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by Julia Sneden

Flu season is really over by now, the man on the television said. I barely paid attention to him, because what did I care? I had had my annual flu shot way back in October, and felt quite invulnerable. And then came last week.

                                             Day One
       About three in the morning, I wake up with icy feet. The rest of me is burning up. How odd, I think, a hot flash that starts in mid-calf!
      At five, I wake again, aching all over. Wow, I think, my arthritis has taken a quantum leap.
      At 6:30 I try to get out of bed. I am a walker and a swimmer, and the muscles in my legs are the only truly toned part of my body, but on this morning, they feel flaccid, like rubber bands that have lost their stretch. Getting to my feet is an exhausting process, and I wobble into the bathroom with one hand on the wall. 
      I take my temperature. A baffling 97.3. I make it to the kitchen where coffee awaits. Decide food isnt interesting, but a piece of dry toast might be helpful. Put slice into toaster, and suddenly realize that if I dont sit down mighty fast, Ill be on the floor. Husband comes in for second cup and finds me sprawled at the kitchen table, head down on folded arms. Back to bed.
      A call to the doctors office tells me nothing. Its Sunday, and my doctors not on call. Hes probably on a beach in Hawaii, celebrating the end of the flu season. Do I want to talk to Dr. Unknown? Lousy as I feel, I dont think Im an emergency to anyone but myself.

                                          Day Two
      My temperature reaches 102. I decide to talk to someone sympathetic. The triage nurse at the doctors office asks the right questions, which Ive already asked myself, and comes to the same conclusion Ive already reached: its the flu. Im a fairly healthy person, but Ive caught flu at least once a decade, and at 60+, I can recognize it, Hong Kong, Type B, Asian, whatever. Theyre all flu and theyre all lousy. 
     The nurse tells me to rest, drink lots of water, take Tylenol. Nothing new there. Yesterdays diet of chicken broth and dry toast doesnt appeal. NOTHING appeals. My ancient uncle used to refer to feeling liverish. I never understood what he meant, but this must be it: a queasy, greasy, tension in the mid-section. At least, I tell myself, this will be good for weight loss, an on-going losing effort for the last 50 years. 
      Everything in my body aches, my head most of all. I try to read a magazine. Its too heavy to hold. I lie in bed and wonder why Ive never implemented my earlier plan to label all the old family stuff, so that my children will know what theyre looking at after I die. I drift in and out of a snooze, idly noticing how smooth my old cotton sheets feel as I slide my cold feet across them. Ive given up taking my temperature. Its high.

                                          Day Three
     Ive never before had flu without other symptoms like head or chest congestion or a sore throat. Its positively weird, but unfortunately it allows you to focus on how really weak and limp you feel, and just how much you ache. Im glad not to be doubled over with a painful or rattling cough, mind you, but I keep having an uneasy feeling that this flu is more insidious, and something evil is yet to come. 
     Im still not hungry (hooray!) but decide I ought to try to eat something solid. Tea and broth and water cant sustain my battle with this virus forever. I try a half-cup of yogurt with a quarter of an apple diced into it (not too much work to chew!) for breakfast, and a small slice of chicken breast with a soda cracker for lunch. They dont help relieve the queasiness, but they stay down. Back to the broth for supper. Boy, I am really anticipating getting on the scales when this is over.

                                         Day Four
     I am also starting to think about all the things I ought to be doing. Maybe life is returning. How long, I wonder, will it take me to work back up to my brisk, two-and-a-half mile daily walk? At this point, the 20-foot walk down the carpeted, flat hall to the living room leaves me white and sweaty!
     Dinner smells really good. Its a pasta dish I had frozen up, and my husband has reheated it. Just the ticket, I think: light but sustaining. I have a small portion, along with a few grape tomatoes and a small bit of broccoli. 

                                      Day Five
     In the middle of the night, disaster strikes. I no longer have a flu without complications. The virus has obviously taken refuge in my intestines. You dont need to know about the next 24 hours.
No. You dont need to know. I lie flat, shaking and hanging on to the vision of those scales at the end of all this. Maybe Ill even buy a bathing suit. Not that Ill ever be strong enough to stand up again.

                                      Day Six
      God bless whoever invented Pepto Bismol. My temperature is down, and while Im white-lipped and slow moving, Im alive. Tea and toast and Jello seem like a feast. I read every magazine in the weeks stack. I sit up in a chair and fall asleep. By dinnertime I am up and dressed, albeit only in sweat pants and floppy shirt.

                                      Day Seven
      I actually did a load of washing, and made a trip to the grocery store. Tomorrow I am planning to resume my daily hike, at a slower pace and over a shorter distance. No point in pushing things too far. Gleaming with life restored, I climb onto the bathroom scale. Seven days of almost no food, I think to myself with a hopeful smile. And then I look down. The scale reads the same as it did the day I got sick. I have lost nothing.
      It takes me a moment to understand: Seven days of almost no food, yes, but also, seven days of no exercise.
      I have long blamed my Northern European ancestors for passing down to me a body that hoards every scrap of a calorie. All those fur-wrapped hunters of the frozen north who had to eat huge amounts of rich foods just to stay warm through the icy winters, passed down calorie-stowing genes that no longer pertain. It rarely snows in North Carolina. We do have central heat and Polartec. Winter is short. No matter: every calorie I ingest is squirreled away in body fat unless I get out there and work up a sweat every single day of my life. Its hell to have the metabolism of a slug.
     But it feels mighty good not to have the flu!



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