Recently, after a couple of days of feeling a bit run down, I groused to my wife that I didn't feel bad enough to miss work, just bad enough to make work a lot harder than usual. "It might be nice to feel bad enough to have to stay home," I said sardonically.
Scratch that thought. The microbes have ears. A couple of days later, I had gotten my rash wish — complete with cough, sneezing, scratchy throat, woolly head and an enveloping fatigue that banished any thought of going to work.
Well, not any thought. I've heard a lot about Catholic guilt and Jewish guilt, and one of these days I will find out what it is that makes Catholics and Jews feel guilty. But I can attest that nothing wracks the conscience of someone raised Protestant like failing to carry out one's occupational duties in a timely and efficient manner.
If you can breathe, my conscience advises, you can work. My body, however, says: "Ha. Ha. Ha. I'm not working, and that angel on your shoulder can't make me."
My body does not take this illness lightly. My body likes to think it's dying. It has fantasies of appearing in the sequel to "Les Miserables."
My work ethic is somewhat appeased that my superiors are not eager for me to show up at the office, bringing my germs with me. But I can't shake the fear that they think I'm faking so I can stay home and watch the entire first season of "Homeland."
I'm used to being at odds with prevailing fashion: I can't bring myself to wear stylish jeans, I've never seen a Quentin Tarantino film, and my idea of a cutting-edge singer is George Strait. So it came as a surprise to learn I am now part of a big trend.
"The country is in the grip of three emerging flu or flulike epidemics: an early start to the annual flu season with an unusually aggressive virus, a surge in a new type of norovirus, and the worst whooping cough outbreak in 60 years." So reports The New York Times. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this is the worst flu season in a decade.
That may be too optimistic. Slate says that based on Google searches, "it seems almost certain that the most recent CDC figures are underestimating the outbreak's current magnitude."
I was one of those people searching flu symptoms on Google, but the doctor I saw said I had an "upper respiratory infection." Instead of high fever, aches and chills, I have the nagging sensation that a porcupine has invaded my throat and an NFL lineman is sitting on my chest.
Until they decide to vacate, I'm housebound, following a monotonous routine: Sleep late, get up, have something to eat, get halfway through the newspaper, go back to bed. Repeat as able.
Each day, I rise with the thought that maybe my health is returning to normal. And each day, the virus retorts: What's the hurry?
At least I have the pleasure of congratulating myself for getting a flu shot, which may have spared me something worse. I don't actually have great confidence that the flu shot works — at preventing the flu, I mean.
I have found it exceptionally effective in a different way. Years ago, I came down with the worst case of the flu I've ever had, which eventually caused my doctor to check me into a hospital.
Once there, I received a procession of physicians, nurses and interns, each of whom would examine me, diagnose my malady and conclude with a hint of smugness: "I guess you should have gotten a flu shot." It was some satisfaction to be able to silence them by responding, "Actually, I DID get a flu shot."
Getting my bug is not the worst of the bad options available this winter. By staying home and away from infectious humanity, I may have dodged that norovirus that's been going around. "Classic symptoms of norovirus," reports The New York Times, "are 'explosive' diarrhea and 'projectile' vomiting." I haven't had it quite so bad.
If you're suffering from those symptoms, you have my deepest sympathy. And I think I speak for your superiors when I tell you not to rush back to work. Really.
Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune's editorial board and blogs at chicagotribune.com/chapman.