February 28, 2005

My Lost weekend, or, NyQuil and Me: An Ode

Today's Musical Selection: "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" by The Beatles

So, I finally came down with What's Going Around, also known as The Death Flu From Hell. I fought it most of the week... the congestion, the dry throat, the headaches, the raspy voice... and then on the weekend, my body finally gave in. I suppose I should be grateful for the fact that my body held up long enough for me to make it through the work week, but it's hard to appreciate this fact when you wind up spending the weekend racked up.

You ever have one of those days when your eyes and nose start running like Niagara Falls and you go through a box of tissues in an afternoon? Saturday was like that for me. Every time I laid down, the waterworks would start flowing. So I'd get up, and I'd start up with the tubercular coughing fits and the muscle stiffness (it felt as though I'd been danced on by the Green Bay Packers' offensive line). Unable to decide which I preferred, I went back and forth for variety. I tried to read, but my eyes were too watery. I tried watching TV, but despite my best effort, I just couldn't get excited about "Fletch Lives" again. I tried to sleep, but I kept dreaming about being rushed to the Flu Emergency Ward, where they wouldn't take my insurance. Faced with this conundrum, I resorted to the ancient and time-honored remedy favored by billions around the world: I called my mother.

I'm not sure why I think instinctively to call my mother when I'm sick. Maybe it's a primal reflex, an instinct to return to the womb for safety and comfort. Or maybe she's the only person I know who will talk to me when I have to stop every third word to hack up a lung. Whatever the reason, I dialed her digits.

I discovered that Mom was sick too. So was Dad. We argued briefly over who has spread the sickness to whom, a debate that ended happily when we were able to pin it on someone else entirely. Then we got down to brass tacks.

"Make me feel better," I wailed.

"What are your symptoms?"

I described them. They seemed familiar to her, since she had them all.

"Are you drinking a lot of fluids?"

"Yes, Mom."

"Are you getting plenty of rest?"

"It's pretty much all I can do." I started to describe the dream about the emergency ward and the insurance, but decided it wasn't germane to the situation.

"Have you taken anything for it?"

"I don't know if I have anything."

"Well, see if you do. Dad's taking Sudafed and I'm taking Coricidin, so if you want either of those, you come over and get them." She then launched into a soliloquy about how Coricidin was a wonder drug and she didn't understand how Dad could take Sudafed when it didn't do a thing for her, but my nose started running and I didn't really catch that part.

We hung up shortly thereafter and I made the foray over to my medicine cabinet. My first observation, upon opening the door, was that I was woefully lacking in cold-n-flu drugs. Ever notice how you always seem to run out of cold-n-flu pills right around the end of cold-n-flu season, so you don't bother to get more, then when the next cold-n-flu season hits you're all out? This happens to me all the time. At any rate, after a little rummaging I determined that I was out of cold-n-flu drugs and I would need to gear up for a drive over to my parents' house.

Then I saw the NyQuil, and I fell into an awe-stricken silence.

I should explain that drugs and I don't tend to get along very well. I always tended toward the Hemingway-macho tough-it-out I-ain't-got-time-to-bleed school of pain management. This tendency only became more pronounced after I had a run-in with some bad meds. Do you recall the big hullabaloo about PPA, the active ingredient in some long-lasting cold medications that caused severe reactions in a few people? Well, I was one of the few. My heart raced, my skin crawled, I hallucinated, the whole gamut. It felt like a bad acid trip. Ever since then, I've been a little hesitant to reach for the pills. Painkillers, sure (I couldn't play ball without them), but other pills? Not so much.

And NyQuil is the most powerful juju in the cold-n-flu kingdom, by all accounts. I'm not sure when or why I picked it up in the first place. I have a vague memory of resorting to it when I was in the clutches of the last Death Flu From Hell, right around the time I heard the Grim Reaper stand deside my bed, impatiently tapping his scythe and checking his watch. The only other thing I remember from that experience was sleeping for the better part of a week.

So it was with a tentative hand that I reached for the NyQuil. I was almost afraid to try it. But it was either this or a miserable drive over my parents' to hear the rest of the Coricidin-vs.-Sudafed debate. So I swallowed the NyQuil tablets.

