THERE IS no sense having the flu if you keep your suffering to yourself and don't whine about your symptoms, so be assured we will have none of that holier-than-thou nonsense here.
I myself came down with the flu last week and will be happy to tell you all about it. Quite frankly, a lesser man would have been in the hospital, hooked up to assorted IV lines and carefully monitored by a battery of attentive nurses.
But I gutted out the illness at home, no thanks to my, ahem, family, who treated me with the kind of compassion normally reserved for a pornographer.
There is no point in detailing the shabby treatment that these people put me . . . well, maybe one example wouldn't hurt.
On the third day of my illness, weak and feverish nearly to the point of hallucinating, I asked my wife if she could bring a bowl of soup.
This she did cheerfully -- until I pointed out (gently, it seemed to me) that the soup was a little on the cool side.
"Oh?" was all she said.
But there was an edge to her voice now and I thought I saw her rolling her eyes as she took the bowl away.
When she returned with it a few minutes later, I told her I hated to be a bother, but now the soup was a tad too hot.
"Too what?" she said.
"Maybe you could put a couple of ice cubes in it," I said helpfully.
Well. You would have thought I'd asked her to change the transmission fluid in my car. She gave me a look and stormed out of the room muttering something. Plus I had to wait for the soup to cool by itself.
So that gives you some idea of the hellish week I endured, although it helped me emerge with a few tips:
* Don't be afraid to let everyone know you have the flu. Spread the word to friends, co-workers, even casual acquaintances. Drone on and on about your headaches, achy-all-over feeling, nagging cough, etc. People will grow increasingly tired of this -- to the point where they will actually hurl themselves through a picture window to get away from you. But initially the flu translates into big sympathy points.
* Minimize the symptoms of your fellow flu-sufferers. If you come upon someone sniffling into a Kleenex and droning on about his or her fever, snort derisively and say: "102? You call that a fever? I was burning up so bad they had me packed in ice like a shrimp cocktail, Jack! We're talking flat line on the monitor! They were ready to put a sheet over my head and a tag around my toe!"
Let's face it: Why should someone else get all the sympathy?
* Don't bother looking for daytime entertainment on TV. There is no such thing. Daytime TV is a vast, empty gulag of mindless soap operas, inane talk shows and tired sitcom re-runs such as "The Jeffersons," which still leaves the viewer wanting to take a two-by-four to George Jefferson's head. In fact, there is a theory (recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine) that starting each day with the numbing "Regis and Kathie Lee" not only exacerbates existing flu symptoms, but can also lead to severe anxiety, mood swings and night sweats.
* As a general rule of thumb, men tend to handle the flu less gracefully than women. Men whine, complain and generally make life miserable for everyone around them. A woman will insist on suffering in silence, only occasionally emitting a low moan when her temperature climbs into the 110-degree range and she's about to black out. God, that sort of selflessness is so annoying!
* Don't be surprised if family members begin to hate you during your illness. By the fourth day, as I lay on the couch with the remote control in my lap, a box of Chip's Ahoy! at my side and a mountain of empty McDonald's wrappers around me, people were shooting baleful looks in my direction and wondering aloud about how sick I really was.
"Is there a problem here?" I asked at one point. "I'm trying to watch 'The Rockford Files,' OK? There's a heroin dealer after Jim."
That shut everyone up, but unfortunately not for long.
* Finally, I would not be too critical of any soup brought to your sickbed, although that is just a personal observation.