I don’t have the flu–at least not yet. My wife does. So does my 10-year-old son. My other sons–17 and 19–also don’t have it. My 17-year-old rarely leaves the basement and, when he does, it is usually out the back door. I find this habit both annoying and disquieting, but now I embrace it as preventative health care. My oldest son is home from college on Christmas break. If he can avoid the spreading virus for the next 24 hours, he will be on his way back to Pittsburgh. He attends Carnegie Mellon University, the alma mater of such diverse personalities as Andy Warhol, John Forbes Nash and Lenny and Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame. His academic rigors can ill afford to be interrupted by disease. On my advice, he is staying away from his childhood home except to pack his belongings and flee.
How bad is this flu? Pretty bad. My 10-year-old, normally an energetic cuss, has been rendered almost immobile. My wife, too, has been felled, for the time being at least. The good news is that the horrid virus has not diminished her ability to bark orders. Thus, our home will continue to run like a well-oiled machine.
I now face a conundrum. My office is less than two miles from home, making it an oasis from the disease around me. I must, of course, occasionally visit them while they are sick. How can I make enough of an appearance to still be engaged as the titular head of the household, yet protect myself as any sane person would?
Before proceeding, you should know that the flu fascinates me a bit. Several years ago I read The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry. It is an excellent book about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. THAT was a bad flu, killing in the neighborhood of 40 million people, including 600,000 in one month in the U.S. Since then, I’ve read a lot of material about the flu. If I wanted to appear brainy, I could rant about various flu strains, antigen drift, corona virus and other minutia. But it all comes down to this: The flu comes in many forms, changes constantly, is highly contagious and incurable. The good news, as Barry notes in his book, is that–even its deadlier forms–it’s just the flu. It won’t kill you. Probably. Now, if you’re elderly, it can lead to pneumonia which no old person wants. Bad stuff there. Much worse than the flu.
How do you know if you have the flu? Oh, there are many symptoms. Here is a simple test: Are you coughing like you have Black Lung and do you feel like crap? If so, you may have the flu.
Even though I won’t pretend to be a doctor, I do want to clarify something. There is no stomach flu. There are viruses which will cause unimaginable gastrointestinal disruption and strip you of your dignity. You can be like I was about year ago. Start feeling a little weird in your stomach and then–BOOM!–puking pizza through your nose for an hour. But, that’s not the flu. Could be a virus. Maybe it’s bacteria, i.e., food poisoning. Just don’t call it the flu. The flu is the flu. If you say you have the stomach flu, it makes as much sense as saying you have a facial hernia.
Anyway, back to me (as if we ever left that topic to begin with). Once the disease hit, I had to think fast to protect myself. I considered several options before settling on one:
RUN LIKE HELL
Like any animal, fight or flight is my reaction to terror. In this case, flight is the only reasonable option. My initial plan was to get a room at the Hampton Inn across the highway from my home. It’s close to my office and home. I could stay there until the trouble passes, plus feign immediate availability for the sick.
I love Hampton Inn, by the way. I travel a fair amount for work to many places that don’t have 5 Star Hotels. Most areas do, however, have a Hampton Inn. They are all pretty much the same. Nice, clean rooms, pool, exercise room and free breakfast. Good deal.
My wife shot down my running away plan. I simply asked, “How bad would it be if I got me a room over at the Hampton and just brought you all stuff when you need it?” Her answer: “Very bad [cough, cough, cough].”
I have a friend who will occasionally come up with an idea for something. He will call these ideas “Plan Q.” Why? I don’t know. I considered calling this Plan Q, but–while a fine fellow–he is a litigious sort who would likely take umbrage at this. So, I call this Plan B.
Here are the steps of Plan B:
1. Wife and Son retreat to the master bedroom of our home on the second floor (now called the “Phlegm Chamber”), It has a queen-sized bed, television, sofa, ample books and a bathroom. In keeping with today’s lingo, we will call these wretched souls the “Ratchet.”
2. Dry foodstuffs, MREs, liquids, medicine and supplies will have been previously stocked in the Phlegm Chamber. This will include, but not be limited to, Theraflu, Tamiflu, Kleenex, NyQuil, Advil, Tylenol, magazines, newspapers and a legal pad in case they want to draw.
