Our Infernal Flu

Without warning, and out of the blue, I’ve just succumbed to a terrible flu…

Malaise, fever, cough and fatigue, have pushed me way out of my league,

Have affected my outlook and my mood, I’ve become dour, cantankerous, even rude…

I deeply abhor this oppressive crud, which feels like oozing, trapping mud,

Suffocating and asphyxiating me, overwhelming and debilitating me…

Rest, meds, fluids, the docs have foretold, will soon return me to my persona of old…

Stop complaining, they say, this will abate, in the meantime, just be a good boy, and wait…

So, I’m waiting. Yes, I’ve had my flu shot. Yes, I’ve been resting and drinking copious fluids. Yes, I’ve dutifully taken all the medications and symptom relievers prescribed.

In the meantime, my nasal passages and sinuses are suffused with infected fluids; my head is pounding and my eyes are red and tearing; my chest is filled with sounds of labored breathing and bronchitis, producing a deep and sonorous cough; fever comes and goes, as do chills and achiness; I am without energy, and feel listless, weak and tired. Still I wait…

You get the picture of my recent travails, best described as feeling “yucky,” and no doubt ringing true to your own experiences at one time or another.

Did I hear you say, “TMI”? Some of you are no doubt thinking, “What in the world is he complaining about? It’s only a flu bug!” There are worse calamities in life than to be hit with the flu, but the influenza virus can indeed inflict real harm to some who get it, especially in my age group.

During the “Great Influenza Epidemic” of a century ago, upwards of 20 million people worldwide perished. While there have been dramatic improvements in public hygiene and health since that time, the annual infestations of varieties of the flu virus still exact enormous human debilitation and a significant death toll each winter, particularly this year.

I’m not suggesting that I am in such dire life-threatening straits, although the thoughts of my possible demise did cross my mind.

In addition to my concerns about my health and survival, however, what I am vividly reminded about is how dependent our moods and outlooks on life are on our sense of physical well-being. When we feel healthy and energetic, we are given to optimism, bonhomie and benevolence. But during bouts of malaise or pain or debilitation, our perceptions about ourselves and others, and our bountiful world view can be dramatically upended. We become more emotionally and cognitively constricted and shriveled.

Then there is the remarkably quixotic nature of our existence: We might be happily skipping through our lives at one moment, and suddenly, through the interplay of serendipity and karma, we can be tripped up and find ourselves in an unexpected morass of misery. In the proverbial blink of an eye, we can be transformed from a state of sunny optimism to one of dour pessimism.

Just as physical debilitation has an oppressive effect on our moods, it is well known that prolonged sadness or loneliness make us more prone to physical illnesses. I’m not telling you something you don’t know, but it’s worth reminding ourselves about the extremely close and mutually dependent relationships between our psyches and somas, or our minds and bodies.

The ‘Infernal Flu’ is caused by a seasonal virus culprit, but it has major physical, psychological, social and economic roots and consequences. If you do get hit with this nasty virus, know that there is “method to the madness” of doctors and others who espouse the old Latin dictum, “mens sana in corpore sana,” or “a healthy mind in a healthy body.”

I leave the last wise word to the late Stephen Hawking, who famously said, “One must have a positive attitude and make the best of the situation one finds oneself in. If one is disabled, one cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well.”

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