I Died of the Flu
You can die from the flu.
How I know is, I’ve been invaded by a virulent bug since New Year’s Eve. The next morning my throat was scratchy and I was coughing. I had a cold, I thought. The next day I could hardly get out of bed. There seemed a half-gallon of crud in my lungs and every joint ached. I drank a lot of water, took some meds and thought I’d be better by morning. I wasn’t, but reasoned that I was OK because at least I was no worse.
That was yesterday. By nightfall the chills came on. I shook. So, I thought, against all odds I have contracted malaria. Great. With my lungs flooded, my nasal passages clogged and all my muscles constricted I was having trouble breathing. I lay in bed shivering and panting. It was about eight o’clock, too late to see a doctor, it would have to be the E.R. If things didn’t get better in the night, we said, we’d go.
Pam got a hair dryer and heated the bed. I took more pills. She rubbed my back and arms to relax my muscles. Gradually the chills abated, my breathing slowed and I felt my heart rate diminish. We knew that I would be all right in the night, and in that knowledge Pam slowly fell asleep at my side.
It was ten thirty and I lay in bed looking out through the big windows at the foot of the bed. The night was cold and clear. I saw the stars and the blinking lights of airliners headed for destinations unknown. It felt good to be alive and breathing, good to feel Pam’s arm resting on my chest, hearing the quiet susurration of her dreamy breathing. Time seemed to suspend and place fell away. I lay among the stars, among the blinking airships, and this was—as Jacob found in his dream—“the gate of heaven.”
Most of us know what it is like to be very sick, or in sudden danger, and to think, “What if I should die?” It is almost silly, but that does not prevent the mind—especially three days shut up in a sick room—from imagining, “They thought it was just the flu, you see, and so they didn’t go to the doctor, and then in the middle of the night his breathing became labored and the next thing you know . . . .”
It is a small dying and rising, which we feel every time we lie down to sleep, as that old children’s prayer begs, “if I should die before I wake,” but which we feel in more intense forms in sickness or injury. People who have lain at death’s door and then recover and live often feel that they have died to one life and been given another.
In a small way, that is how I felt at ten thirty last night. I fell asleep and woke at two o’clock. The turtle neck I had put on when I could not stop shivering was soaked. I took it off, put on a dry tee shirt, went back to bed and woke at dawn.