The curse of the man flu


I write to you, dear reader, surrounded by a cluster of supplies that have become increasingly vital over the past few days. Namely, a mound of empty Powerade bottles, two separate heating blankets, a red residue of Nyquil slowly creeping across the floor, and a bucket filled with contents of a dubious nature.

It’s a long standing joke that men tend to act like children about being sick. Colds are exaggerated into the flu, the flu itself is retold as an exotic plague, and tales of strep throat are spun into grand epics about a fight with terminal throat cancer. “Man Flu” they call it, as if it’s entirely imaginary. Something about pushing another human being out of one’s pelvis must instill a sense of superiority about bodily ailments, because men tend to garner very little sympathy for anything that doesn’t require a hospital visit.

I’ll admit to having played along with this stereotype, having not been properly sick since Palin was relevant. While I certainly don’t go out of my way to broadcast illness or (god forbid) write a column dramatizing it, if I suspect that a couple feigned moans of agony might convince my girlfriend to drive to Thai Kitchen and get the ginger duck I secretly called in, well, let’s just say I’m an opportunist.

When I say I haven’t been really sick since grade school I don’t mean to imply a pristinely clean bill of health. I’ve endured a bottle related plague or two over the years, and had a mysterious throat ailment until I had my tonsils lasered off, but I tend to recover quickly.

My girlfriend, the modern Typhoid Mary that she is, must harbor legions of previously unknown bacteria deep within her bones. It’s the only conclusion I can come to after two years of watching her innocently hide an ongoing case of the sniffles, and knowing with unspeakable dread that I’d soon sound like a walking Nyquil commercial. But even with her continuous viral warfare, I rarely get more than congestion and a headache and the last time I remember contemplating whether to hastily draw out a will on a napkin was when I had swine flu back in 2009.

When one Googles the term “Man Flu” (as I did to ensure that I didn’t invent the term in a fever dream and to check whether I was using it correctly) you’ll find that you stumble across a cache of stock photos of attractive healthy men holding tissues in various melodramatic poses. This was not my experience.

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My experience consisted of list of symptoms that would have made a Pepto-Bismol commercial feel rather insecure about itself, and a fever so high that I began to wonder if someone had played a cruel joke and swapped the cold medicine with LSD.

Shortly after everyone arrived to the housewarming party at our new apartment, I started to feel ill enough to have no patience for my drunken friend’s fascination with my fake samurai sword. Quickly going to bed, and leaving my girlfriend to herd the crowd into a safer corner of the house, I awoke around 2 a.m. shivering so badly that I could barely use doorknobs as I frantically made my way to the bathroom.

I’ll spare you all the gory details other than advising you never to eat an everything bagel if there’s even a slight chance of having to see it again. The next 48 hours were a blur of fever, NyQuil, and failed attempts at consuming anything other than liquids. At the risk of sounding like a paid shill I’ll say that I think my blood may be comprised of mostly melon flavored Powerade at this point, and I’m not entirely sure I’m worse off for it.

The fever was easily the worst part of an already unfortunate couple of days. In an experience that may have only made sense to the delusional mind of Kanye West, I was subjected to a fever dream that seemed to be a horrible mashup of the latest episode of Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the misremembered ending to the Harry Potter series, and a sex dream. While surprisingly less unpleasant than it sounds it was still disconcerting to fade back into reality every few hours, note that I was pale as a sheet, let slip an involuntary groan as I tried to turn my head, before slipping back into a hellish psychedelic version of Inception.

It hasn’t been all bad I suppose, as I think my illness may have elicited a sympathy hire in a job interview, and the combination of high fever and subsisting on negative calories for the better part of a week seems to have partially chased away the beer belly. But from here on out my perspective on Man Flu has been forever tainted.

There may be those men who exaggerate illness for personal gain, but make no mistake, I‘ve stared into the face of Man Flu and it’s stared back at me. It’s out there, just waiting to strike some poor soul that doesn’t deserve it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a bucket that needs to be refilled.