After returning from my vacation the last week of January, I decided that I needed another week off. So I called in sick.

If the truth be known, I wasn't really sick, but when I picked up the telephone and got one of my bosses on the phone, why, I started feeling weak. My stomach began to ache.

My head started spinning. And as I spoke, my throat got sore. When asked what was wrong, I said, "Well, I guess I have . . .the flu."

Suddenly, unexpectedly, I had joined the swelling ranks of Washingtonians who have been felled by the dreaded illness.

My boss tried to console me. "My god," he said. "Everybody's got it. The office has been decimated," he said, adding that I should take care of myself.

As I headed outdoors to find something fun to do, I was surprised to discover that my head still hurt, my stomach ached and I began to cough. My body was racked with pain, but I was showing symptoms of guilt, not illness.

My body had surprised me with this connived display, so I decided to lie down for a while, only to wake up to a chilling sensation.

Perhaps it was just a change in the weather -- a cold front was moving in -- but even the tea I sipped to combat the onslaught did little to relieve me. So I headed for a doctor.

I found a doctor in the emergency room at Greater Southeast Community Hospital -- but I wasn't quite prepared for his bedside manner.

"Doctor," I told him, "I think I'm suffering from the flu."

The good doctor took one good look at me and knew better.

"The term 'flu' has become a wastebasket word," said the doctor, who over the years has dealt with wilier characters than me.

"There's a whole spectrum of viral illnesses out there . . . and the flu is just one of them."

What the doctor was trying to tell me, without coming right out and saying it, is that the flu sometimes is a virus of the mind, a psychosomatic condition that attacks people who are depressed.

Let's face it. February is the pits. It's a bad news month, cold and icy, the last month before the month that brings us the blessed relief of spring. It's the month in which there is no money left over from Christmas for the George Washington Birthday sale. It's the month when the federal government and the city start worrying about budget problems that may well throw some of my buddies in the government out of work. And it's the month in which it invariably snows and sleets -- once again exposing the incompetence of the District's snow removal crew.

Washington is a city of seasons: the extraordinary beauty of the cherry blossoms in springtime, the hot and sultry months of summer, the exuberant, heady months of fall when Congress returns to work and the city suddenly comes alive again.

And then there's winter, the dreary months of dampness and cold that are a miserable excuse for the end of one year and the beginning of another -- so unlike the pristine snowfalls of Vermont or the hearty, kick-butt winters of Chicago and the rest of the Midwest.

We need an escape from Washington this time of year. We need time to get away from the unrelenting pressures of work, the sameness of our daily routines, the occasional pettiness of the issues we often grapple with so earnestly. Which is why I beat a hasty retreat from the nation's capital last month and which is why, I'm forced to admit, I dreaded returning here, knowing that I would have to face the harsh realities of the last miserable days of Washington winter.

Well, okay, enough is enough. I guess it's time to jump out of bed, put the vapor rub back in the medicine cabinet and get back to the daily grind. Now that I think of it, it might be fun to get back to the office and see that boss of mine again -- if he isn't out sick with the flu.