My husband’s illness has been of epic proportion. The symptoms are ever-evolving, rotating inside of him like a Ferris wheel (and not one of those awesome ones that Ryan Gosling jumps on to ask you out on a date).
“I’m hot. I’m cold. I’m clammy. I’m burning up. I need a blanket. Take this blanket off of me. I need to eat. I can’t eat that. I need a hot drink. I need a cold drink”. This is not man flu, this is Bear Flu.
Not to confuse it with ‘bear sick’, which is apparently slang for “expressing when something is awesome however when the word awesome is not quite enough”. Can you use it in a negative context? “This is bear awful”…I don’t know, Urban Dictionary didn’t say. Then again, you can’t always trust the internet. Which is what I tell my husband when he wants me to Google his ailments and health concerns. We have a rather strict policy about such things. It’s never a good idea because it’s always the worst case scenario. If I have a tumor, I don’t want to be told by the internet.
When he first became ill, I’ll admit I was annoyed. It was the day of my first aid course; my work van was picked up by a co-worker for the after-school pick up. Ben agreed to pick me up. Shortly before the examination, near the end of the day, I receive a text that he is too sick to pick me up. It’s a bit of a schmozzle, getting back to my van. I decide to swing past a Booster Juice to get a wheat grass shot for myself, and a smoothie for Ben. Before I go into the shop, I text Ben. “Do you need anything?” I was close to a grocery store, and could pick up any supplies without making an extra trip. Ten minutes later, I come back to the van, and there’s no text message. I go home with the smoothie. I’m home long enough to settle, shoes off, and wandering around the kitchen. Ben comes round the corner. Since I last saw him, he has developed a limp, a pout and speaks with a quivering voice “Did you get me any ice cream?” “Ice cream? I didn’t hear anything about ice cream”. His face sinks in disappointment. “Oh…I just thought it would be good…for my throat”. He coughs weakly. “I texted you…I asked for ice cream”. “But…I brought you a smoothie”. He gives me a look that says a smoothie is good, but not great.
I grab my purse, my shoes, the car keys and storm out the door. I resent my sick husband, and resent his need for ice cream. That smoothie should have been perfectly adequate. I go round to the 7-11, and face the chiller filled with wildly overpriced products. I spot a brand on sale two for $9.99. I grab two and head to the till. Of course, there is a complication, the price isn’t registering, and they want to charge me $16. I’d like to pay $9.99, take the ice cream and get back to my regularly scheduled life. It took ten minutes, the fluster of two sales clerks, a call to the manager and to get what was clearly labelled in the cooler. Part of me wants to pay whatever they want so I can leave, but my husband has already missed one day of work, I’ve got to save what I can. This further fuels the marital resentment.
I come home, cram the containers in the freezer and check on Ben, who is pale and clammy on the couch. Alright, get the poor bastard some ice cream.
As the flu ravages his body, Benjamin keeps obsessing over the notion that it’s anything other than the flu. I try to soothe him “You just have the flu Bear, that’s why you feel so bad”. My words don’t matter, as he lumbers around the house, following me around like a giant shadow. He breaks my heart, his big sad blue eyes and his feet hanging off the edge of the couch. Despite the giant beard he looks just like a child. He’s weak and emotional, and I want to scoop him up in my arms as though he were a baby.
Of course, I do have to maintain distance. I can’t afford to get sick. I work with children, I have a really busy schedule. Being sick would be wildly inconvenient. I have to love this man and take care of him from afar. It’s lonely for both of us, sleeping in separate beds, but he needs to get better and I need to stay well. We’ve passed the time watching television; as Benjamin works through the flu and I keep watch, occasionally cleaning dishes and tissues, and making cups of tea.
To make matters more emotional, we’ve been whiling away the hours watching “Downton Abbey” on Netflix.
Goodness me, despite all of the hype and accolades I never had any real interest in the program. Then one week, two seasons and a debilitating illness later, we’ve been through the trenches with these people. The Titanic sank, World War One destroyed lives and shattered social barriers. In the midst of these historical milestones, the Crawley family and their faithful servants are always up to something that tugs at the heartstrings. Just when we couldn’t take anymore, the Spanish Flu took no exception at Downton Abbey.
There are so many richly drawn characters, the writing is excellent, the details are superb. For anyone who’s even been sick and powered through a television series, you can appreciate how one can get pretty attached to the characters. In a sickly stupor you start to take things personally…rather seriously. For example, when I was put on bed-rest with a flu six years ago, I got rather caught up with “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila”.
Nothing is ever as dire for Tequila as it gets for the fine folk at Downton. Rejected lovers, star-crossed lovers, scheming staff, tragic Turks, gossip, intrigue, all steeped in historical fact. I mean…you just have to be there, you just don’t know what it was like unless you were on the front lines. Last night, after three episodes where two characters die as a result of the war and the flu, I was left feeling rather dehydrated.
Then in the ‘very special Spanish Flu” episode, it really hit a nerve with us. Even though we can’t research our own medical concerns, there are no rules about researching diseases from yore.
has been described as “the greatest medical holocaust in history” and may have killed more people than the Black Death
It is said that this flu killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS has killed in 24 years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century.
This disease killed six percent of the world’s population anywhere from 40-100 million people. How staggering. God must have been feeling extra Old-Testamenty during that time. Between the war and the flu, a girl would be hard-pressed to find enough men to fill her dance card. We discuss this notion, knowing so much loss, surviving a war only to be cast down by the flu. That really would have been a traumatizing time. By this episode, as dirt as being shoveled onto a grave, I make a remark about not liking the idea of a burial. Ben asks me what I’d prefer for myself. “Cremation”, I said. “Where would you want to go”, he asked. “I don’t know…I’d want someone to take a fistful and release into the wind somewhere”. I look over, and my husband has fat tears rolling down his cheeks and nestling into his red beard.
It’s never a good time to mention these things. Especially after too much Downton. I don’t care to think about it myself. Sometimes it takes the Spanish Flu to say PS: “bury me not on the lone prairie” (and while I’m at it, request “Way Over Yonder” by Carole King, which would be played right after George Clooney does my eulogy, slamming the pulpit and screaming “Why God, Why”). Loss is the saddest thought especially when frightfully ill. Poor Benjamin cried which made me cry. For the first time I didn’t fret about the quarantine perimeters, and pulled him close to me and wrapped my arms around him. Perhaps the first world war and a medical holocaust was just too much for one night.
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