I slid the thermometer out from under my tongue for the fourth time in a half-hour and blinked at the number on the screen. Ugh. It was the exact same reading as the last time. Which was the same as the last time five minutes before that. Which was the same as the first time I took my temperature.
He could see my dismay from across the room.
“You might need to go see someone,” he said in a gentle tone I’m sure was meant not to alarm me…
How is this possible? Maybe the cheap thermometer’s cheap battery was dying. Maybe its circuits shorted out with all my overzealous scrubbing under scalding hot tap water to kill my own germs after each test. Electronics are so unreliable these days, I thought, shaking both my head and the thermometer to jiggle whatever possibly loose parts back into place. I muttered something about those old-fashioned mercury thermometers.
Then I remembered the dangers of mercury poisoning.
Four times I had felt feverish, four times I checked my body temperature, and four times, my temperature was fucking normal. Normal! No, not just normal, but so ridiculously literally textbook 98.6° Fahrenheit that it was abnormal. Whose body’s temperature is actually the “average” 98.6°F that accounts for variances due to age, gender, hormonal cycles, and even time of day? Whose?!
I was checking my temperature like a woman possessed. Not possessed by some microbe that would cause a fever, obviously, but possessed by the broadcast and social media hyper-hype about this year’s flu season so unusually severe that it’s now an epidemic. It started with an innocent evening at my sister’s house catching up after dinner with the TV news on in the background. A report about the flu epidemic caught our attention. Then another report about a public health emergency. “I didn’t get the flu shot, did you?” I asked anxiously. “Nah,” she replied with a nonchalance that dissipated my mild panic. If she didn’t get vaccinated, maybe it’s not totally crucial to survival. “But the kids did,” she added. Oh, the kids. Wait. THE KIDS?!
MY GOD I had been inhaling my elementary school-aged niece’s and nephew’s germ-sodden exhalations for the last two hours!
Next thing you know, my laptop and I are shrouded in a blanket covering my nose and mouth, huddled in the corner of my sister’s living room researching “flu.” Flu prevention. Natural. Medical. Should I get the flu shot? I should definitely get the flu shot. No, I should definitely not get the flu shot. Get the flu shot! Oh no, everyone is out of the flu shot! With every question, there were three more questions, with every mouse-click, the sudden onset of terror was heating up like the fever that oftentimes, but not always, is associated with the flu, along with body aches, chills, and congestion.
I sought a moment of mental refuge in the relative safety of facebook, where my feed is mostly innocuous updates about food, wine, and The Mindy Project. Somehow in the span of 12 hours, though, it had started to read like the digital waiting room of a doctor’s office full of people declaring their symptoms.
“Ugh, came home early today with fever :( ”
“Does the sneezing ever stop?”
“Mainlining Mucinex and Nyquil.”
And from the friend who’s too flu-fatigued to squeak out anything else, a simple “Sick.”
After all that, after I got home, I washed my hands for the recommended 20 seconds, no 30, hell let’s not tempt fate, a full 40 seconds first, then I bought hand-sanitizers to place at every entrance to the house, small bottles to carry if ever I was forced to leave the germ-free safety of my house, anti-bacterial sprays for the car, backup bottles of liquid but non-anti-bacterial hand soap for every bathroom lest we get caught soap-less in the middle of the night, forbidden from physically entering any 24-hour CVS because number one, have you seen the post-midnight clientele in a 24-hour CVS, and number two, why would anyone avoiding the flu GO to a place where flu-sick people flock?! CVS basically stands for Congregation of Viruses, um, the S for plural.
Along with Vitamin D supplements and boxes of EmergenC.
The flu hadn’t even spread to the West Coast yet. Nonetheless, I am sure that I have the kind of luck that never, not once, wins me any large sum of cash, luxury getaway, or a year’s worth of designer shoes, but would in the big sweepstakes called “Life,” would choose me the sole Grand Prizewinning inhaler of the single viral antigen that had managed to sneak through TSA among other things, hitchike 3,000 miles to LA barely surviving aboard some East Coast stranger’s hard, non-porous plastic coat button for 24 hours after being sneezed across the 6-feet of airspace between him and another customer in line for magazines and cough drops at…the airport CVS.
