked at one point what I had, and I said, “It’s bronchitis.”
I ate more soup and more sherbet. The chili hadn’t been touched since Friday night’s dinner. I’d look at it, sitting in the covered pot on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator, and then think about something else. The truth is, I just didn’t feel like eating.
I took the day easy. I did some work for the office remotely, watched some television, did my laundry.
I also read Alexis S. Troubetzkoy’s Imperial Legend: The Mysterious Disappearance of Tsar Alexander I. Alexander, the victor of the Napoleonic Wars died in the autumn of 1825 in an obscure port on the Sea of Azov (off the Black Sea) surrounded by his closest advisers. Or did he? He had been speaking for years about how he wanted to abdicate his throne. Did he take advantage of the remoteness of the location to escape a throne he no longer enjoyed, stage his own death, and then resurface a decade later in Siberia as a mystical holy man named Feodor Kuzmich? For what it’s worth, members of the Romanovs, Russia’s imperial family, believed that Alexander did exactly this. Troubetzkoy’s book makes a compelling circumstantial case that something happened along the Sea of Azov in 1825 — the body that was autopsied two days after Alexander’s death showed significant decay and suffered from syphilis (which Alexander was not known to) — but I don’t feel that the link between Alexander and Kuzmich is as strong. It’s a romantic idea, true, but probably one that could never been proven short of exhuming graves.
March 14, Thursday. I went back to work. The cough still nagged, but I didn’t feel “drunk” when driving to the office. I was productive. I felt the day did me good; if I’d have said I was about 60% on Tuesday, on Thursday I felt about 90%.
After work, I attended a University of Richmond alumni event in Baltimore. I felt good for that, though I didn’t feel like eating (it was at an upscale pizza joint) when I was there. “I’m recovering from bronchitis,” I said to people; “My stomach isn’t really up to it.” I wasn’t even sure about drinking, but I went ahead and ordered a Stella. I’m not really a Stella drinker, but of the options on tap, that was the one I’d have most enjoyed, and enjoy it I did.
When I got home about 9:30, I felt that I’d overdone it, and went to bed shortly after having a bowl of sherbet.
March 15, Friday. If Thursday I felt 90%, on Friday I felt 85%. There was a step back. The nagging cough continued to nag non-productively.
I packed a lunch — peanut butter and marmalade sandwiches — and then I didn’t want it. Not because I wasn’t hungry but because I was famished. For the first time in days, my stomach wanted food, and peanut butter and marmalade wasn’t what I wanted. I went across the street to Five Guys and ordered the sloppiest double cheeseburger you can order. I savored every mouthful of that.
I still went to bed early, about nine.
March 16, Saturday. I went to the grocery store. I needed more NyQuil, for one thing, not to mention more sherbet. Plus, I hadn’t gone to a grocery store to find a corned beef brisket.
Unfortunately, there were none to be had at Weis the day before St. Patrick’s Day, so I decided I would do a pretty basic Shepherd’s Pie (with ground beef) for St. Patrick’s Day.
Otherwise, it was a middling day. I felt fatigued; I had probably had overdone it on Thursday and Friday. The lingering cough lingered.
March 17, Sunday. Surprisingly, no Guinness for me on St. Patrick’s Day. I didn’t have any at home, and I’d neglected going to the liquor store during the week for the same reason I’d neglected going to the grocery store (and buying a corned beef brisket) — I simply didn’t feel up to it, either in energy or motivation.
I felt good enough to go for a walk in the afternoon, though it wasn’t as warm as I’d have liked.
I made the Shepherd’s Pie, and I ate that for dinner with cranberry sauce. Then I ate it (the Shepherd’s Pie, not the the cranberry sauce) for the next couple of nights, sometimes on its own, sometimes wrapped in a burrito shell.
I also found a use for the Irish Cheddar Cheese I’d bought at Aldi a week earlier; I made cheese and onions spread from one block of the whiskey-infused cheddar. The cheddar grated easily, and it has a sharp bite that’s nicely balanced by the vanilla nonfat yogurt I use in my recipe.
This was also the day where I finally said, “Alright, time to figure out what’s been ailing me. Let’s do a House-style differential diagnosis.” I wrote down all of my symptoms the past week and started Googling. And I decided that, based on the symptoms — cough, headache, (possible) temperature, fatigue, weird lungs, laryngitis — the flu was the best “fit.” It just so happens that there was a flu outbreak in York, one so severe it shut down a school for two days, right around the time I became ill.
A week past St. Patrick’s Day, I still have an occasional cough. Maybe once an hour, I will cough weakly and non-productively. Nothing that prevented me from seeing Carbon Leaf in downtown Baltimore Friday night. Nothing that would prevent me from going for a walk, as I did yesterday and today.
I do feel like I’ve lost the month of March, though. St. Patrick’s Day, the Richmond alumni event, even the trip to Aldi, feel in my head like ages ago.
The pot of chili, untouched and unloved since March 8, I tossed out on March 23rd.
Hopefully, this is my last bout with illness for a long, long while.