Please excuse me if I interrupt this column occasionally to dash to the bathroom. I've got the flu.

One type of flu starts in your throat with annoying dryness and a gagging sensation and eventually spreads to your head, chest, back, and legs - nothing you need, unless you plan to live through the week - and launches nausea, aches, tiredness, sneezing, and an overwhelming desire to leap off a tall parapet, landing flushly on some woman playing a harp in the lobby of the Embassy Suites Hotel at 7 a.m. This flu lasts five days or until the chicken fat seeps through your pores.

The other flu - the 24-hour one - begins in your stomach and hunkers down like a tribe of squatters, producing simultaneous diarrhea and vomiting, which leaves you confused as to which way to turn and wondering where God got His crazy sense of humor.

You dare not eat or drink a thing. Your teeth feel like rutabagas and your tongue looks like something that burst out of a guy's solar plexus in Alien.

Lucky me. I have both. (Excuse me. Be right back.) (Thanks.)

I've spent the last 12 hours taking measurements around my house. I want to know exactly how far it is to the bathrooms from anywhere. I need to know if I can make it, or if I should just order new carpet now.

I knew I was going to get the flu. Everyone around me has it. Yesterday I got the first signs - fogginess in my head and a perpetual squint. By noon, my skin felt like I'd fallen asleep on a radiator. I spent the afternoon wondering why we sent all those troops to Iraq when we could have express-mailed my flu to Saddam. (Oops, be back in a second.)

When children get the flu, it's no big deal. But the older we get, the bigger the dread. College students invariably prefer the shorter, more intense flu. What's throwing up to them? Nothing. They do it all the time. It's like a lab science. A quick rrrralph and it's back to the keg.

But when we mature, we over-50 types might be tempted to walk the same route. This would be a terrible blunder because we've forgotten how unbelievably disgusting vomiting is, if we haven't done it in 20 years.

Stomach flu stimulates severe spewing and hits hardest during the winter months, when your children are likely to be home on winter break or when in-laws visit. (Oops, back in a second.)

Stomach flu can lead to severe symptoms, such as family members complaining that you haven't cooked dinner in five days. This flu can be viral, bacterial or caused by a parasite, such as the strange kid your fourth-grader brought home last week who kept sneezing into your serving bowl of pasta.

Lately, I've become concerned about what gets into my bloodstream should I get a future flu fix. Depending on which type of shot is injected, my body might acquire some polyethylene glycol (a relative of antifreeze), carbolic acid (also used as a disinfectant and dye), formaldehyde (used excessively by Count Dracula actor Bela Lugosi), aluminum (an additive to promote antibody response, but also associated with Alzheimer's diseases and seizures), thimerosal (used as a mercury disinfectant, but which can result in brain injuries), and neomycin and streptomycin (which may cause allergies). Oh well, I like to take risks.

I'm awed by the sheer diversity of the flu epidemics we've experienced in recent decades. Remember swine flu - horrible to contemplate, since it left some with an overpowering urge to roll in the mud? Why let someone inject you with a small dose to build immunity? That would be like letting a doctor inject you with a .22 so you'd be immune to a .357 Magnum.

Type A flu, which affects neurotic, over-achieving personalities like Georgia Democrat Zell Miller and VP Dick Cheney. Chimney flu, prevalent during Christmas evening when fat fathers get stuck in the brickwork pretending to be Santa Claus.

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest - treatable by lobotomies. Or Doug Flutie, former NFL quarterback and a particularly short, scrambling flu. And don't forget the Amish flu, when you get a little hoarse and a little buggy.

Finally, I'm wondering whether our recent deluge of senior grumpiness was caused by the lack of flu shots. I've noticed the particularly high irritability of seniors like Donald Rumsfeld. ('Scuse me. Gotta run.)

Contact convalescing columnist Robert Brake at oobear@pacifier.com

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