One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: When Illness Levels You

woman with flu lying in bedI recently had a serious bout of flu or some other mysterious, sneaky illness that snuck up and knocked me down so hard I didn’t even know I was hit. I struggled through my day at first, off-balance, off-center, and off my mind, really, but I didn’t know it. That was part of the bug’s game. Whatever I had, the doctor called it “violent.”

All I could do was sleep—all day long. Once, I woke up bathed in sweat and thought, “This must be what it feels like when a fever breaks.” I’d never had the experience myself, but I’d seen it in the movies. “This must be serious; better find a thermometer,” I thought. Then I stumbled around, couldn’t find it, and fell back in bed. When I woke up again several hours later, I thought, “Thermometer?” and promptly went back to sleep.

Lesson 1: Keep your thermometer where you can easily find it. Make sure it works. Check your stock of emergency supplies that reduce fever, pain, etc. Keep all your first-aid stuff stocked up and easy to find. Do the same with any other medical supplies you might need. Write down your doctor’s name and number and include it in your emergency kit, along with a pen and a piece of paper on which you can write down your temperature and what time you took it.

The next day and night were the same. I had a continuous, severe headache. I drank as much water as I could because I was burning up inside, all dry and scratchy. I felt as parched as California.

Lesson 2: Drink a lot of fluids. Keep a water bottle within reach. It took me a few days to figure out the “bottle within reach” part. Fever makes people stupid.

After a couple of days of this, I emerged and felt my way around, back to my life. I could eat a little, but not much. I had no appetite, and every bite I thought I might take just made me feel worse. I asked, “Toast, can I eat you?”

“Sorry, Lynn, not this time.”

“OK. I’ll ask again later.”

Lesson 3: Eat when you’re hungry. Get somebody else to go shopping so you have a variety of dishes to preview and reject.

As more days passed, I could move around, walk, go outside, and eat a little. I found a ginger carrot soup supplier. Ginger carrot soup, by the way, is an easy-to-digest detoxifier. It’s also a beautiful shade of orange. Orange makes me happy.

Lesson 4: It helps to live near quality takeout emporiums and know people who will go shopping for or with you.

I needed help, and friends provided plenty. I was a pest. If they asked me what I would like to eat, I couldn’t tell them. I secretly hoped they might figure it out for me—and they tried. My husband bought me two kinds of chocolate to give me something to live for.

Lesson 5: When you’re sick, you’re lucky if people are there for you. Say “thank you” a lot. Be grateful if they have a sense of humor and are trained not to take anything personally, especially anything you might say, such as “What’s to eat?” or “I simply can’t eat this” or “How could you?”

Although I wasn’t in great shape, I didn’t feel as bad as I had before, but I was kind of a gray screen and really slow to power up. Not all of my apps worked—you know, the ones that tell you when and how to do what, what you like, and you never know they’re not working until you need them. That’s how I found out that my balance app was on the blink.

I was taking a shower. Just as I was thinking I’d better be careful, I dropped the soap. I could not bend down without feeling dizzy, and I knew I shouldn’t try picking it up, but I didn’t want to step on it, either, because I knew it would take advantage of my weakness, seize my foot, and knock me down.

You know when your computer starts going bad and you send it for a reset? And it comes home blank? On the one hand, you’ve got to put things on it, and that’s annoying, but on the other hand, it’s a fresh computer.

It was disguised as an innocent-looking, moisturizing, organic soap with rosemary and lemongrass, but in fact it was a killer. The soap loitered in the corner near the drain, watching me while I imagined slipping, falling, and banging my head on the bathtub.

You know, many serious falls happen in the bathroom. I thought it would say in my obituary, “Just as she was recovering from a mysterious, violent illness, she slipped and fell; it was a blow to the head that killed her.”

Many of my usual default positions had been erased. My balance app was off kilter! But my paranoia app worked very well.

Lesson 6: Have a sense of humor. Use it. Also, be careful taking showers; you never know what might happen next.

Here I am today, still a bit clueless. I survived meditation and yoga, but lunch was touch-and-go. How do I do things? I can’t be on automatic pilot if the pilot, me, is AWOL. You can’t run apps if they’ve been erased or aren’t working right.

Lesson 7: Be humble. Check your settings, paying special attention to security settings.

You know when your computer starts going bad and you send it for a reset? And it comes home blank? On the one hand, you’ve got to put things on it, and that’s annoying, but on the other hand, it’s a fresh computer. You get to choose your setup all over again. Maybe you’ll choose to reload some stuff. Maybe you’ll toss a lot of stuff. In fact, as I’m getting better I am literally tossing stuff—that is, taking it over to Housing Works, donating it, and making more room.

Lesson 8: Let go of what you don’t need.

Meanwhile, I’m still making mistakes in judgment—hitting the wrong keys from time to time, so to speak—but there is freshness about life. Typos can ve fin.! Nevertheless, I’m staying away from using sharp knives or operating heavy machinery—like the car, at least for the time being.

Lesson 9: Be prepared! Consider using a dry shampoo and staying out of the shower. When your body talks, you’d better listen because the body always comes first.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 7 comments
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  • Mamie

    Mamie

    June 30th, 2015 at 8:37 AM

    I have a very hard time asking someone to help me even though I know that they would likely be more than willing to help me out if I needed it. I am always wanting to do for other people but it is a little harder to ask for help for myself.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    June 30th, 2015 at 5:42 PM

    Hi Mamie,
    Yes it is, for me too.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Prudence

    Prudence

    July 2nd, 2015 at 1:04 PM

    This usually happens to me about once a year, and I know that in large part it is because I fail to take care of myself. I understand that and have tried to be better about it, but I am always so much on the go and then I forget to take care of myself until it just knocks me flat on my rear end. And then that just kills me because I am so used to moving all the time that it is hard to take the time that I know that I need to really recover before I am up and at it again.

  • Terrey

    Terrey

    July 4th, 2015 at 7:31 AM

    I might not like having to rely on someone else, but it does make me grateful that I do have others in my life that I can rely on when this happens.

  • Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    July 6th, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    Hi Prudence and Terrey,
    Although it stinks to be sick, we can learn something from it too. Thanks for writing– and stay healthy.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Reena

    Reena

    July 6th, 2015 at 12:08 PM

    Another thing that I think should be mentioned is that I find it much easier to simply work all year toward being healthy and in shape so that I don’t get leveled out quite as often as some of the other people in my life.
    I honestly find that during the times when I eat better and work out in some fashion, then there are fewer times when I am so down and out and not able to function.
    The times when I am not doing so much of that?
    Those are the times when it seems that I catch every little germ that is going around.

  • Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    July 7th, 2015 at 6:34 AM

    Good point, Reena. Good habits help, and if you do still get caught by a nasty bug you’ll be able to fight it off more easily.

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