Here’s what the Happy Fun Virus is like.
You wake up one morning, and. . . scratch that. At no point during this Hell Bout are you ever fully awake. Instead, you feel as though every bit of cotton you’ve ever pulled from every bottle of aspirin you’ve ever opened has been re-packaged inside your mouth and nose and throat and lungs and brain.
Let’s start again.
At some point, later than you feel is decent but earlier than you know is right, you’ll stumble out of bed. Literally, stumble. Your legs aren’t as long as they once were, or maybe Evil Silent Contractors came in during the night and lowered the floor. They also made it uneven. And itchier. Put on a pair of socks or slippers before venturing anywhere, assuming you remembered to take them off your feet before getting into bed the night before. You’ll find you’re forgetting all sorts of stuff. One morning last week, I woke up with a toothbrush in my mouth. And wearing pants.
Once you have your feet properly protected from the Awfully Itchy Carpet Fibers of Doom (Or At Least of Mild-Yet-Maddening Discomfort), make your way to the kitchen and pour yourself a large glass of orange juice. Don’t worry about the brand, or even if it’s properly chilled. These things won’t matter, since everything you put in your mouth will seem to have the same flavor, texture, and temperature as warm bowl of phlegm. The OJ pulp may disgust you, but let me tell you right now: Don’t even think about scrambled eggs. Besides, the pulp might just convince your body that you’re giving it solid food more recently than a week ago Sunday.
Head downstairs to the office, where your supply of Dayquil, Benadryl, codeine cough syrup, Vitamin C Pills for Sickly Larger Breeds of Horses and Smaller Trained Elephants, Kleenex, baby wipes (flu-ridden Arafat only), warm Gatorade, emergency backup Kleenex, and Tylenol are – all the modern accouterments for the very modern flu. I hope you’ve remembered to put on your robe, because it’s a very long trip back up the stairs.
At some point after drinking your OJ, you’ll have to pee. Your urine will be of the exact same color, consistency, temperature and odor as last night’s chicken soup. Only more so. Do not be alarmed – but do turn on the fan and open the window.
After taking all your pills, you may be tempted to step outside to light a small cigar, just to see if you can taste something, anything at all. Don’t. Please don’t. First, you’ll get a chill so bad your entire body will actually convulse, since you lack the fine motor skills necessary for shivering. Second, it is strangely possible for the merest whiff of smoke to taste and feel like a mouthful of overheated phlegm. You’ll also trigger a coughing fit so violent as to be a tsunami risk in coastal areas, or cause avalanches if you live in the mountains. Pray with me for the skiers trapped under cubic hectares of snow in Aspen last week.
Now, go back to your office and sit down. Stare at the monitor for a bit, trying to make sense of the funny dancing words on your screen. At the precise moment you think you’ve reached that blissful time when you’ve put forth enough effort to give up being involved in the world and saved up enough energy to make it to the sofa, that’s when the real coughing will begin.
The really very quite real coughing.
It starts low in your body, far lower than your lungs reach. It might, in fact, be so low that it’s starting in the toes of any downstairs neighbor you might have. At the very least, Satan is pounding on his ceiling with the end of a broomstick, shouting for you to please turn down that racket.
Is it a coincidence that “racket” and “racking” have the same root? Hardly. Your coughs will seem to have the same, pleasing, predictable rhythm as simultaneous concerts of Wagner and the Sex Pistols, using the same music hall, and each using amplifiers provided by Spinal Tap’s road manager. This, my friend, is a racking cough. During a pause – probably sometime no sooner than a week from Monday – lift up that t-shirt you’ve been wearing all week, and examine the line between your belly and ribs. You’ll discover a line of eggplant-colored bruises there. Feel the burn?
But that’s nothing compared to what’s going on in your mouth. All that coughing has to bring up something, after all, and all those yummy somethings are going to end up in that most sensitive of organs called your mouth.
Warm somethings. Wet somethings. Fibrous somethings. Warm, wet, fibrous somethings the size of Junior Mints. If you’ve reached Day Three of the Hell Cold, you’ll have given up being polite and spitting into a Kleenex. You’ve used up three boxes so far, anyway, and making nice little packages of moistness just won’t seem worth the bother or expense. Instead, lean over and spit right into the trashcan – a trashcan which you’ve turned into a colony of warm, wet, fibrous somethings so alive and teeming that it makes Dr. Frankenstein’s fifth grade Petri dish Science Fair experiment seem positively wholesome in comparison – and that’s just the feeling emanating from in there.
Under no circumstance at all, not even if Gestapo interrogators armed with staple guns beg you to, are you to look into the trashcan.
Spend the rest of the day napping, coughing, spitting, wiping, blowing, napping again, and spitting, so that you might save up enough energy to be truly miserable at night when you’re trying to sleep in your actual bed. Repeat this process each day until you’re feeling a bit better, like the first touch of spring is in the air, as if there’s a soft Bossa Nova playing somewhere (maybe “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”), something light in the feet and in your heart, a bit of the carefree energy of youth and promise, and that joy of simply living and breathing and doing – then eject a three-foot stream of sandy green goo from your left nostril and pass out again.