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Spoonfuls of Woe : Home Alone With the Flu--It's a Truly Pitiful Sight

January 16, 1994|EMILY ADAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The dull ache begins right between the shoulder blades, or the base of the skull, and denial is usually the first response. "It's just a pulled muscle," you say.

Then there's bargaining: "I'll go to bed early tonight. I'll take vitamins. I promise."

There's never a right time to be sick. And when you live alone, nobody else is going to pick up the slack. The laundry isn't done, you haven't shopped in weeks, the house is filthy.

Acceptance takes the form of claw marks across the living room rug as you are dragged under for the last time. What happens next is inevitable.

1. It doesn't seem so bad at first. Turn the phone off, the answering machine on, and be grateful nobody can see your matted hair and dull eyes.

2. The bed accumulates objects: books, pens, tissues, two remote controls. The lost bookmarks are lurking somewhere near your knees.

3. Wait a minute. Who's going to bring you soup? Anyone with an ounce of pity lives 20 miles away. You don't want to whine.

4. You have to rest twice while operating the manual can opener. Making dinner takes an hour.

5. Overloaded on megadoses of vitamin C and a nighttime cold liquid, you wake at 2 a.m., convinced that your room is crowded with shadowy figures snapping their fingers in unison. You can't move, but after a struggle, you manage to scream. Out loud. At no one.

6. A man you had hoped would call does just that. But as his cheerful voice booms from the answering machine, you realize that he will always be associated with the slight nausea you now feel.

7. Kleenex, bathroom tissue, paper towels: Who knew you could run out of every paper product in your house? A cafeteria-style napkin, found in an old coat pocket, will force an admission. You have to shop.

8. Slumping your way through frozen foods, the mile-long aisle of tall glass doors, you stand there too long trying to remember if marble fudge ice cream is good for a cold.

9. The perky, perfectly coiffed check-out girl handles your bills with the tips of her fingernails. Stupidly, you apologize.

10. You wear the same pajamas for three days. Midway through the second day, they assume a life of their own. They whisper, "Burn me."

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