The flu hangover

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I have a hangover. A bad one. But it’s not the kind that follows a night with too many cocktails. It’s a flu hangover, and it’s nearly as ugly as the bug that triggered it.

It started about a month ago. Our oldest son went to bed early on a Friday night, saying he was “tired.” I should’ve known at that moment that a contagious calamity was on the horizon. Normal 18-year-old boys don’t go to sleep early on a Friday night.

He stayed in bed all weekend with what I thought was just a bad head cold. Then on Sunday, his younger brother went from fine and dandy at lunchtime to cold and achy by sundown. By the next morning, I was sure of one thing. They’d gone viral. After a trip to the doctor’s office and two nasal swabs, it was official. Both boys had the B-strain of the flu, which is more common for teenagers.

germ-158107_640 (2)Even though they’d both had the flu shot last fall, not every strain of flu is prevented by the vaccination. The next several days were a blur of nose-blowing, sneezing, shivering, coughing and general misery. There weren’t enough blankets in the house to cut through the cold chills, so we used heating pads and steaming cups of hot lemonade which my mom claims will cure anything. We did our best to quarantine the boys, and we regularly wiped down surfaces in hopes of limiting the spread of the virus.

After five days, the doctor said the boys were no longer contagious and could go back to school. The rest of us were still fever-free. The trouble had passed – or so it seemed.

The boys got well just in time for the three-day weekend vacation we’d planned to the mountains of Colorado where we met up with Tom’s brother and sister-in-law. During the trip, Tom came down with a cold that looked like it was flirting with the flu, but it wasn’t the real deal. He beat it back with a potpourri of over-the-counter medications from Walgreens.

When we returned home in time for a new week of school, it looked like our brief fling with flu was over. But a few days later, my 83-year-old dad turned a weird shade of white. Then he started coughing. We wasted no time bundling him up for a trip to the walk-in clinic for a flu test, which quickly segued into a trip to the Emergency Room where doctors diagnosed him with the flu plus an early case of pneumonia. He was admitted to the hospital for fluids, antibiotics and the kind of non-rest “rest” you can only get when well-meaning people in scrubs are constantly checking your vitals.

Mom insisted on staying with Dad in the hospital, so I became the hospital runner. I brought in some of their clothes from home, overnight essentials, meals and Dad’s favorite milkshakes. After a full day of errands and hospital deliveries, I felt a heavy fatigue seep into my bones.

Before dawn the next morning, I woke up knowing one thing for certain. I had the flu. I didn’t need the test. The chills and the body aches confirmed it. I’d been up close and personal with the flu three times and had finally come away with my own case of it. It felt like someone had beaten me with a bat. Even the soles of my feet hurt.

The worst of it lasted three days, but I stayed home for five days until the contagious period had passed. Today marks the 12th day since the flu woke me up before dawn. And I’m wildly thankful to be so much better than I was that first miserable morning.

But the flu has a way of hanging on. I still have the tell-tale cough that makes it sound like I’m a walking contagion. Dad is still sleeping for big chunks of the day, and yesterday I fell asleep for two hours at a time during a road trip – both going and coming. Tom is beginning to think I’ve contracted narcolepsy or some other exotic sleeping sickness.

And today I realized our family has been dealing with flu and its after-effects for a full 30 days. We’ve lost an entire month of the year! But it could’ve been so much worse. As the Emergency Room doctor reminded me, the flu shot isn’t designed to prevent every case of the flu. It’s designed to keep people from dying from the flu. And here we are – alive, thankful and very much looking forward to spring.

Stay well, dear readers. A hangover – of any kind – is no fun.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.

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