3. Once the Ratchet are safely ensconced, duct tape will place along the door facing. This will ensure that the deadly miasma produced by their constant breathing and coughing will remain contained within the Phlegm Chamber, unable to escape to the rest of the house, now known as the “Clean Zone.”
4. Cell phones will be provided to allow text messaging and limited phone calls to me. I will guarantee a response within two to three hours of any message left with me, unless I am napping. In that case, I may respond the next day, if at all.
5. The Ratchet will not be allowed in the Clean Zone until they have gone 24 hours without a fever. This is a bit of gamble, because I’m not insane enough to check their temperatures myself. However, if they venture out while still feverish, I’m sure there’s some app for constantly monitoring a rectal thermometer. If not, I’ll get my egghead kid at Carnegie Mellon to invent one.
6. Once the Ratchet are able to leave the Phlegm Chamber, they will immediately visit a doctor to confirm that they are no longer contagious. Once this is confirmed in writing, they are free to venture about the Clean Zone wearing appropriate surgical masks until all coughing has subsided. Since the Clean Zone is likely to be a bit messy, the Ratchet are then expected to help straighten up a bit.
The problem with Plan B, despite its ingenious detail, is that it requires cooperation from the Ratchet. Thus far, that cooperation has been lacking.
HOWARD AND ME
The name Howard Hughes likely doesn’t mean much to young folks. To people of a certain age, like me, his name conjures up the image of fabulous wealth, daring adventure and, of course, crippling lunacy.
Hughes made fortunes in the tool, film and aviation industries. He once declared that his goal was to be the greatest golfer, pilot and film maker on Earth and the richest man in the world. Except for golf, he could at various times have laid claim to all those titles.
When Hughes was in his 50’s, he developed, at the very least, serious obsessive-compulsive disorder. Eventually, he retreated to one of his hotels, sitting in the dark, naked, watching the film Ice Station Zebra over and over. He was so obsessed with germs that he wouldn’t wearing clothes or even bathe. He covered his body in Kleenex and put the empty boxes on his feet. His hair grew to his shoulders and beard to his chest. He collected his bodily waste in jars. He hired a staff of Mormons to serve him, because he believed them to be clean. He had a good point about that.
I’ve thought about adopting Hughes’s lifestyle, at least until the plague passes. But, I’ll have to pass. First, I’m concerned that I would quickly become enamored of living the life of a billionaire and not be able to return to my Regular Joe existence. Second, being naked bothers me, especially in front of Mormons. Finally, although it sounds like it would be effective defense against influenza, I suspect that I might expose myself to other equally deadly germs.
FULL COURT PRESS
I’m left with an all-out defensive effort to protect myself. Here are my tools:
MASKS: I am wearing a surgical mask at all times. Two, on occasion. The downside is that I’ve discovered that I have foul breath. My breathing also fogs up my reading glasses.
- GLOVES: I’m wearing latex gloves. That’s right–latex. I don’t have a latex allergy. Or a gluten allergy, either. In fact, if they made latex gloves infused with gluten, I’d wear them just to prove what a bad ass I am.
- HAND WASHING: I’m washing my hands every minute or so–even with gloves on. My skin is now like that of radiation burn victim, but I’m germ free.
- LOOK, DON’T TOUCH: This is simple. Don’t touch anything. If you have to touch, use your elbows or feet. The one exception is the remote control, of course. You can scrub it with bleach and it’s as good as new.
- BOILING: Boil things. You’d be surprised at how many things can be boiled. Food, for example. Toothbrushes. Shoes. Some clothes. Your hands. When in doubt, boil it. Caveat: It doesn’t work well with electronic devices.
- MEDICINE: Take all manner of medication. If the Ratchet have prescriptions, take those. Buy your own. Just keep taking them. Yes, the flu is incurable–as far as we know. You might hit the right combination and win a Nobel Prize to boot.
This last plan, like many good ones, was born of desperation. Yet, it has been remarkably effective so far. Of course, the germs are everywhere, stalking me, crawling on me. I am certain that all of this will ultimately fail me. What now? I wonder if Ice Station Zebra is on Blu-Ray?