One Flu Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

For the last week I have been fighting what is commonly known as the man flu. It started off with me waking up Thursday twilight, at about 3 or 4 am unnaturally thirsty and achy, and I got out of bed and downed about half a litre of water and a couple of Panadols before returning to a fitful sleep drenched in sweat before waking up for classes the next day.

Dinner with my brother and sister-in-law that night, and no amount of Japanese food could comfort my unease and developing whole-body-aches including my spasming back muscles.

Man About To Sneeze

Friday and it was full-blown – a nose that could not decide whether it was blocked or running, no appetite, generalised muscle aches, a low grade temperature and just a general sense of unease. This one even came with chills and shakes as well, a particularly virulent strain of virus. 

I told my Emergency Medicine colleagues about my predicament and got about as much sympathy as you would get from a jaded war veteran to a young boy who was crying because he had scraped his knee in the schoolyard – I was told to take my Paracetamol with a cupful of cement and to harden the ___! up.

Having been struck by what even society takes a good laugh at, I find it quite interesting that in my misery I did regress a little – I was feeling quite miserable and sorry for myself, I catastrophised and wondered if I would ever feel well again. I just wanted to be tucked into bed, sang lullabies to, given regular paracetamol and ibuprofen and warm, comforting food until the fever broke.


In my regression, my mind goes back to my childhood and to all the remedies we were given especially as Asian children when we were unwell.

Fevers were treated with all kinds of witch’s brew medications – we drank reindeer horn soup – a clear water-like substance that tasted as bad as it sounded (poor Rudolph, you meant different things to us as Chinese kids). Or Mum would set out to braise oranges with some salt for us (you can do that?!). Or – here’s my favourite memory – in order to break the fever she would put a de-shelled hard-boiled egg into a handkerchief along with a coin (either the copper 1 sen or the ‘silver’ 5 sen coin) and then rub our bodies with it until we broke into a sweat. Two things would happen – the coin would change colour and, strangely enough, we would feel better after that.

Whether or not we had to eat the egg to complete the treatment is something I choose to forget.

I wish someone would figure the age-old conundrum as well – to shower, or not to shower? (Not all men who grapple with this question have the flu necessarily). And if so, hot or cold? An icy shower might bring a nice little adrenaline shock to the system and cool you down for awhile, but there is much comfort to be had in a hot shower (although in my mind’s eye the viruses party a little harder in your warm wet body).  

Little girl drinking cough syrup

Having the flu reminds us that no matter how able-bodied and well-exercised, how rich or how much we do to control our lives that sometimes we can still be levelled by things that we cannot see and are beyond our control. Apart from vaccinations and good hand hygiene, good doctors would send you home with advice that very little can be done about most flus, and that you will usually get better. It is both a humbling and human admission that we have yet to come up with effective medications to deal with the mass of ever-evolving viruses meaningfully.

It is in our times of misery as well when are reminded to be grateful for the simple things in life – an unblocked nose, being able to taste a delicious meal, to even have an appetite, being able to bask in the sun, or to go around thinking with a clear head; it gives us a chance to consider our mortality while praying it does not contribute to our actual mortality. We really are lucky to be healthy most days, really.

It is also in these times of enforced rest where we are reminded about what a luxury it is for us to have someone to look after us, to worry about us and to comfort us. We may be strong individualistic people when well, but remember keenly that we are someone’s child, or sibling, or housemate, or friend, or spouse when we are unwell. Much can be said about warm beds to be tucked into, Panadol delivered on demand, lemon barley on the boil and warm chicken soup to thaw the most miserable soul. 

So here’s hoping you don’t catch the flu this season – rug up, take enough Vitamin C until you glow a healthy orange and avoid hanging out with sick friends.

Too late for some of our friends, I guess. I hope you feel better soon.

I may know of a doctor who actually sympathises with your condition.

6 thoughts on “One Flu Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

      • Very well written. My mother made those braised orange too. She would add some
        salt and the orange juice becomes a true tonic drink

        • Yeah, my wife made it for us this time and it turned out surprisingly nice! I am trying to remember all the other traditional things we used to do for colds!

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