Coastal Commuter

Flagrant flu foments free-fall

Michael Snyder was too late to get help from Tamiflu. Photo: Malcolm Koo

At the turn of the new year, my body kidnapped me. For more than a week, I was basically incarcerated at my Los Angeles digs, weak and bed-ridden, wavering from the sweats to the chills, coughing incessantly, and devoid of any appetite. Despite having received the requisite flu shot in the autumn, a rogue strain had somehow invaded my generally well-immunized system and brought down havoc. This social butterfly/culture vulture would not and could not fly, due to the flu.

It all started as I was enjoying a little “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight on December 31, along with a club full of fellow concertgoers. Right before the final encore of the night, at around 1 a.m., I knew I was screwed. Head groggy without the benefit of beer. Throat scratchy without having yelled the standard number of “woos” during the more impressive guitar solos. Finally, nose running without a spare antihistamine in hand. There would be no after-show party for me, nor would I be heading to the dressing room and high-fiving my friends in the headlining band for a job well done. Instead, I hit the street and made it back to my place in the hills above the east side of the city in record time.


You don’t have to be flu-ish to know that this winter’s wave of respiratory illness has been more virulent than others of recent vintage. And it’s been nationwide, as well as deadly in a number of cases. Although the mini-plague hit the Bay Area and L.A. at roughly the same time, I was preceded in misery by a few of my friends. I had fielded a couple of phone calls from San Francisco comrades bewailing the sickness. The Facebook posts were getting downright scary, with the occasional admonition to not let this thing develop into pneumonia. (Been there some years ago — have avoided it since.) Then, in most of the cases that came to my attention, the aftermath was a lingering cough.

So my trip to Urgent Care was, after two-and-a-half days of suffering, in the realm of the preventive — as in preventing whatever I had contracted from getting worse. According to the doctor, it was indeed the flu with no evidence of a bacterial infection like bronchitis or pneumonia. “Sorry,” she said. “Antibiotics do nothing to stop a virus, which is what this appears to be. And you’re a day too late for Tamiflu to curtail your symptoms.” Ah, Tamiflu. It may sound more like a mascot for a pharmaceutical firm (“Tammy Flu”) than a wonder drug, but it’s known to lessen the severity of the flu if taken early enough. (Pay no mind to the rumors that it can cause hallucinatory side effects, which would almost constitute a sort of endorsement if it was true. I could have used some strange visions to counter my listlessness.)

The doc gave me a prescription for antibiotics in case a bout of bronchitis came into play over the next couple days. But I never felt much worse than I had at the time of my visit to the clinic. As was suggested, I rested to let my immunities fight the crud and consumed lots of liquids to flush all the bad stuff away. I relied on the obvious: chicken soup and crackers, tea, gallons of water, and, yes, some over-the-counter remedies. Gradually, I felt better and better. Still, it was no quick fix. How ill was I? I was unable to attend business meetings, screenings, gallery openings, musical performances, and so forth throughout my self-imposed quarantine. In fact, I had no desire to do any of it. That was unprecedented for me. I even had to postpone a return to S.F. until late January.


A little more than a week after being laid low, I emerged from exile, post-contagion, and got back to standard human interaction. My energy for work and play, my joie de vivre, and my gustatory cravings were back! Like a couple of the folks who came down with the malady before I did, I had to deal with a cough that persisted after my general recovery. Unlike those unfortunates, my cough only took three or four days to go away, rather than weeks. I have since been informed that the flu shot probably lessened the impact of the offending virus that got me, in spite of it not being specifically targeted by the current vaccine. I shudder to think how I would have felt without that minimal protection.

Forgive me if I sound a little like an alarmist, but my experience and the reports I’ve heard did bring to mind the science-fiction-y concept of mutated germs and viruses resulting in global pandemics that decimate the population. If you ask a biologist or physician, the speculation isn’t if, it’s when. Ominous stuff, to be sure. Maybe we have to mutate, too, in order to keep ahead of the impending superbugs. Those cautionary sci-fi tales sometimes depict cockroaches as the likeliest creatures to survive into Earth’s far-flung future. They’d be wise to have plenty of aspirin and cough syrup on hand.

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Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on "Michael Snyder's Culture Blast," via, Roku, and YouTube, and on KPFK/Pacifica Radio’s “David Feldman Show.” You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster