Now it is four days later.
How do you feel, Chad?
“I feel terrible.”
How do you feel terrible?
“You know how in flus, there are phases, and it’s like you go through two or three different phases? It started out with the lung thing, like the not-being-able-to-breathe thing. And then it turned into the sneezing-headache thing. And now it’s the desperate-coughing thing.” The sinuses. The sweating.
His wife is sick, too. It’s like a joint extracurricular activity they’re pursuing, in between trying to pack up all of their worldly belongings and move to Europe, where Chad has accepted a technology job with a German firm.
“I have an array of three different types of nighttime and daytime medication,” he says. “I have a completely unfounded feeling that liquid DayQuil works the best. I’ve also tended to gravitate toward the Theraflu.” It is, he says, “like drinking sour flax.”
His last week in Washington. And the city is under siege.
* * *
There have been 535 influenza cases reported by District hospitals during the current flu season, according to the D.C. Department of Health. Those numbers do not include the people who refuse to see doctors, the people who are indeterminately ill (perhaps not with the flu) or the people who probably have the flu but won’t admit it because they are too busy talking about how drinking Kombucha keeps them eternally healthy. Last year the number was 97.
The city smells like a wet glove, like the sharply medicinal inside of a Halls cough drop bag, like the pillowy dry cotton of a family-size tissue box. The city smells like liberally applied hand sanitizer, like the stink eye thrown by office ladies when their co-workers refuse their hand sanitizer. The city is haunted by the ghosts of the Robitussin, Tylenol, and Alka Seltzer Cold and Cough that are currently out of stock at the Walgreens down on Lee Highway.
Across from the Walgreens, the Giant is out of Airborne, Sinex, DayQuil (original flavor) and NyQuil (cherry).
Next to the Giant, the CVS is out of Advil Cold and Sinus and NyQuil Liquicaps. “Buy any two select cold remedies, get $3 ExtraBucks,” a sign advertises.
Cure yourself in bulk. It is that kind of illness.
The city is watching back-to-back episodes of “Criminal Minds” on A&E, is trying to get a head start on the February book-club book, is tweeting that its arms are too tired to hold up the February book-club book. The city keeps calling its wife and saying, “Can you bring home some Gatoraaaade?”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes, every week, the FluView: Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report Prepared by the Influenza Division. It includes a map of the country. The hardest-hit areas are red and orange. Things have been getting better, steadily over the past week. But still. Almost the entire country is red and orange.