Peter Costa: I was so sick my flu had the flu

Peter Costa

I managed to teeter into the doctor’s office last week and take advantage of the end of the day when my doctor held “sick patients’” hours. That’s when people who are ambulatory but ill can have their doctors tell them in person: “You’re sick. Go home and rest.”

I was wedged between the arms of an upholstered chair in my down parka. Diabolically, it was 98.6 in the waiting room — a normal temperature for a room when it is filled with people with malarial fevers and runaway microbes. When my fillings began to sag in the heat, I decided to take off the coat and enter the bloodstream of the waiting room.

Why not? Is there anyone in here who is sicker than I am? Not that thin, relaxed guy in the blue blazer. He looks like he’s going for an interview to be the dean of an elite college. A woman across from me was reading a magazine with the intensity of someone who had just received a ransom note. Next to her, was an elderly man who held his hat in his hand and kept turning it and turning it, like a mob chauffeur waiting for the Don to come out of a restaurant.

I looked at myself in the reflection of the fish tank, “My, word, you could land a 747 on my forehead. Is that old guy me?”

I tried not to cough. I kept one lozenge in my mouth and prepared another one assembly-line fashion. In the millisecond between lozenges, I erupted in a cough that rivaled the explosion at Krakatoa. People sneered at me. Lucky for me, I did not have to wait long before being guided to an examining room filled with old TIME magazines. (Print is not dead, but its admirers are sick and perhaps even dying, I concluded.)

The physician’s assistant came in carrying his wireless laptop. It held in its memory a chronicle of my sniffles, viruses and hallucinations.

The first diagnostic test I was administered proved positive for flu. The physician’s assistant took my temperature and it was a toasty 102 degrees. My glands were swollen, my lungs a Sargasso Sea and my head was a snare drum.

He decided to take more throat and nose cultures and send them to the lab. What was he looking for, Bird Flu, alien invasion microbes, lunch with the lab technician?

He kept leaving to get more gear. Then he started to write prescriptions – one antiviral drug for Influenza A, another for Influenza B, C and D. He also recommended an array of over-the-counter medicine that included a saline nasal spray, a decongestant, a cough suppressant and a truant officer.

This guy was taking no chances. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that he had called the CDC in Atlanta on one of his forays into the equipment room.

“The thing is you have tested positive for at least one strain of flu and it is possible you may also be infected with another strain as well. So we’re going to treat both scenarios,” he said.

“But you are highly infectious, so I want you to put on this antiseptic mask and don’t bother stopping to checkout or pay your co-pay, just leave,” he said.

That’s when I really got scared. Skip the co-pay? I must have the mother of all influenzas.