Good Evening
Good Evening

Why getting the flu might actually be good - for your psyche, at least

A radiology technician looks at a chest X-ray

A radiology technician looks at a chest X-ray of a patient suffering from flu symptoms. Credit: AP / David Goldman

Let us pause today to praise the flu.

When I felt the bug sneaking up on me a few days ago, my first response was to do what I always do when sickness creeps in. I refused to believe it.

Fever? Chills? Must be my imagination talking. Sore throat, cough, inexplicable exhaustion? Figments of my fevered brain.

“Knock it off,” I heard a disembodied voice say. I recognized the speaker. Who else? My dearly departed drill sergeant of a father.

In the household of my childhood, saying you were sick was an evil as great as lying, a turpitude that had a special name.

“You’re goldbricking!” my father, who learned a lot of his favorite vocabulary in the Army, would scold when one of his children claimed to be too ill to go to church or school, too sick to wash the dishes or mow the lawn.

In case it’s not clear, “goldbricking” is an old-fashioned synonym for “shirking,” and my father’s children learned that unless your temperature was high enough to crack the thermometer, you were well enough to do your duty.

In my father’s defense, I should add that he applied the same stern standard to himself.

So it was with a certain shame the other day that after Googling “flu symptoms” and verifying that I had every single one, I concluded that I was too sick to work.

If you’ve had the flu - as apparently 62.3 percent of Chicagoans do at this very moment - you know what I’m talking about. It leaves you feeling you’ve been run over by a car, then by a truck and then, just as you thought you could get up, by a lawn mower.

And yet in the midst of my misery, a strange thing began to happen. I began to find unexpected pleasure in being laid so low.

Sure, I felt the obligatory self-pity, the conviction that this was a sign of my premature old age, a preview of my death. But deprived of the energy to do all the things with which I fill an ordinary day, I entered a state of what might be called miserable bliss.

I spent hours sacked out on the couch staring at the trees: Look at that, those tiny red sprouts on the branches. Maybe “Chicago spring” is not an oxymoron.

I took long naps, the deep, dark kind that make you feel you’ve climbed back into the womb.

I finally watched the movie “Moonlight,” which was as good as I’d heard.

Hoping to banish the virus from my sheets and towels, I did a load of laundry, then folded it very, very, very slowly, so slowly I savored the texture of the towels, the shape of the pillowcases, wondering: Is there a market for a book called “The Zen of Flu”?

I answered some long-overdue email, then fell asleep again.

The news bored me. It felt so trivial compared with my impending death. This left my mind free to roam through less agitating sights and thoughts.

For the first time, as I sat staring into space, I noticed a carved doodad missing from the built-in ornaments on the old oak bookcase.

I spotted a little dead bug, belly up, underneath a chair. How long had it been there?

One night - a fact that only illness can explain - I dreamed about Vladimir Putin and I’m sorry to say it was not an unpleasant dream.

As I began to feel better, I mentioned my miserable bliss theory to a friend who has also been sick recently.

“And I appreciated all of those things,” she concurred, “along with two patient dogs who were just thrilled that I was home during the day and willing to let them form a puppy pile with me on the couch. That was wonderful.”


“But after being ’better’ for a couple of weeks, a terrible head cold set in,” she said.

I didn’t want to hear more. Now that I can see the end in sight, I’m choosing to think of the flu not as an interminable affliction but as a brief luxury retreat.

People pay a lot of money for the pleasures I’ve been experiencing: to be weaned of the news, to spend time noticing the little things, to sleep, perchance to dream.

Though, ideally, not of Putin.