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Monday, January 7, 2013

It's Just The Flu

I was thinking about Ida Storrs Dietz over the weekend; about Ida, and her sister Mary, their parents and their aunt Mary Crary. Mr. and Mrs. Storrs and Mary Crary died in December of 1893 right here in my house, of "the grippe" (translation: the flu). The entire family of five was stricken with flu after Thanksgiving that year. Mrs. Storrs passed away first in one of the upstairs bedrooms; then her sister Mary; and finally, less than three weeks after his wife died, Mr. Storrs went too, passing on in the bedroom downstairs. I read of these dreadful events in Ida's diaries, which I stumbled upon in Sherburne's wonderful Historic Society archives.

On Saturday, I lay in my bed and wondered if I would follow in their footsteps. 

I haven't had the flu since 1992, a memorable occasion because that year, the flu smacked me down a few days before Christmas. I was in bed then for a week. Two decades later the flu has smacked me again, not so seriously as twenty years ago but bad enough to make a note in my journal. It started with sneezing last week and segued into full-blown knock-me-flat on Friday. Since then, I've spent one day in bed, another day on the sofa, and yet another two drifting around the house in a big fog. This morning I wandered for ten minutes looking for my glasses until I realized I was wearing them. I wore the same nightgown for four days. My hair hurt. The dog has been looking at me with quizzical eyes, pawing at me with an expression of "What's the deal?" There are wadded tissues scattered everywhere, the result of my feeble attempts at hitting the trash can. The television has droned on for 72 hours. Thanks to Spike TV I've watched (sort of) all four Indiana Jones movies. Three times. 

What must it have been like, back in 1893, when there was no electricity, no furnace, no Indiana Jones for those poor souls who succumbed to the flu in my house? In Ida's diary, she spoke of her delirious aunt Mary falling in one of the bedrooms with a kerosene lamp, marveling that the house didn't burn down. Ida and her sister, Mary Storrs, were carried upstairs by helpful neighbors to sit at the bedside of their dying mother and aunt. Her most chilling diary entry had her asking who would be next. On Saturday, as I thrashed around in my sickbed next to a whining, concerned dog, I was thinking it might be me.

It's Monday now and I guess I'm recovering. I actually took a shower, got dressed, and talked on the phone. My head remains full of fuzz, and the thought of food is nauseating (I think I had an egg sometime over the weekend, and I think it made me gag), but I'm better.  I know where my glasses are. I've changed the TV channel. And Harry has stopped hovering. There's something indescribably creepy about a small dog an inch from your face, brown eyes anxiety-filled, sniffing what in my haze of illness I imagined to be the ghastly odor of imminent death. At one point both cats were there, too, eyeballing me with what I'm sure was the vague and selfish cat thought "If she dies, who'll feed us?" The animals have all relaxed and are leaving me alone, a good sign.

So many scary millennium predictions have been made, not the least of which was the end of the world. I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm happy with the second decade of the new century. Unlike Ida and her doomed elders, I have medicine and lights and a wireless telephone where 911 can be dialed even with a hallucinagentic flu-virus-filled brain. Thankfully I never needed to dial, and my body is fighting -- and winning -- the good fight. All is well, or getting there.

Still, as I recover, I'm haunted by Ida's shaky handwriting; I'm haunted by the image of her there, sick and in darkness, scrawling in her diary: "Mother died around six," then "Aunt Mary is a corpse upstairs," and finally, "This makes three who have died in this house in less than three weeks. Mother 75, Aunty 78, Father 80 yrs. Who next?"


...by the heartache a hundred years ago, inside these very walls, caused by an ailment about which so many of us nowadays shrug and say, "Aw...it's just the flu."

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum