Deck the halls with airborne flu germs, hack-hack-hack-hack-cough, hack-hack-hack-phlegm.
Contrary to this column's title, I did not have the fortune and foresight to ask Santa for protection against any of the three flus making the rounds this year. As I write this almost a week after the fact, I"m still trying to cough out the little elf in my throat.
In fact, I had the distinct "honor" of being my office's Patient Zero. How many people can say they're a latter-day Typhoid Mary? Here's a hint: you can count them by the number of dummies burned in effigy by the nation's coworkers.
In defense of walking bags of disease everywhere, sometimes it's hard to tell when you're under the weather. I mean, I know it's unlikely that you can get black lung from a clean, air-conditioned office — some might even throw out five-dollar words like "impossible" — but who can really say?
(Editor's note: Doctors. The answer is doctors.)
Hourly workers who don't have the benefit of sick time or a flexible schedule can feel — and usually are — obliged to tough it out to keep the rent paid and the heater running. I'm lucky enough to have both those benefits, but I remember when I didn't and it's not fun.
Other times the pressure is psychological. Probably most people have had at least one boss who believed "quarantine" was French for "slacker nonsense" and preferred the extra-clean countertop gleam that could only come from a layer of virus-rich sweat.
If you're fortunate enough to have an employer who doesn't believe the bubonic plague makes a good coworker, mind your recovery. Think of the flu like an inconvenient house guest: if you set clear boundaries and stick to them, it will be gone soon enough; do it too many favors and it will stay well past it's welcome.
Here are some of my sick day tips:
1. Bad movies. I'm not talking about actual bad-bad movies, like "Act of Valor" (I realize I'm probably alone in that opinion, so feel free to write hate mail to the address at the bottom of Page 6). You're not trying to make yourself more sick. I'm talking about guilty pleasures like "Resident Evil," "Sleepaway Camp," "Death Wish" or the lesser Bond flicks. There's just something about so-bad-they're-good movies that go hand-in-hand with sick days.
2. Busy hands. It's not a good idea to push yourself when you have the flu, but you can't sit and watch the tube the entire time you're out of commission. A minor engaging activity will stave off mental sluggishness, which I find contributes the lion's share to cabin fever. A jigsaw puzzle is a good project you can complete in short or long stretches of time, depending on your interest. Sketching is a personal favorite. If you need a sketch subject, fever hallucinations make great models.
3. Feed yourself. This sounds like a no-brainer, but cooking — and the resulting dishes — is the last thing you want to deal with when you're sick. Sometimes it just seems easier to skip a meal. That's a mistake. Stick to easy items like canned soup, ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches if it helps, but it's important to keep nutrients going in to your body. That's true for ailments other than the flu as well. The old saying "starve a cold, feed a fever" is pure myth: you need to feed both to get better.
4. While you're at it, drink your water. Another seeming no-brainer that's easy to forget. If a fever is causing you to sweat more, or you have any ailment that's causing you to purge, it's doubly important to replenish lost fluids. Carry your water around in a large container like a milk jug or recycled Big Gulp cup and sip regularly.
5. Comic books! I don't know about you, but my concentration suffers when I'm down for the count. It's the perfect time to read, but reading becomes more difficult, a literal headache over an extended period of time. Comic books split the difference with a fraction of the text and plenty of pretty pictures to stare at when your brain goes into sleep mode. Most pharmacy drug stores carry "Spider-Man," "Archie" or "MAD Magazine." You know, if you're not a complete dork like me and keep a box full of latter-day picture books in your home.