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“I went to a MinuteClinic. But there were six people in line ahead of me, and [a sign] said the technician was required to have a lunch break.” Sangeeta Rao didn’t want to mess around. She went to an urgent care clinic instead. She came out with six prescription medications.
“This is for my throat.” She points to the first of many boxes lined up on her dresser. “And this is for my throat. This is for my nose. This is for my ears.” The eardrops must be dribbled in, one ear at a time, as she lies flat on her side and waits for the medicine to sink in.
Sangeeta has been sick for five days. It’s Arkansas’s fault. She was there on business and the day she flew out, she heard on the news how all of the schools in town were closing because of influenza. Today she managed to make her bed. And then she rested. She managed to scramble eggs in the kitchen of her Arlington County townhouse. And then she rested. She has tied a cheerful scarf around her neck; she is wearing a little bit of makeup. She looks more put together than most people look when they’re healthy, and this is very deceptive until you realize: Sangeeta might be a puppet entirely propped up by a conglomeration of soothing medications. Sangeeta has become a walking antibiotic.
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In 1918, the influenza epidemic that swept the nation and the world killed more people than World War I. More than 600,000 in the United States.
The word “influenza” comes from the Italian verb “to influence,” and it refers to the time when humans believed illness was influenced by the stars. The first modern usage of “influenza” didn’t occur until the mid-18th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, leading one to wonder what word our forebears used to describe feeling as if they had been methodically pummeled with a ball-peen hammer.
The most common symptoms of the flu are fever, chills, body aches, coughing and irritation with people who claim to have the flu but who obviously just have a cold and are being whiny babies about it.
Unlike in 1918, there have only been a few tragic fatalities with this particular flu pandemic. We typically don’t die from the flu. We just wish we would.
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The Flu in Love: Scenes from a Relationship
Interviews conducted, separately, by telephone.
JOE TYSK (government worker): “Sunday evening, I started off just being really tired and achy. I wrote it off to just being tired from the weekend. . . . Monday I had a bad sore throat. And chills. And chest congestion. And a cough. I had to leave work early.”
REBECCA CARELLI (high school assistant communications director): “I came home today and immediately wiped down the remotes and washed all the sheets and towels. I’ve wiped everything with 409. He’s got the Purell right in front of him.”
JOE TYSK: After being asked about his choice of illness entertainment. “I’ve watched a lot of ESPN. I watched ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ — I hadn’t seen it for years. The special effects. The kicks are not even near the face and people are flinching. That is not a good movie.”
REBECCA CARELLI: Explains that the last time she had the flu was a few years ago during Snowmageddon. “It will not happen again. A 102-degree fever in a snowstorm with no power? No.”
JOE TYSK: “She’s probably going to dip this phone in Purell when I get off of it.”
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This is about sick days. America’s lack of them, American’s unwillingness to take them. That’s what articles are telling us. If we would all stay home and stop coughing on the spreadsheets (We’re looking at you, Pamela), then none of us would be in this mess.
No, it’s not. This is about a shortage of flu vaccines, about people being too busy to properly care for themselves.
No, it’s not. This is about the last remaining frontier — our immune systems — over which we ultimately have no control. We must wash our hands and succumb, take the Airborne and succumb. We must recognize how small and pitiful we are compared with vastness of the universe, as we endure the trickle of our eardrops, as we dream of freeing ourselves from the sofa and the dreaded fleece throw.
“It always seems like once you get through the horrible shivering fever phase, you start getting better,” says Chad Fowler, who still has the flu.
“I think I’m getting better now.”