Around the Island

Another good reason to get your flu shot

It’s flu season. I know how horrible the flu can be because I had it once. Until then, when I felt under the weather, I might say, “I think I have a little touch of the flu.” But then I got the flu and realized that the flu doesn’t just give you a little touch; it smacks you right across the back of the head and you’re down, pal, as in TKO. 

That’s why I get the shot and so does my husband, but we didn’t always. Not until the year my husband caught the flu and it gave me an opportunity to take care of him. 

As a little girl I dreamed about becoming a nurse and that Angel of Mercy fantasy has never entirely disappeared. When my kids were small and had the typical childhood illness, I’d switch into nurse mode. I could smell a fever, read a thermometer in the dark and moved with the grace of Florence Nightingale. I might have been playing nurse, but I was good at it.

But my kids are grown, my grandkids are old enough (and smart enough) to stay away from me when they’re sick, and my husband doesn’t get sick very often so I don’t have many opportunities to play nurse. Oh, sure he broke some ribs once during ice boating season and I thought I could go into my nurse mode, but technically, a person with broken ribs is not sick — just very, very irritable.

That was not a great experience, especially for my patient, which is one of the reasons he’s worked so hard to not break other body parts or get sick. But the year the flu smacked him across the back of the head, I came home to find him sitting in his chair, shivering and wrapped in a blanket.

“Are you sick?” I asked, nearly vibrating with excitement. 

“No, I’m just resting,” he lied, but his face was flushed with fever.

Alert! Alert! Nurse mode.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll take care of you.”

“Oh, no,” he groaned, but that was probably the fever talking. I got the thermometer, stuck it under his tongue and held on to his wrist while I looked at my watch. I had no idea what I was supposed to be timing, but it always makes me feel more nurse-like when I do that.

Ah-ha! Fever! I swung into action. The first thing I made him do was switch from his chair to the couch. He didn’t want to because he didn’t feel all that sick. (It is the bane of all of us who aspire to the medical profession that sick people assume they know more about their conditions than we who aspire do.)

It was easy to get him out of his chair. It’s a rocker-recliner, I just gave it a good hard push from behind and he lurched across the room.

“See! You’re so weak from fever you can hardly walk,” I said, leading him to the sofa, which had been prepared with pillows and blankets. Within 10 minutes he was asleep. I would wake him periodically to make sure he was all right. He said he would be fine if I would let him sleep. So I did. But I sat on the edge of the coffee table, watching him, staying close in case he needed anything. A good nurse remains alert. So I sat there, alert, for a long time. I only left my post to get a mirror. I bumped his lip when I tried to hold it under his nose and that woke him up.

“What the *&^%^*#! are you doing?” he yelled (but I was not offended because I knew it was the fever talking, again.)

I explained that I was checking to see if he was still breathing. He begged me to go away. “If I stop breathing I’ll call you,” he promised.

I tried to bring him things: tea, soup, ginger ale, toast. He wanted nothing except to be left alone. Oh, sure, if every patient who said that really meant it, they’d put us wannabe nurses out of business. Every time he opened his eyes he saw me leaning over him and he kept calling me a vulture (more fever talk).

It took a while — probably longer that it should have — for him to start getting better and I overheard him telling a friend that what was helping him recover was the knowledge that if I came down with the flu then he’d get a chance to be my nurse. And that wasn’t the fever talking, which is why I always get a flu shot.