alfreddepew

Posts Tagged ‘flu’

In Flu, Illness, Influenza, Inner Work, Relationship with Self, resilience on May 18, 2013 at 5:54 am
Illustration from the pulp magazine Weird Tales (October 1936). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Illustration from the pulp magazine Weird Tales (October 1936). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Influenza, a musical word, like belladonna. Beguiling and as full of deadly potential.

Flu is the thing we hope to avoid each winter, and whose vaccine we either get or don’t depending upon our opinions.

Shot or no shot, it can infect us—carried by the air we breathe, the objects we touch, the hands we shake.

It is ubiquitous. Like fear. With a mind and life of its own.

And despite my best intentions and massive doses of Vitamin C, it takes me down in January. Stealthily at first. And then with real insistence, it grabs me like a thief and hisses, “Don’t mess with me.”

I’ve heard it can last from three to six weeks—lingering. It can turn into whooping cough or pneumonia. It claims lives.

So I cancel everything that will require my leaving the house for two weeks, including a business trip back East.

And I go back to bed. I surrender to days of fevered delirium, fitful sleep, and waking dreams—nightmares mostly—of my life in various stages of collapse.

The flu as metaphor.

The flu as signifier.

The flu bearing news that I can hear in no other way.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Is that it?

Have I been wrestled to the ground by an angel?

I leave one of the window blinds open each night so that I can look out from time to time and see lights in other buildings, other people awake at three and four in the morning.

I manage to conduct interviews and post two stories about the Egyptian revolution on its second anniversary.

Disillusionment. Uncertainty. Exhaustion.

I ache all over.

I can find no comfortable position other than standing in a hot shower. When I lie on either side or on my back or sit in a chair, fiery tendrils radiate out of my tailbone and down my legs.

I read online that back pain is not unusual with the flu—something about the virus enflaming the nerves. I can’t sleep. The Tylenol I’ve been taking is two years past the expiry date and does no good.

I call the nurse’s line and find out that’s the wrong thing to take in the first place. What I need is an anti-inflammatory. My nerve endings are in flames.

So this is what it is to go viral.

St. Vitus’ Dance.

Suddenly I think I understand the experience of the chronically ill who have surrounded me all my life. So this is what they went through. A tease. The swing from feeling “better” to “this will never end.” Dying would be a relief. Abandoned by my own body. Cut loose. Afloat.

What does one pray for in moments like these?

Deliverance? Peace?

“I no longer believe in a peaceful revolution,” writes a friend from Cairo.

Off the record.

Speak the unspeakable, something in me keeps saying. Tell the truth.

I post both stories about the Egyptian revolution.

I cancel a radio appearance on the East Coast.

The pain subsides thanks to Advil, and I can sleep again.

I dream of a wall of pinpoints—each one opens into a hopeless story. Each story says: if you don’t do it perfectly, you die. Then one opens into a story set in Lapland that says the key to survival is staying connected.

I am delusional if I think I know anything about chronic illness. I have suffered three maybe four days. I know people who have lived like this for years.

The fever breaks. I am giddy with relief.

I know what I have to do: resign all my various jobs and read poetry. I must claim the life I have left. Claim at least two days a week in the studio—one day painting, one day writing.

I don’t want to feel like my old self again. I want to remember what I’ve learned these past few days in bed—about letting go—of all of it.

About freedom. Authority.

The fever breaks, and I wake up in a T-shirt drenched with sweat, feeling clammy.

It’s as if the room has been stripped bare and I must choose what I will put back in it, one object at a time.

I wake up, curious and bemused. Slowly, cautiously, I enter something I will one day call my new life because the old way of being has already disappeared.

Advertisements