Shortly thereafter, I started to feel better! My nose and eyes dried up, my headache dulled, the muscle pain lessened, and I could stand without swooning. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, expecting drowsiness to overtake me at any moment, but for the moment I reveled in my decent health.

Papa Shaft popped online at that moment, and I started to talk to him. After about a half-hour or so, I began to feel mildly drowsy, but nothing I couldn't handle. This was what I was so afraid of? I laughed at my fear. I shouldn't fear the meds, I thought, I should embrace them! I began to think in terms of going to dinner with Papa Shaft, maybe watching a little TV afterward.

Then, about twenty minutes later, I began to hit the wall. My eyes were snapping shut like change purses. My head began to droop to my chest. I began to think in terms of ordering in some Chinese.

Ten minutes later, full system shutdown began. Various parts of my brain stopped responding to signals. My head slumped back against my chair. I began to think in terms of whether I could actually make it all the way to my bed, or whether it would be safer to simply collapse in a heap on the floor and spend the night there and maybe crawl to the bedroom in the morning. I actually asked Papa whether or not I was forming coherent answers. He assured me I was. I think he was trying to be nice. Either way, it was taking all of my remaining attention simply to achieve the marginal level of coherence I had.

Suddenly, alarm bells began to go off. No, wait, those weren't alarm bells, that was the phone. I staggered over to answered it, and at the other end found a nice lady who wanted to give me a survey on health care. How ironic. I didn't really feel up to taking a survey, but I also didn't feel up to hanging up the phone, so I mumbled something that she must have taken as consent. So for the next 10 or 15 minutes, the nice lady asked questions and I gave answers. Whether or not my answers actually bore any relation to the questions, I cannot say. I do not remember anything I said. If the nice survey lady informed me that I answered all her questions with Beatles song titles, I'd believe her.

NICE SURVEY LADY: So, how do you feel about the current state of health care coverage in America today?
ME: Help!
NSL: And if you yourself were without coverage, how would you meet your medical expenses?
ME: With a Little Help From My Friends.
NSL: I see. What do you feel is the biggest health-care crisis in America today?
ME: Bang Bang, Maxwell's Silver Hammer.
NSL: I'm sorry?
ME: Why Don't We Do It In the Road?
NSL: Are you okay sir?
ME: Ob-la-di, ob-la-da.
NSL: Would it be better if I called back another time?
ME: A Day in the Life. For the Benefit of Mr. Kite. Happiness Is a Warm Gun, Rocky Raccoon!
NSL: Sir, I don't think-
ME: What's you name, sweetheart? Michelle? Mi-chelle, ma belle...

I have no way of proving this did not happen.

At any rate, eventually she let me go, and I found myself next to my bed, and it seemed like a good time to fall into it. So I did.

Thirty minutes later. More bells. The damned phone again. I pick up. It's someone who wants to write a column for the Fan Club Web site. He's anxious to impress me. I'm anxious to get my words in the right order. He's a serious young man with Post writing credits and a journalism career in the making, and I'm sailing on the Good Ship Narcolepsy. I'm sure I left a fantastic impression. I hope he was too nervous to notice. Again, I don't remember what I said. I may have asked him to marry me. I could not disprove it.

We talk for a while, then he hangs up and I lay back and-

When next I awake, it's 3:30 in the morning. I feel more alert than I have since lunch. I wander out to the living room. All the lights are still burning. The computer is on. The blind is open. I close the blind, turn off the computer and turn out the lights, return to bed.

When next I awake, it's noon. Bells again. Mom on the phone. Wants me to come to lunch. Okay, fine. I get up. Damn, but I'm groggy. And dizzy. I've been asleep more or less continuously for about 16 hours, and yet I'm still sleepy. Shower will wake me up. I stagger to the bathroom. Narrowly manage to avoid getting in the shower with my pajamas still on.

Shower fails to wake me up. I stare into the mirror. I look bloated and unfocused, like a heavy pot smoker. Not good. But parents are waiting, so off I go.