The pieces of ginger I was adding to our daily green juice was now well beyond “thumb-size.” I added a pure ginger, pineapple and power C grapefruit juice to the regimen. I was double- and triple-dosing emergenC, drinking hot green tea, drinking hot lemon water, drinking straight hot water to keep my mucus membranes supple. I refused to ingest anything that wasn’t boosting my immunity. If I didn’t get the flu, I would probably contract some rare, resistant bacterial infection that enters the body through the red, raw, cracked skin on my knuckles, the result of alcohol-drying antibacterial hand gels on top of constant handwashing in hot water. And when all other resolutions to “go to bed early” and “exercise, walk, something forfoxache” had failed, the fear of flu had me wrestling myself into bed by 10PM and taking the new puppy for extra long walks around the neighborhood in the middle of the day in a tanktop without sunscreen so my body could make its own vitamin D.
When I started sipping on potent, lip-wrinkling salted garlic ginger chicken stock throughout the day, eating chicken soup for lunch and dinner, and checking my temperature more religiously than a baby-making couple, he reminded me.
“But you’re not even sick.”
That’s right! I’m not sick! Yet. And I may never get sick! But if I do, I want to know at the FIRST SIGN the flu has entered my bodily territory so I can give my army of antibodies every advantage to take those bastards down! I wasn’t just preventing the flu. I was taking strategic, preemptive strikes against enemy germs!
When he said “You might need to go see someone,” he didn’t mean “someone” like an internist. He meant “someone” like a “doctor,” points to head, “who will give you xanax.”
So how I agreed to attend a wine tasting in a dark, windowless “salon” two floors underground with 1,499 potentially contagious other people at what I am now hoping was the height of hysteria a few weeks ago, is beyond me.
Hundreds of growers who had not only traveled from France potentially harboring their own strain of “le flu,” but had intermingled just days, even hours before with thousands of others at preceding events, fatigued, and practicing risky greeting behavior, spreading germs with every handshake, hug, and god forbid, kisskiss. Improperly sanitized glassware in an enormous hotel hosting simultaneous events competing for resources. Glasses, water bottles, cheese, sitting out on tables inviting airborne germs to settle on their surfaces. Running into someone I sort of knew and, ohmigod, having to talk to them.
“I’m not really a ‘Bordeaux girl’ so maybe I’ll just pass…”
I ended up going. I pulled a wine glass from the very back of a fresh rack of steaming glasses that had come out right when we signed in. I clutched it to my chest the whole time, and kept it covered with a cocktail napkin. I stood off to the side for a large part of the event, seemingly deep in thoughtful mental tasting notes with my nose in the glass, but really just using the glass as a surgical mask over my face. When running into people, or being introduced to them, I gripped the wine glass in one hand, and awkwardly-on-purpose held two water bottles in the other, smiling with the display and an apologetic “hands full, can’t shake your hand.”
Moulin de Tricot was not a grower who showed at the Bordeaux tasting. However, the label’s perfect polish pairing with coppery OPI ‘Clubbing til Sunrise’ seems appropriate in light of this season’s (i.e. “my”) flumania. Clubbing all night, or any sleep-depriving, energy-robbing activity for that matter, like oh, you know, working, is a surefire way to either invite the flu into your weakened existence or make it much more difficult to fight off once you have the flu. If you’re going to stay up until sunrise, at least do it by yourself in the flu-free safety of your sanitized home, and make sure you do take advantage of the sunrise for your natural source of vitamin D.
If you cannot get out of a situation in which you might have to shake hands with strangers, do this beforehand: paint your nails in a very bright copper color with an ultra high-gloss “wet look” topcoat. When anyone reaches in for a handshake recoil in horror, start blowing on your nails, and scream “My nails aren’t dry yet!”
At the end of the day, a bottle of wine might be the best preventative measure yet. At the root of almost all illness is stress. Do whatever you can to manage stress, whether that’s a glass of wine to unwind or a couple more to encourage you to sleep. I would have said “share it with friends over a relaxing dinner of prime rib which is a standard red-with-red pairing for Bordeaux,” but we all know better than to share anything with anyone during flu season.
Beyond the stress factor, there is a reason that anti-bacterial hand sanitizers are almost 90% alcohol.
Two weeks after the wine tasting event, I’m not sick.