It's always baffled me how such an inconsequential little virus could have had such a great influence on humanity throughout our history. The flu, that same industrious contagion that spells doom for the alien invaders in H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds, has cyclically laid waste to the human species in our short and difficult time on the planet.
I've largely avoided any major bouts of influenza in my life. I've had the occasional passing cold, but nothing on the magnitude of what I experienced last week.
My daughter might have brought the stuff home from day camp, because she was impacted first. Last Friday night, she awoke shortly after midnight and began to vomit. The unpleasantness impacted her for a few hours, but she was chipper and back at the business of being six the next day.
And yet, when I look at the 2014 flu mortality rates, I see that last year's strain really did hurt a lot of children. When I think about how bad it hit me, I'm grateful that Lyla was able to whip it so easily. In the future, we'll never take a bug like this for granted again. Kids and the elderly face particularly tough battles with influenza, so it's prudent to take any early signs of the illness very seriously.
Anyway, we had an ordinary weekend. On Monday, I called my wife and asked her if she wanted to go out on a hike.
"Uhhhmpppllffff!" she moaned into the phone. "Sick..."
And indeed, when I arrived home she was lying on the bathroom floor. She'd filled a garbage bag with vomit in the car on the way home from work, and she was still having a hard time of it when Lyla and I made it home from camp. It was brutal.
I took Lyla to the YMCA and we had an ordinary time there. I weighed in at 192 (healthy weight for me) and brought Lyla home after our workout, and that's when I noticed a peculiar, terrible, horrible thing.
Damn, was I ever sick.
Not just any sick, but the sickest I've been in thirty-eight years on the planet. Between about 7:30 and 10:00 p.m. I puked more than I've ever puked in my whole life--probably in all other instances put together. I lost so much water weight that I spent the entire night cramping. My calf muscles balled up into little iron knots, and I had to pace the room dozens of times just to keep from crying out in pain.
I couldn't keep any fluids down, and it wasn't until we went to our family practitioner on Tuesday that I saw the full extent of my illness. I weighed in at 175.7, less than 24 hours after tipping the scales at the YMCA. I was given a shot to ease my nausea (thankfully, it allowed me to begin forcing fluids and I was able to infuse some life back into my frame, which had pulled tight like a the strings on a guitar) and a prescription for Tamiflu. Jeanne got one as well, and we've been on the road to recover over this past week.
I'm back up to 192, and I've been able to get a few longer runs in over these last two days. What I'm stunned by is the general destruction that the flu--which the CDC noted mutated in late 2014, making last year's vaccine largely ineffectual--wrought on my body. I didn't get my full wind back in terms of running for a week. The headache associated with my dehydration was unlike anything I'd experienced before ("blinding" isn't merely some folksy idiom), and the cramping was so painful that I thought I might tear some of the muscles in my legs. Worse than anything was the thirst. I simply lie there in bed with a cold glass of ice water within reach, knowing full well that my body would not tolerate it.
When I read about the 20-40 million people that perished in the great influenza epidemic of 1918, my heart goes out to them and their families. It's a horrible illness, and one that we too often take for granted. Thankfully, the Tamiflu and other medications that we took turned things around quickly for us.
Never again, though, will I think of the flu as some innocent little bug--some cartoon germ that can be suppressed with a can of chicken noodle soup. No sir, the flu is one bad dude, and I'm going to remember that come November when the annual news cavalcade about washing hands and covering coughing mouths hits the airwaves.