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Published on January 1st, 2014 | by Richard Black


Happy New Year, a Good Bout of the Flu and Going Out in Style

There really isn’t anything like a bout of the flu to bring on the obsessive compulsive portion of my personality and an illness at the end of the year as I tally up my various shortcomings and failures is enough to put me into an emotional tailspin.

At the best of times I’m something of a dysfunctional hypochondriac and I say dysfunctional because I don’t wash my hands three hundred sixty five times a day or train for the next Iron Man or really do much of anything to prevent any sort of disease.

I continue along with my habits, I drink entirely too much, smoke occasionally and shower much less than is recommended for a man of my social stature and age. Rather than taking preventive measures, getting an annual flu shot for example or setting out a few hundred mouse traps to prevent an outbreak of Hanta, I fixate on the inevitable decline of my mind and physique.

In some part, the way I was brought up allows me to cope with my failing eyesight, tingling sensation in my left arm or any other gift that aging has to bestow with some small degree of aplomb. I was born in a small town in the Midwest where men were men, children were slightly below average and the women were also men now that I think about it.

Any injury that didn’t involve a bone jutting out from the body or a significant flow of blood simply didn’t warrant attention. During my childhood I broke several bones, a wrist, a shoulder blade, numerous toes and fingers and never even considered seeking medical attention. This was largely due to the fact that medical professionals in that day and age treated every injury with by spitting a wad of tobacco on the affected area, mixing it with horse manure and then wrapping the entire limb, chest or head in four hundred yards of gauze.

I once had a case of jock itch for five years. Instead of seeking proper medical attention I toughed it out, bought some boxers and let nature take its course.  To this day I haven’t had a case of jock itch. I also can’t feel anything less than a sharp blow to my testicles so the point is somewhat moot but I still have my dignity.

Despite my rustic upbringing I have become accustomed to having someone care for me during my regular bouts of illness both real and imagined. It is to my wife’s credit that she has not hauled up a wooden cross, hammer and batch of nails to the bedroom when I’ve retired to combat the latest sniffle, cough, barf or round of skitters.

In an homage to my past I still ask to be left alone, to appear stoic in the face of adversity, but the request is obviously transparent given my less than subtle moans and frequent bouts of weeping.

Again to her credit my wife will always ask if there is anything she can do to give me comfort. albeit from the hall behind a mound of Kleenex or welding mask after having slathered her entire body in hand sanitizer.

“If I pass on please go back to school and get a doctorate in genetics so you can prevent this horrible affliction from infecting future generations,” is my typical response. I also include instructions to set up a foundation in my name so that I will be remembered by posterity and then ask my wife to remember my fondly and let our daughter know that I loved her.

At this point Mrs. Black will go on to the more satisfying and, I dare say enjoyable business of reviewing our prior years tax returns or scheduling her next colonoscopy. I am left alone to wallow in my condition which is precisely what I wanted and exactly what I didn’t need.

Left to my own devices in a room alone I tend to fixate on the lighter questions that have plagued mankind and, come to think of it womankind, throughout the ages. One topic I inevitably consider is my own imminent death, a cheery subject to mull over during any period of infirmity. A few others I like to bounce around while I’m in bed and suffering from the latest round of H1N1 are the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent God, and the time my mother told me that my feet were sexy when I was twelve.

After a few hours of introspection and If I’m up to the task I flop out of bed like a dying carp, crawl my way to the bathroom and suck down half a bottle of expired cough syrup. For the next few days I ride out the illness in a warm fuzzy sleep-like state, much like the way doctors induce a coma in certain medical cases.

Sometimes, however, it’s just too much effort to rummage through the cabinet to find a bottle of anything that isn’t well past its due date and I’m left with myself and my untethered mind.

Is there an afterlife? Can String theory really be explained in the common vernacular and if not does anyone really understand the concept? Has my mother started wearing underwear at night? If a rearrange the letters in Spiro Agnew’s full name do they really spell the phrase “grow a penis?”

These are the thoughts that keep me awake at night as I anticipate my first tumor or stroke.

The upshot of being a hypochondriac is that eventually I’ll be right.

I’m certain some six months or forty years down the line the satisfaction I’ll get when the doctors tell my wife that I’ve actually come down with the newest version of the Spanish Radioactive Flu or a terminal case of hemorrhoids will be short lived but, at least, I’ll have that one moment of “I told you so.”

At that time, just before I pass on and having blown a few hundred million dollars of the government’s money on ineffective procedures to extend my life, I will encourage family and friends to join me at my deathbed.

For one final visit I will have everyone who has ever been near and dear to me in one room and with my last breath I will tell each and every one of them how much they’ve truly disappointed me before giving them a smirk and a wink and then moving into the great unknown.

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