April 25, 2009
So sick of being sick
Pardon the melodrama, but look at how brave I am as I lay dying from this killer flu
By neil humphreys
I am dying. As I bravely, gallantly, heroically stumble my way through this column, I am dying.
At this stage, it's rather difficult to ascertain what the cause of my eventual demise will be. It's been narrowed down to two possibilities - a bad dose of flu or drowning in self-pity.
But I am dying. Did I mention that already?
I ask only because, according to my wife, I have made several mentions of my imminent departure. In the last few minutes.
My wife admits it could be more, but she ignores my coughing, wheezing death rattles during American Idol and picks up on the groaning only during commercial breaks.
As every hypochondriac will tell you, I am possibly suffering from pneumonia from the sudden drop in temperature (I'm now in England and it has only two seasons - August and winter).
But I could also have a chest infection, influenza, a fever, hyperthermia (I've suffered both hot and cold chills of late) or, as I possibly suspect, a vicious, potentially fatal, combination of all of the above.
My wife says I have a common cold.
Sympathy has not been forthcoming and I blame the insensitivity on motherhood.
Ever since she had our first child, she has changed from sympathetic wife to indifferent mother, unimpressed with any symptoms or syndromes that do not include the passing of a 4kg wriggling being through the uterus.
Anatomically, this is not an argument I can win.
In my darker moments of discomfort, I'm going for the stoicism of Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront.
My wife says I sound like Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willy.
'But I'm dying over here,' my muffled voice cries through the blankets on the sofa.
'Hmm, okay,' she replies.
'I could be dead by the morning.'
'Hmm, yeah... do you think Danny the widower will win American Idol?'
'You could be a widow by the morning... cough, cough.'
'Hmm, can you keep the coughing down? I can't hear Simon.'
In truth, like most no-nonsense women, she has been her usual wondrous self. She's entertained our daughter, visited relatives and acted as chauffeur while I occasionally croaked, 'make sure my will is updated and my Star Wars figures go to a good home'.
Men don't really do pain. Or, as I suspect, they don't do pain they cannot see.
Give me a broken arm any day of the week over a mysterious virus that cannot be diagnosed immediately.
Several years ago, I put my sandal and a good deal of my right foot through a rusty nail near the Upper Thomson flyover.
It was more painful than listening to a Britney Spears CD, but I practically whistled all the way to a Toa Payoh polyclinic.
I could see the cause of the pain hanging out of the foot. I could rationalise it.
When I'm laid low with flu, the pain is internal, invisible. I cannot rationalise it.
Therefore, I must be dying.
The logic is not without its flaws, but it works for me and a good number of my male friends.
And when we are dying, melodrama takes over.
Loudly and theatrically, we must selflessly inform all and sundry within, say, a 30km radius to stand well back.
We're like those guys in radiation suits at Chernobyl. We remind the world how heroic we are, sacrificing ourselves to save others.
The moment a visitor enters, I muster the strength to sit up and remind everyone how brave I am.
'Don't come anywhere near me,' I cry, lifting a weary hand to shoo visitors away before letting out a few well-timed coughs to underscore my sacrifice.
'Stand right back over there,' I continue. 'I wouldn't want you to catch what I've got. Oh no. I wouldn't wish this terrible virus on my worst enemy. Yes, it's that bad. Yes, I'm that tough.'
Occasionally, a concerned but reckless relative will venture closer to the sofa.
'Please, don't take another step,' I shout, without a thought for the safety of my tender larynx. 'You simply cannot catch what I've got. It will kill you.
'To be honest, I don't know how I'm still going.'
That last comment is vital because it opens a window, allowing admiring well-wishers the chance to remind me, again, how courageous I have been to cope with such a horrendous virus.
As my wife resists the temptation to throw something sharp at my forehead, I humbly accept the compliments.
'It's not been easy,' I nod thoughtfully. 'This is so more than a common cold. There must be some sort of killer flu going around.'
At this point my wife intervenes to stop herself from throwing up.
'Well, he's getting better now,' she says brusquely. 'Aren't you, Neil?'
With the utmost reluctance, I am forced to agree.
'I'm getting there,' I mutter weakly. 'And my wife has been really supportive.'
She smiles as I slowly lie down again.
'Of course, I do what I can to help,' I continue, adjusting my pillow. 'When I'm really sick, I try not to talk about it.'