2010-02-04 / Sam Bari

If you want to cure the flu, don’t follow your instincts

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

A few weeks ago, I woke up feeling stiff and slightly congested. Not a good sign, I thought. I must be coming down with the yearly mid-winter cold.

No such luck. Within a few hours, the symptoms turned seriously worse.

Chills, fever, upset stomach, the works. Everything started malfunctioning at the same time, including my brain. My usual remedy for this sort of thing is a good hot toddy and a day off. But my one functioning instinct told me that my body had been invaded by something worse than a common cold.

This is no time to be macho, my instinct said. Go to the doctor and find out what’s wrong before you end up in the hospital. I couldn’t get an appointment for three days. I even threatened to die on them by telling the woman who answered the phone that they would be losing a good customer. She seemed to find this amusing and said she would put me down for later in the week.

I didn’t think I’d live that long, so I thanked her and said I’d see her in the next life. That seemed to amuse her more. She laughed and said to take some aspirin, drink plenty of fluids and take it easy for a few days. “We will take good care of you when you come in on Thursday,” she said. “You are not going to expire.”

“How did I get this?” I asked. “I don’t hang out with children, and I work at home.” She said that I could have picked it up from a doorknob, or from someone who was infected passing me on the street. She accused me of being too dramatic and overly concerned about a little malady that was easily cured.

As comforting as she sounded, she did not have a runny nose, diffi culty breathing, fever and chills, a sore throat and the energy of a snail on sedatives. If it were so easy to cure, why didn’t she just tell me what to do? When I asked, she responded with a good-bye accompanied by a giggle, and I was no better off than before I called.

I jumped on the Internet and looked up “the common cold” on Google. I was sent to a website that talked about the 99 versions of the “rhino virus.” I had read this before. I assure you, no species of rhinoceros or any other miniaturized large animal would be caught dead in an environment like the inside of my body.

I recall drifting in and out of lucidity, and consulting with my instinct. This was no time for indifference, I said. We have to do something. To which my instinct replied, “That’s right, so what should we do?”

If my memory serves me correctly, in my delirious state, I had an intense confrontation with my instinct. I told it that as an instinct, it was not very proficient, and if its work ethic did not improve in the very near future, I would be interviewing for a new one. That’s how sick I was. Can you imagine anyone so out of it that his or her instincts malfunction?

Mine was in need of a major overhaul.

I decided to go to a walk-in clinic. They never turn anyone down, I surmised. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be called walk-in clinics. I’m sure it will be a quick solution to get rid of whatever had taken possession of my body, I said in an effort to convince myself that my instinct had not totally abandoned me.

I had to see a doctor, or an exorcist — maybe both.

When I walked into the reception area, I was not encouraged. People were lined up out the door and onto the sidewalk.

When they finally called my name late in the afternoon, I learned that the flu vaccine I got earlier in the year was for the H1N1 virus. It sounds like something you’d get from a Canadian postal code.

Apparently, if you want to avoid the flu, you need four different flu shots — one for each strain. You probably won’t die from it; I think the flu has just become a permanent fixture in a system we can’t understand.

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