I had the flu two weeks ago, and by that I mean that I am now on day 4 out of 14 that I am not in bed. And by that I mean: I was in bed ALL DAY LONG. It hit on a Tuesday, a few days after I returned from a cross-country trip. I woke up with a cough. By the end of the day, I was very weak and tired, and my legs ached. I thought perhaps this was due to the travel and having worked out the night before (though I only walked on a treadmill, so that is sketchy thinking at best). I knew something was wrong when, while waiting for my daughter's ballet class, I got into the back of the car and flopped down on a yoga mat. The next day, I was sick. By mid-afternoon, it was bad enough that my husband suggested going to the doctor.
I argued a doctor was pointless because even if I had a virus, there was nothing they could do. He insisted and, thankfully, took me. By the time we got to the doctor's office, I could hardly walk on my own and was coughing so much my husband made me wear a construction mask.
The office staff took one look at me and ushered me to an exam room at the very end of the hall. It wasn't even fully painted. They swabbed me for the flu and came back fifteen minutes later. The PA said, "That is the most positive flu test I've ever seen."
Even with Tamiflu (which I didn't get within the recommended 48 hours), I was sick beyond words. All I could do was lie in bed; even that was a gargantuan effort. My legs ached so bad I couldn't lie still. I just kept shifting around in misery. I coughed so much and so hard I pulled a muscle near my ribs. I was pathetic. My husband said, "You look like you need to get better just to die."
I ended up spending 9 days in bed. I could get to the bathroom alone; that was it. I was dependent on my family for food, water and medicine. Thank goodness my husband could take off a few days from work. At first, I wanted my kids to stay as far away from me as possible, but on day two, I needed some water. I called out for my daughter, and the look on her face was really sad. She looked scared. She came near the door and poked her head in, and she just looked really frightened and tentative. I imagined what it must be like for her to see me that way. My first instinct was to tell her never mind. I didn't want to scare her or get her sick. Then, I thought: this is how people learn to take care of each other. The longer I lay there, day after day, the more I realized that care taking is not only incredibly important but desperately undervalued.
I asked my daughter to get me water. Then, I asked her to bring me crackers. I explained how bad I felt but that her help was making it all just a tiny bit better. I asked her to sit with me. Each afternoon, when she came home from school, rather than avoid my room, she began coming straight up to me. She would pace around the room a little bit and tell me about her day. She seemed nervous as first, but then she would sit on the bed near me, and she would really start talking.
I talked to Maggie more in the past two weeks than I have in months. Every time she came into my room, I asked for something. Water. A blanket. Wheat Thins.
She happily filled my requests. She didn't usually stay long, but she would come in and out as the day went on and always came to see me before bed. My son helped less and was perhaps more fearful than my daughter, but he also hadn't had the flu shot, so I gave him (and myself) a pass on teaching them both. I focused instead on Maggie, not because she's a girl but because it was all I could do with the limited energy I had. I tried to show her that being sick is hard but that there are things we can do to help each other. I tried to show her that taking care of someone is an act of love, and I sensed that she felt what we all feel when someone else is down: if we can do something, we can feel better about it ourselves. Nothing feels worse than inaction in the face of hardship.
On the third day of the flu, I heard a truck arrive outside. Luckily my husband was home, and he answered the door. A few minutes later, he came upstairs with a lovely arrangement of flowers. I have never been so happy to get flowers or more soothed by the sight of something in my life. My little sister sent them, and I still have them by my window. It was such a simple thing, but I felt really comforted and loved by the gesture.
Having the flu may sound trivial, but being that sick for so many days really left an impression on me. I've learned a few things from the experience:
1. Kids cannot only help when someone is sick, but care taking can actually give them a sense of comfort when a parent is knocked down. I saw my daughter flourish in her role, which I think made us both happy.
2. I felt really grateful, over and over again, that I had the support of my family - not just my immediate family but also my siblings, who live far away. I can't express how much it meant to talk to them each day, report on my progress and, of course, have the flowers. When one is down and out, nothing feels better than knowing someone else cares.
3. Husbands are very good at providing medicine and meals, but when mama does emerge from a 9-day bed-stay, there is work to be done. I don't know that I ever realized exactly how much a house takes in terms of daily care until I spent the better part of 2-weeks unable to do anything. The dishes alone......
4. Enjoy the quiet. On day four, when my legs no longer ached so bad, I thought: this is actually a respite. Life has gotten very busy of late. We have a move to plan, jobs to address and kids to care for. I was really burning the candle at both ends. As I lie in bed, unable to even watch TV, I thought how long it had been since I actually spent a few hours just resting and thinking. I thought about all sorts of things. I read a little. I sat with my kids and listened to their days. It's the calmest I've felt in probably a few years.
5. Go to the doctor early, for Tamiflu (which just reduces the number of days feeling wretched) and get the flu shot. I always poo-poo the flu shot. I've read tons of research saying it's not effective at all. But....I am now willing to try it just on sheer hope alone.
All-in-all, I'm grateful to be on the mend. I know I sound a bit dramatic. It's 'just the flu' after all. But readers, it was the flu! I now know what that means. And I feel grateful to have a family who could help me, medical care to cover prescriptions and doctors visits, money for healthy food and supplies, a husband who could take off work and healthy kids who could not only fend for themselves but help me out with some water and Wheat Thins.
I am humbled by the whole experience and thinking all the time now of families who may not have healthcare, single mothers who don't have a husband to lean on or kids who struggle to care for parents who may have chronic illnesses. It all makes me want to start a delivery service for sick people where we arrive with bone broth, oranges, ginger tea, Wheat Thins, flowers and trashy magazines for mindless reading.
I am reminded, again and again, how much we all need each other.
With that, I'm going to take a nap and rest even more. If anything is underrated in life, perhaps most of all, it's rest.
Hope everyone is healthy and well.