Vitalism Signs

By Rebecca Koch
The recent holidays will go down in my personal history as “the lost Christmas.” It wasn’t a devastating blow because, truth be told, when it comes to the holidays and all the hoopla that surrounds them, I’m more than a little sympathetic with Ebenezer Scrooge before all those pesky Christmas ghosts (or possibly the undigested bit of potato) had their way with him. Perhaps Christmas karma may explain, then, why I spent the holidays this year serving as an incubator for some form of pestilence that I can only assume was the flu.

Like Scrooge’s first ghost, the flu gave little warning of its imminent visit the weekend before Christmas. Out of nowhere, it struck first with a fever. Now, for someone who’s convinced that the body knows what it’s doing, a fever is actually sort of a celebratory event; it’s perhaps the surest sign there is that the immune system is gearing up to do battle and kick some influenza butt.

But, then came little ghosts of Christmas sledge hammers pounding all the rocks in my head and then proceeding to spread the “love” on out to most all of my joints with particular attention paid to my back and knees … go figure. At this point, it was getting a bit harder to be so gleeful about the opportunity to go mano-a-mano with the freakin’ flu.

The only thing I felt like doing was sitting piled up in front of the television because it was the least challenging activity available (well, short of breathing and even that was far more work than usual). And, let me tell you, it’s especially galling to stay the course and let your body do its thing, adapting to the contagion, when every third or fourth ad is telling you how socially unacceptable it is to cough or sneeze or sniffle. How many more normal body functions can OTC drug manufacturers identify and target for elimination through the use of their products?

I’m thinking blinking might be going up for elimination soon. I mean, after all, how inefficient is it to avert your attention from the television, computer or gaming device for the nanosecond it takes to blink? Well, maybe not that much but if you consider that we blink hundreds of times a day and millions of times over the course of a lifetime, that’s a lot of wasted blink time that we’ll never get back!

Even more disconcerting is the fact that flu symptoms have now been redefined as cold symptoms for these ads. Fever and body aches used to be the hallmark of determining whether your particular brand of malady was the flu. But now, those have become cold symptoms, at least according to the ads. Why is that, do you suppose? I can’t help but wonder if that’s how the conspiratorial “they” are going to ensure that they can report the flu vaccine is effective (perhaps as a preemptive strike against the reports coming out of Europe that the flu vaccine doesn’t appear to be working or is in fact potentially harmful, enough so that they’re banning its use in infants and tossing unused doses by the hundred thousand).

I’m reminded of the similarity with the stories, apocryphal though they may be, of how the effectiveness of the polio vaccine was “documented” through a bit of symptomatic sleight of hand. It seems that during the height of the polio epidemic, if you had all the symptoms of polio (which are very similar to those of spinal meningitis), differential diagnosis was made on the basis of a single question: Have you had the polio vaccine? If the answer was “yes,” then you were determined to be suffering from spinal meningitis and not polio. Pretty slick, huh? Could we be seeing the same thing happening with the flu? All of a sudden, cold symptoms have become the same as flu symptoms. What would be the advantage, or even the reason for blurring the distinction between the two? Perhaps for no other reason than to provide a little legitimacy for the flu vaccine. If the symptoms for a cold and the flu become identical, then it will be really easy to “diagnose” a cold on the basis of a single question: Have you had the flu vaccine? Yes? OK, then; clearly, you have a cold.

Glad we could clear that up.