When I was a kid, I read the Great Brain books by J.D. Fitzgerald, stories of community life in Central Utah, mostly focusing around the antics and adventures of the precocious title character: J.D.'s brother Tom. I remember that when any child in J.D. and Tom's family would get sick, the rest were promptly bundled into bed with the sick child. The idea was that the close contact would make them all sick at once, and the disease would therefore be easier for their mother to manage. I remember J.D.'s description of the funny tickle in the back of ones throat that precedes a full blown attack of symptoms, the tickle that told him he was getting sick. While I didn't think "tickle" was the right word -- perhaps a certain sort of tinge or tang that you feel rather than taste would be better -- I could tell when I was coming down with something, too. And I could tell by last Thursday it was coming again (not such a surprise on the heels of a substitute teaching assignment).
Here's the thing about the flu: you fight it at first. You arm yourself with antihistamines, painkillers, and a box of tissues, and a determination to struggle with the rising tide. After a certain point, you realize there's nothing to be done, you reconcile yourself to the presence of a certain amount of discomfort -- you will either be too hot or too cold, your muscles will ache, you may not be able to swallow for a while, your eyes and nose will water more than you can stem with even the hardiest (yet gentle!) brand of Kleenex. You relax, like a kitten grabbed by the neck, and let strong consciousness fade into the background of your bedsheets and the hum of the humidifier, interrupted by occasional shots of water, juice, echinacea, and lozenges.
More than once I've had moments where this retreat has been almost a spiritual experience. There are the occasional quasi-epiphanies that don't stand up to conscious examination -- dreams of suddenly understanding the secrets of the universe, and waking to find it still a mystery. And only slightly more permanent is the sense of gratitude that comes when things finally begin to work right again, when you swallow easily and taste is keen, when you sleep the whole night comfortably, when your body no longer simply hurts. But still it seems there's something reflective about sickness, something that disconnects you from a certain set of pressures, goals, and occupations, and reconnects you with simple, basic facts of life. You think about breathing again, and drinking, and water, and while you're not looking, it almost seems to be that you think a little more clearly about what you'll get back to when your body is ready.