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The quiet joys of man-flu

December 20, 2016


I’m currently trudging towards the end of a dose of man-flu. It seems to be developing into a seasonal visitation, rather like the cantankerous relative you have to invite for Christmas.

The rituals are the same every year. Voice turning into a gritty basso profundo, frightening the dog. Wife imploring me to take all manner of liver-destroying drugs. Normal intimacies suspended – don’t you dare come close to me! Unleashing rib-bruising coughs into the pillow at night so as not to wake her. Tissues carelessly left all over the place, discharging my virus on every available surface.

And me feeling profoundly sorry for myself. Not only that, but turning into a late-onset hypochondriac. Hardly surprising really, given that people my age seems to have been dropping like flies this year: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Greg Lake and now poor AA Gill.

I hold my arm out to check for Mr Parkinson’s shake. I have my own daily Alzheimer’s test. Can I make it up the stairs in the morning with coffee for me and tea for my wife without falling over the dog on the way and spilling the contents on the journey? And can I tell which drink is which when I get there?

I keep a wary eye on my prostate (well perhaps not an eye, though I do have friends who tell me that my head spends much of its time lodged in that area). I get daily updates on the latest cancer treatments. And every crackle in my spine is a sign of imminent lumbar collapse.

And what of my mental health? Pretty good actually, despite the kind of year that would put Santa Claus on Prozac. Though those who witness me howling with the wolves at my ineptitude on the golf course might think otherwise.

Then there are the drugs. Statins for cholesterol. Aspirin, because depending on who you believe it protects you from every known ailment. And various other bits and bobs for chronic conditions. It’s a sad testament to ageing that decades ago I might have had some entertaining conversations with friends about various recreational pharmaceuticals (though I didn’t venture too far on the wild side in that respect), these days I meet friends at parties and get chapter and verse on their daily pill routines.

When I travel, I pack my bag with a wonderful selection of pain killers, ready to anaesthetise myself against any eventuality. I draw the line at saline drips, portable defibrillators and adrenaline pens. But I do have my own qualified personal nurse, who was foolish enough to marry me a long time ago. She’s a bit of a hypochondriac as well, so whenever something doesn’t feel right, we spend many happy hours in a diagnostic frenzy. And if we absolutely can’t figure out what we’re about to die of, there’s always my sister, a retired GP, and my brother, a medical research statistician, to fall back on – as in “it’s this, so prepare for the end”, or “there’s a 10% chance it’s that”.

I’m not quite as health obsessed as Spike Milligan, who insisted that “I told you I was ill” be inscribed on his gravestone, or Alan Clark, political diarist and professional cad, who spent much of his later life convinced he had a brain tumour, and eventually died of one. But as each year brings a new medical surprise, it’s hard not to contemplate eternity from time to time.

But never mind. I’m cheered by the news that we men are not spineless whingers who roll over at every approaching bug. Apparently we really do have less robust immune systems than women, which might explain why most of them live longer than us. If we start pumping ourselves full of oestrogen, then we might become more like our sisters – resolute, uncomplaining and robust.

Which doesn’t explain why I had hardly a day off sick when I was running a business, but a good few more when I wasn’t. Something to do with the extent to which you control of your destiny perhaps. After all, when you’re omnipotent, throwing a sickie can have direct consequences – you have to rely on all the less talented people who work for you. Whereas if you’re a mere employee, there’s always someone else who can do your job while you luxuriate in self-pity.

I’m being ironic, of course. But motivation does seem to be a stronger boost to the male immune system than developing a fine pair of man boobs and getting together to eat cake with your friends.

There are upsides to man-flu, especially during the festive season. You don’t have to pretend to be jolly against your usual cantankerous nature. People feel sorry for you and make allowances. You get to wake up very early in the morning to watch England being destroyed by India in the cricket. And best of all, when you finally emerge from the tunnel of despair, you realise you’ve dodged the bullet once more. That it wasn’t ebola, zika or some malevolent tumour. It was just a bloody cold.

The downside is that Christmas is coming and my affliction is going. No excuse for grumpiness then. No reason not to go out into the clammy gloom for walks in the woods. No exemption from chopping firewood. And no chance to justify my gluttony on the grounds that I’m feeding a cold.

But there’s still hope. Only five days to go, and I’m still a little unwell….

From → Social, UK

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