It seems that no matter where I turn lately, people are talking about the flu. It's on TV, in the newspapers, and seems to be the main topic of conversation at every place from the supermarket checkout line to the ladies’ room at the movie theater. It's enough to make me want to douse myself with hand sanitizer and then curl up like a bear and hibernate until spring.
As far as coming down with the flu goes, I don't know which scares me the most – having to suffer the terrible symptoms of the illness…or having only my dogs here to take care of me if I get sick.
The last time I had the flu was over 30 years ago. But I remember it as if it were yesterday. And let me just say I'm the first one to admit I make a terrible patient. When I get the cold or the flu, I transform into Grouchy Gertie.
I started off the day feeling fine. I spent most of it Christmas shopping at the mall, sipping hot chocolate in the food court and enjoying all of the mall’s festive decorations. On the way home, I decided to stop at the local supermarket to pick up something for dinner.
By the time I reached the checkout counter, I felt as if I'd been trampled by a herd of stampeding cattle. My head was pounding, my joints were aching, my face was burning and my teeth were chattering. I drove straight home and crawled into bed.
The next morning my temperature was 103, yet I felt as if someone had shoveled ice cubes into my underwear. I barely could lift my aching head off the pillow. The worst part was I’d had a flu shot a few weeks before. If the shot was supposed to protect people from seven different strains of the flu, I suspected I was the lucky one who’d managed to catch strain number eight, a rare one carried by something like arctic snow fleas.
As I lay there, moaning and groaning, my husband appeared at the foot of the bed.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked.
"Hot tea," I managed to croak, even though I knew that trying to boil water might be a real challenge for someone who’d touched the stove only five times during our entire marriage.
"How about for lunch?" he asked.
"Chicken soup," I said. "It cures everything."
"Do we have any chicken soup?" he asked.
"No, you'll have to go to the store and buy some."
The look on his face was one of sheer panic. If there was one thing my husband was terrible at, it was grocery shopping. Whenever I wrote out a grocery list for him, I had to describe every item in so much detail, you'd think I was writing a college thesis about food. Even then, it still wasn’t enough to ensure he’d come home with the right product.
"I told you to buy Campbell's Chunky clam chowder!" I recalled saying to him one time as I pulled a can of Snow's clam chowder out of the shopping bag. "You need milk to make Snow's! We don't have any milk! And even if we did, I’m lactose intolerant! I wrote everything down for you. How could you get it wrong?"
"You didn't tell me the color of label!" he'd said, his tone accusing. "The color of the label is a very important piece of information, you know!"
So when he finally brought me a bowl of steaming chicken soup during my bout of the flu, I was hesitant to try it…and with good reason. I mean, in the past, he'd served me condensed soup he'd heated straight out of the can without even adding any water to it. It resembled a bowl of yellow toothpaste.
The soup looked and smelled good, but it had these little black things that looked like beetles in it I didn’t recognize. When I tasted them, they were chewy and flavorless.
"Honey!" I called out to my husband.
He appeared in the bedroom doorway within seconds.
"What kind of chicken soup is this?" I asked him.
He shrugged. "Why? Don't you like it?"
"I'd like it better if I knew exactly what I was eating," I said. "You don't happen to have the can it came in, do you?"
“I’m not sure.” He left the room and I could hear him rummaging through the trash container in the kitchen. He returned with the soup can. The label said it was chicken soup with wild rice. I’d never eaten wild rice before, but after that soup, I was pretty sure I’d prefer my rice to be more domesticated.
In my husband’s defense, he really did try to make me feel better, which I realize was a nearly impossible feat. He made tea for me that looked like black coffee, and when I complained, he made another cup that looked as if it had been siphoned from an aquarium that was in desperate need of a good cleaning. He also served me a plate of something that resembled little black corn curls. He later informed me it was “extra crispy” bacon. Even the dogs rejected it.
Miraculously, I survived that bout of the flu, and I haven't had it again since, knock on wood. But now that my husband is gone, I’m worried if I do get sick, I’ll have to fend for myself. And even I don't want to have me for a patient.
You know, now that I think about it, maybe my husband really wasn't such a bad nurse after all.