Driving: not good. Find myself focusing far too much on the speedometer needle and not nearly enough on the road. Am lucky to avoid calamity. Arrive at my parent's house. Try to make conversation. Find this is an unexpected challenge. It takes all my energy to focus on what one person is saying. If two people are talking at once, or if asked to do two things at once -- say, talk and read a newspaper article -- it's over. Find myself staring dumbly into space.

Propose to go to new restaurant. In retrospect, perhaps visiting a new restaurant when barely alert enough to realize one is at a restuarant is not the best plan, but so be it. Off we go. Arrive at restaurant. Discover restaurant has TVs around perimeter of room. This is bad. Try to read menu. Find self watching bowling instead. Try to talk to Dad. Find self watching NASCAR.

Food arrives. Ordered a Reuben, which comes out with serious meat deficiency. Meat-to-kraut ratio out of whack. Tastes fine, though. Perhaps taste buds are dulled by catatonic state. Am asked how food is. Fail to respond -- watching bowling again. Don't even like bowling. Am asked again. Explain about meat deficiency, then launch into explanation of what makes ketchup so darned tasty, based on garbled rehash of recent Malcolm Gladwell article on subject. Parents nod and pretend to understand. Eyes drift back to bowling. What makes bowling so hypnotizing?

At any rate, based on the contents of my weekend, I believe that NyQuil should be given the following label: "WARNING: Do not take if you plan to do anything in the next 24 hours more complex than getting out of bed. Seriously. Don't." Upon review, I realize that I spent the entire afternoon with my parents like a stoned teenager, trying desperately to simulate attention through a focus so fierce that there was no room left to actually comprehend what was being said. My parents were nice enough not to comment on my loopy state. Perhaps they surmised the situation on their own.

I have now in front of me the actual NyQuil box, which offers the following warnings:

- Do not take with alcohol.
- Do not take with acetaminophen (that's Tylenol, kids).
- Do not take with MAOIs. I have no idea what these are or do, but I've noticed that pretty much every drug out there says you shouldn't mix with MAOIs. Whatever they are, they must be a drug not to be messed with.
- Ask a doctor if you have glaucoma, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, severe cough, a spare tire, or anything else bad for you.
- "Marked drowsiness may occur." (Really?)
- "Excitability may occur." (Ha! How can you be excitable when you're hibernating?)
- "Be careful when operating a motor vehicle or oeprating machinery." (This is far too mild. How about "Do not come within 100 feet of a motorized vehicle unless it's an ambulance and you're on the way to the hospital"?)

You may well be asking yourself if this little diatribe has a point. And no, really, it doesn't. Except perhaps to say that NyQuil is one of the great legal drugs. And I miss Hunter Thompson, a true connoisseur of mind-altering substances. Hunter, this one's for you.

That's all for now. See you next time.

Posted by Fred at February 28, 2005 07:55 PM

Only take NyQuil at night. That's why they call it NyQuil. It is not meant to be used in the upright position.

Posted by: ensie at February 28, 2005 11:45 PM

Ok, technically it should probably then be called NiQuil or even NighQuil if you preferred, but it still mean take it once your head is firmly attached to a pillow. That's my experience. Hope you are feeling 100% soon.! :)

Posted by: ensie at February 28, 2005 11:46 PM

One of the most interesting (for lack of better terms) things I've read in quite awhile.

Always nice to be warned of such things though.

Feel better soon.

Posted by: Brett at March 2, 2005 12:37 AM

I'm pretty sure I also had the "real" flu, or at least the cold from Hell. It lasted a good ten days.

I usually steer away from Nyquil and the other conglomerations of "everything but the kitchen sink." Isn't the secret ingredient in Nyquil OH - alcohol? That could explain the drowsiness.

Posted by: Tripp at March 3, 2005 03:41 PM

just coming out of it myself. worst flu ive ever had. u explained it perfectly.

Posted by: Ciaran in London at April 6, 2005 08:00 AM

I think it was a worst weekend for you.

Posted by: Mark at September 29, 2005 08:21 AM
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