Getting Influenza the First Week of the Semester

H1N1 influenza
Influenza is a nasty disease, for something unlikely to kill or (permanently) cripple you. It comes in numerous flavors, from H1N1 and H3N2 to Influenza B, and it mutates with great enthusiasm, preventing broad immunity through either infection or current vaccines. You’re usually contagious a day or two before you feel sick, which makes it easy to spread. Even when symptoms appear, you usually don’t feel that sick for several hours, when you’re already trapped at work or school.

You might mistake it for a cold at the beginning, but it saps your energy in a very distinctive way. Your limbs become heavy and stiff, and your entire body feels cold and exposed, no matter how many blankets you pile on yourself. Water tastes like dirt, even though you should probably drink a lot of it, and it becomes possible to sleep for longer periods than you could ever manage normally. You should stay home in this phase, but some employers, parents, or superegos will pressure you to work anyway, despite the infection risk. If you have weaker defenses or very bad luck, it can cause pneumonia, encephalitis, or organ failure. More often, it disables you for several days and leaves a nasty cough afterward.

At least, it knocked me down every time I could remember. Thus, when my mother caught the flu during my first week back at college, I became very nervous very quickly. She woke up Monday with a sore throat, went to work thinking she had a cold, and returned that evening with a fever of 101°F. It rose three degrees higher before she finally got it down by taking a bath. I slept at my friend’s house that night, so I didn’t know she was sick yet. My throat hurt the next morning. It felt like a cold, growing slightly worse each hour. I realized it was influenza the moment I learned about her. In retrospect, I never had a chance. The vaccine didn’t protect her from that particular strain, so it didn’t protect me, and she’d probably been contagious all weekend.

It wasn’t her fault, but it threw a wrench into my entire schedule. I started courses in HTML, Python, computer hardware, and fiction writing that week, and I moved my site to WordPress. Before infection, I planned to work ahead in each class, utilizing the calm introductory phase. The flu shattered my plans. At a minimum, I couldn’t go to class for the rest of the week. I was too dangerous to others. My mother works roughly ten hours at the hospital each day, and she spends her free time cleaning the house. Her energy reserves defy comprehension. So when she called in sick and couldn’t leave her bed the next day, I knew my week was doomed.
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