Crap. Now I have it too.
For five weeks, I’ve obsessed over the coronavirus. With my browser open to CNN’s COVID-19 Live Updates, every time they posted any new tidbit of information, I got an alert. I watched the charts and stats and calculated death rates, growth rates and recovery rates. I watched a slow-motion explosion bloom across Asia, running equations in my head and on paper trying to anticipate the virus’ march around the globe. Trying to guess when it would arrive in rural Pennsylvania to threaten my family and me.
As it turns out, I was watching the wrong disease.
Over an eleven-day period starting in January, I wrote three posts about the coronavirus—each with increasing hysteria from the last. In my third post, knowing that I was pushing the patience of you wonderful people who read this blog, I promised to leave the coronavirus alone until March. Am I already breaking my vow?
No, I’m writing about the flu.
On Friday morning, the first day of Eli’s four-day President’s Day weekend, he woke up feeling off. Sore throat, headache and dizziness, that’s what he reported. As the day progressed, his health degraded. By Friday evening, he needed to bail mid-errand as we tried to buy him some new shoes. Saturday morning, he was sick. Coughing, stuffy, fever, the works. He sat in our family room, a cloud of germs surrounding him, spewing moisture droplets with every sneeze. Being a father is hard. Every primal instinct I harbor screamed KEEP AWAY. But those stupid societal expectations insisted that I provide care. Against my better judgement, I was a loving father all day. Look where it got me.
I really don’t get sick. Sure, I’ll get the sniffles from time to time, I might even take a day off work every couple of years—usually because a cold has settled into my chest and it sounds like I have the plague—but actually sick? Laying around the house moaning? It just doesn’t happen.
The last time I had the flu was fifteen years ago. Susan, Sophie and I had just moved to Gettysburg. The two of them already felt the grip of the flu as the movers packed up the van. I held out for a day or two. I settled us into the construction site that would soon become our home. Before Susan even began to feel better, I got the flu as well. Fifteen years is a long time ago, I might be misremembering, but I honestly think I was only sick for a day.
On Sunday morning, with Eli’s temperature peaking near 103, I woke up with vertigo. Any time I spent more than a few minutes on my feet, dizziness forced me to the couch. My day slid steadily downhill with a building cough, headaches and waves of nausea.
I’m a terrible sick person. I try to nap, repeatedly, but once I’m up, I just can’t go back to sleep. I knock around, looking for something to do. Netflix, Hulu, I can’t find anything to watch. I feel guilty because Susan isn’t only dealing with a sick kid, but a sick husband as well. All the caring falls to her. I start small chores, loading the dishwasher, moving the laundry, but I get dizzy and need to take breaks.
On Sunday afternoon, I felt sure I’d be back to work on Monday. On Monday afternoon, I began to question work on Tuesday. Tomorrow? I really don’t know. I need to work tomorrow. Employees need to get paid. I’m presenting financial information to the board on Thursday morning, I haven’t even started preparing that. Other deadlines loom; I’ve left things half done; I feel out of control.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, a constant theme in the news has been: you’re more likely to get killed by the flu. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to die, but a couple of times over the past three days, I’ve wondered. Yesterday, at the peak of the pounding headache that lasted all day, the thought I couldn’t get out of my mind was, Oh, great. Next month I get to do this all over again with the coronavirus.
Eli, poor kid, was sick his entire four-day weekend. Leaving for school today, he felt marginal, but he’s tired of sitting around feeling sorry for himself all day. Given the duration of his illness, I might still have one more sick day to look forward to. I’m not sure I can take it. More likely, I’ll go to work wearing one of those surgical masks I bought as the coronavirus was heating up, and I’ll tape a Quarantine sign on my door.