I'm a cold and flu survivor.
There were times when I thought I wouldn't live to write that. Times when I was so delirious with fever, so close to the Great Beyond, that I could have sworn I was visited and touched by a posse of angels. (Turns out it was just Della Reese and a wispy Irish woman.)
But during my illness--wait, let's not sugarcoat this--my handshake with the Grim Reaper, I began to see striking parallels between the cold-flu and death itself. As I lay drowning in a sea of germs and other unfriendly microbes, I realized that both phenomena carry five distinct emotional stages:
This is the first stage of dying, as some big-shot expert has pointed out. If I understand this complex psychological term correctly, this is when you "deny" what is happening to you.
For instance, when I was throwing up a few weeks back, I said to myself, "Something smells. But it's not me because I never get sick. My stomach is fine. It must be someone else."
What usually shakes someone out of denial is a few consecutive moments of emotional maturity. This is when you honestly assess the situation. This is when you realize that pretending your
problems don't exist won't make them go away.
That kind of maturity is for other people.
For me, denial doesn't leave my body until I heave a second time.
Here is when you might say things like, "Dagnabbit, I can't believe I'm sick!"
My cold / flu anger burns brighter than a really good imitation diamond. I remember being sprawled out on our palatial couch, wrapped snugly in a warm blanket. Then, my wife dances ever so quietly into the room, kindly serving me chicken soup and other wholesome anti-flu foodstuffs. I have sole control of the remote. Whatever I want is mine, mine, mine. I'm master of all I survey.
And then I think about not being able to go to work. (The burn starts.)
Stranding my office mates. (It's burning stronger.)
I won't be able to contribute a day's labor to the corporation. (Call the fire department!)
Sometimes, I have to take extra days off--after the physical illness is gone--just to recover from my anger at calling in sick.
Near death, most of us would make a deal with the devil to save our necks. In sickness, you basically do the same thing--except instead of Lucifer, you make a pact with your caretaker.
Pact terms don't come easily. And don't be surprised if a few harsh words are exchanged before a set of conditions regarding diet, sleep and the remote control are agreed upon. Remember, even though one party is in a weakened state, it's still a relationship that means no one wants to give ground for any reason.
Here's an example of how ugly things can get, excerpted from my recent illness:
Wife: Here, honey, have some soup.
Me: OK, honey. Thanks.
This is when you feel bad because you're going to die. I guess that makes sense.
But when you get sick, the depression comes right out of the TV set--because you've got 6 million channels and they all stink to high heaven.
Blah, blah, blah. You've seen every show, you've watched every movie. So, in desperation, you violate the Spousal Sickness Pact of 1997, leave the house, and walk to the video rental store in your bathrobe.
Once there, however, you remember you've seen all the movies and somehow doubt that a much smaller screen and an inferior sound system will help you like the flick the second time around.
So you sit there and think, maybe you should read awhile. But you're sick. Who can concentrate?
What about a swell game of Pictionary? By yourself? Guess again, Einstein.
Then, the phone rings, but you don't answer because it might be a bill collector. It is. He wants to repossess your car, but first you have to pay a parking ticket so the city can remove the boot on your car--which won't start anyway.
Then, you figure you might as well page Dr. Kevorkian.
The freeing moment finally comes. I'm flat on my back, drinking NyQuil straight out of the bottle, and Coppi, the cat, is licking my hair. A voice inside my head softly says: "You're sick, you stupid dope!"
Then--and only then--does the healing begin.