"She has the flu," my pediatrician informed me matter-of-factly as she returned to the examining room, where I'd been sitting with my daughter for what seemed like an eternity. "Her test came back positive.""Flu?" I repeated dumbly, clutching my 5-year-old on my lap. "What kind of flu?"
"Well, seasonal flu hasn't reached Tennessee yet, so it can only be H1N1."
I held back a whimper. Swine flu? My baby had swine flu? Why wasn't our doctor running for filter masks? Using the PA system to alert everyone to our presence? Spraying us down with Lysol? Nervously, I wondered if she was trying to keep us calm until security guards in hazmat suits had time to burst into the room and escort us from the building. Instead, the doctor merely sighed and began typing on her computer.
"But..." I said, still trying to take in the news. "She caught it from her brother." "Then he must have had it, too," the doctor said. She turned back to face me. "You'll want to watch them both for any signs of wheezing or a return of fever. If that happens, call us."
"And that's it?" I asked. "We just...go home?"
In a daze, I left the office and strapped my daughter into her car seat. Swine flu, I thought to myself. Swine flu. I had spent the last six months strategizing against it, scheduling impossible-to-find vaccinations, and purchasing hand sanitizer by the gallon. Despite all that effort, both my kids had gotten it and my son had actually recovered before I'd even realized what was going on. I felt guilty that I hadn't put the appropriate amount of hand-wringing into his illness.
I also felt like I was coming down with something.
And I was right. The next morning, I, too, had swine flu, along with my husband and 16-year-old stepdaughter. The aches and fever weren't so bad, really. The coughing, though, was another story.
For the next two weeks, our house was a veritable symphony of coughing and hacking, each family member bringing his or her own unique sound to the mix. My 16-year-old's coughing had a flute-like edge that brought to mind the mounting hysteria of a woman about to undergo an involuntary lobotomy. Five-year-old Punky's coughs were punctuated with shouting. "I can't get it out!" she'd yell, panicked. "Someone get this cough out of me!" My own coughing caused me to double over wherever I happened to be standing, tears streaming down my face.
But it was my husband who provided the rousing crescendo to our performance. His coughing had the extraordinary sound I imagine an angry bull elephant would make if it were being strangled by the Jolly Green Giant. The sheer force of it left him with ribs that ached every time he inhaled. Of course, with all that ca-cough-phony, we couldn't show our faces in public for days—and when we did venture out, it didn't go well at all.
What finally forced us from the Ferrier compound was the one thing every sick person craves—fine cheese. On the drive to the local cheese shop, we practiced keeping our coughing to a minimum. It wasn't going to be easy, but we comforted ourselves with the knowledge that we'd simply go in, quickly select our cheese, and leave.
As we pulled into the parking lot, I read the shop's sign aloud. "Formaggeria." I wrinkled my nose. "What's wrong with calling it 'Cheese Shop?' " Hubs grunted and we both got out of the car. But before we got to the door, I stopped him.
"OK, when we get inside, let's look around for a minute or two," I said, "and then I'm going to stop, put my hand on my stomach and say, 'Excuse me, do you all have a rest room? I think I've got...' "—I dropped my voice to a stage whisper—" '...formaggeria.' "
Hubs burst out laughing, but about three ha's in, his laughter morphed into angry-dying-elephant. He clutched his sides, clearly in pain, and began coughing as if a 20-pound hairball were lodged in his throat.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, looking nervously at the plate glass window of the shop, where anyone inside could plainly see that one very phlegmy man was about to come through the door. A few minutes passed, Hubs wiped his mouth, and we continued on our way
"No more funny stuff," I vowed as we headed up the stairs. I tried to open the door of the shop, but it was locked. The formaggeria was closed, probably in response to Hubs' performance.
"Just our luck," he muttered.
"Well, it was probably for the best," I said. "But I have to admit, I was really looking forward to asking them if they wanted some swine with their cheese." Hubs shot me a warning look.
"Oh yeah," I said sheepishly. "No funny. Sorry."
Today, we are all approaching a full recovery with no major complications (unless you count my new Afrin addiction). And now that we're immune to H1N1, I'm going to have to find something new to worry about in 2010.
So far I've come up with terrorism, the asteroid that might hit the Earth in 2034, and health care reform. Surely that will keep me busy until the next global pandemic comes along.
Read more Suburban Turmoil at www.suburbanturmoil.com.
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