Reflections: When the flu stole my dignity

George Rowe


It is 8:30 am, February 4, 2015. I am sitting at my office desk and suddenly I get the chills. It is not warm and fuzzy. It goes deep into the flesh, the bones and torments the marrow from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.

My eyes get real misty, my nose begins to run and frequent sneezes can be heard vibrating through my office, the church sanctuary and even deep into the basement. This is so unexpected. I was feel fine when I got out of bed and drove the short distance to my office.

I looked at my watch again. It is now 10:15 am. How will I get through the day? I almost panic when realizing the Bible study has to be completed for tonight and the next four days are jam-packed with meetings, assignments, pastoral visits and correspondence that had to be set in motion.

I reach deep down inside myself and find enough strength to complete the Bible study and am able to share with the flock later that evening. I get home afterwards and literally crawl into bed not wanting to open my eyes again until this episode of body shock has forever passed.

It was a fitful night that was punctuated with frequent visits to the washroom, cold and hot sweats, aches and pains had arrested every possible part of my body and nothing, absolutely nothing could even come close to easing the immeasurable misery. I kept looking at my watch as the long night seemed to have stretched on forever until dawn finally brought an end to the fitfulness of a night in complete terror. The next day was the beginning of a four day battle that would almost break me.

The doctor did the necessary tests, asked the right questions, gave me all kinds of assurances and wrote out necessary prescriptions. This pill will help you sleep, this medication will break up the mucus and this medical spray will help keep the coughing under control. Go home and rest, drink lots of liquids and you will be fine in just a few days.

I went home to rest but the coughing became more intense and I was quickly reminded that ‘mucus’ is a slippery, gooey, gross secretion that if you don’t get rid of, suffocation is just on the horizon. I dreaded for the night to come. I knew that before all this medication kicked in my body would go through a meltdown.

I got in bed and managed to do a little reading before turning off the light. My temperature was high, my body hot but I felt chilled. I shook and trembled, twisted and turned; I got upset with myself and I got upset with my wife. I was bothered. I was irritated. I was grumpy! I finally found a semi-comfortable position, but then the coughing, hacking and blubbering started. Cough! Sneeze! Twist! Turn! Two pillows under my head. Three pillows under my head. I sit up. Lay on my side, flat on my tummy, stretched out like an ironing board as I gaze at the ceiling.

I pop a pill. Spray the cough suppressant and chew down a tonne of throat lozenges but all to no avail. The night drags on as the body becomes more and more restless. At one point I literally cried out, “My body needs sleep! I need rest……I can’t rest!”

In a very cool, monotone voice and with deliberate articulation my darling wife simply said, “Just close your eyes big guy and pretend it just ain’t happening.” “What!” I said. “Pretend it ain’t happening? My body is about to completely break down and you say, ‘pretend it ain’t happening?’” I retorted, “I’m out of here. I’m going to the basement and sit in my big chair so I can rest and maybe fall asleep for a few hours…..thank you very much. At least the chair won’t talk back.”

She said, “Sweet dreams.”

Self pity seeped through my entire being. Nobody cares. I’m all alone. However, I’m determined to get some sleep. Jumping out of bed I stubbed my toe. “Ouch!” No response from my sleeping beauty. “My toe! My toe! I think I’ve broken my toe!” No response. I hear sounds of deep sleep but no words of pity from this beauty.

The coughing began again and while holding my toe I hop down the two flights of stairs, found my comfy chair in the dark and plunked two hundred and fifty plus pounds of brokenness in a restful position. I thought that maybe the medications would now start to do its thing. After all, many hours have passed since I swallowed medication of all colours, descriptions and textures. I grab a blanket from the back of my chair and cuddled into myself and just let self pity overwhelm me.

I began to feel warm and somewhat relaxed. The coughing and the irritation in my throat was now easing to a level of comfortableness. I kept drifting off into a shallow sleep, then quickly awakened. I don’t know why this was happening and at one point I thought there was another presence with me in the basement. A scary thought knowing that my wife was in a sleeping coma.

A deep sleep was beginning to settle in. I smiled to myself and then realized something. If I fall asleep in my comfy chair how will I get from the basement to my bedroom with waking myself up? I abruptly became one hundred percent awake and want to make a mad dash to the warmth and comfortableness of my bed and cuddle into the lady who was in the sleeping coma.

I jumped from my chair and made an abrupt turn to the left, and the stillness of the night gives way to a really loud boing sound like that of a compressed spring suddenly released. The left side of my head and face has planted into one of those telescopic poles underneath the main beam of the house.

The good news is my sense of being sick is gone, washed away in the excruciating pain that filled my head with very strange and loud music. The painful noise wafts through the ductwork system of the basement, making its way up to the second floor and through the whole house, but the lady in the sleeping coma doesn’t move. I feel the side of my head. A little lump but no broken skin.

Then it happens. Coughing and hacking and sneezing and while holding my toe with the right hand and rubbing my face/head with the left hand, desperately trying to get to the washroom.

I wanted so desperately to hold on to my dignity and not leave a trail of pee from the basement to the upper washroom. Both hands were now occupied and with nothing to hold on to my plumbing I heard myself praying, “Good Lord, deliver me from this hour of death.” I kept saying to myself, “Almost there. Yes, almost there. I’m dribbling but I’m almost there. Oh my head! My toe! Yes, yes I’m almost there.”

I get to the washroom in time and not bothering to switch on the light I sit on the toilet and feel sweet relief.

That feeling of release is suddenly washed away in a realization: “Oh no. Something is wrong here. This just does not feel right.” In the mad rush, and with a body crushed by pain I sat on the toilet with such vim and vigor that I forget to pull down my undershorts.

You guessed it, dignity crushed. In the semi-darkness of the bathroom I sat and began to smile hoping that the lady in the sleeping coma would not be aroused at this time. I wait for the coughing to subside, my toe to stop aching and the small lump on the side of my head go back to normal. Using lots of warm water and nice smelling soap I cleaned myself up, restored my dignity and crippled into the bedroom anxious to fall asleep. My wife turned toward me and simply asked, “Are you all right? Try and get some sleep.”

For the next few moments I reflected on the past twenty-four hours. I smiled and said God, “I am so thankful to be alive. Thank you for your blessings on me.” I fell into a deep sleep and my wife will never know of my indignity until she reads this article—I can keep some secrets from her. In the morning I was awakened to blue skies and the wonderful thought that the sun is always shining.