On writing, deadlines, and the flu

What’s the best medicine for the flu?

our dog Layla

Layla giving us “the look”

You might think it’s Tamiflu® or Theraflu® or maybe honey and whiskey (tea?). My wife’s doctor recommended cough medicine plus Tylenol®. (What’s with all the T-medicines, anyway?) Each of those products may be fine for treating the symptoms.

What about a cure for the flu?

Turns out, the vaccine only works in advance; so that’s not much help once your have the flue. From what I’ve seen this year, the best medicine for the flu is … laughter. That’s right — laughter.

Let’s face it, suffering with the flu is depressing. There’s all that coughing, sneezing and congestion. Add in the muscle aches and chills, and you’ve got a real downer on your hands.

Back in February, we were in the middle of a bona fide flu epidemic. It was all the rage on every newscast, with well over 2,000 confirmed cases at one point. And that’s just the people who bothered seeking medical treatment.

Right at the height of it all, my wife was about as sick as I’d ever seen her. She was hacking so hard our china plates shook, and then falling asleep sitting up. Lucky for me, I never get the flu.

Except when I did — about one week later.

The timing was terrible. I was writing on a deadline. Past the deadline, in fact. I needed a cure, and quickly.

The weather only made it worse. We’d had one gorgeous sunny day the previous weekend. I had wistful thoughts of an early spring. Then the snow clouds rolled back in, and the temperatures plunged into the teens. Whenever I went outside to sneak a cigarette (yeah, I know…) the cold shot right through my Admiral Byrd parka and into my bones. It was wall-to-wall misery.

I remember trying to write my assignment — a tricky little piece about washing machine repair, I think. I couldn’t focus my bleary eyes on the tiny print in my publisher’s outline page. Hell, I couldn’t hold two complete thoughts in my brain at the same time. My fingers hurt. When I tried to sit down for more than five minutes, my back and legs ached. After ten minutes, my eyes would start to close on their own.

Beside me on the couch, my wife would wake up periodically to enjoy a coughing fit and empty a box of Kleenex. We were a delightful couple that day. Then something magical happened.

Suddenly, we were both laughing. It was real, belly-clearing laughter. We were both looking at the dog, who might or might not have also had the flu.

Maybe you can picture this. She is Layla, our spoiled-rotten house dog. She’s a subtle mix of tawny back and white belly, part Lab, part Husky, part who-knows, and about the size and shape of a coyote. I’m only slightly ashamed to admit, she’s allowed on the furniture.

So there she was, just across the room, upside-down in her comfy chair. (Yes, it’s become “her chair”.) Her legs were splayed and pointed at the ceiling, tail draped over one arm of the chair, and her head hung off the front. Her jowls were slack and her jaw half-open. Her eyes were blissfully closed.

She was entirely at peace in her shameless display of bare doggie belly, utterly vulnerable. At the sound of our laughter, she eased one eye open (the blue one, not the brown one) and looked at us as if to say, what??.

My wife and I both laughed even harder.

Is there any real curative magic in laughter? A little, perhaps. Not enough to cure the flu, but enough for a moment’s respite.

For a few minutes there, between clogged sinuses and burred vision, we both felt hope.

The hope of spring’s eternal promise. The hope of warmer days and healing sunshine. The hope of a new day and our renewed vigor…

Well, something like that, anyway.

The dog righted herself abruptly, restoring her dignity with a brisk shake of her head, ears flapping dramatically. She cast one doleful eye upon each of us, blue for me and brown for my wife. With a powerful sigh, she tucked her snout into the crook of her hind leg and returned to slumber.

On that cue, my wife laid her head on her left shoulder, drew her lap blanket closer, and closed her eyes. I jumped from my chair, trying to hold back an impending gusher of nasal discharge, and raced to the bathroom for a tissue. A sudden coughing fit followed me there. I quickly downed a dose of cloying cough medicine and threw back a pair of Tylenol caplets for good measure.

I finished that article eventually, though I don’t remember much of what I wrote. I’m only sure because the payment is still listed right there in my PayPal account. Not long after that, my wife and I began to recover. I can’t say for sure if our laughter at the innocent antics of our beloved dog helped us get better.

But it didn’t hurt. Well, maybe just a little on my ribs.

question  Did you or your significant other suffer the perils of this past season’s flu epidemic? What was your best medicine? Did you miss any deadlines?


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  1. Ah, Jim..excellent article, and your Layla sure is a pretty pup isn’t she? Well done..getting over the flu and learning to laugh while sick too. It does help! Best to you and Lin!

    • Thanks so much, Raymond.

      I hesitated to publish this story, because I did write it while I was sick. But I let it simmer, got some feedback from my writers’ group last week, and did some editing.

      She’s a good girl, not the least bit shy, and makes our whole world brighter. So I guess she does deserve a post of her own, doesn’t she?

      Great to see you. Hope your amazing book is selling well, my friend!

  2. Thanks for a great story, Jim! It was so vivid, I hope I don’t catch the flu from you!
    I’m glad you and your wife were aware enough to notice Layla’s innocent antics and laugh about them. All those endomorphins, cortisol, and all that other good stuff coursing through your body has got to be healing.
    Besides, laughing is damn fun.

    • Hi Bobby, it’s so nice to see you drop in here!

      I’ll bet you’re right about the chemistry of laughter. Lots of power, even in just a smile, isn’t there?

      Hope you’re doing well, Bobbi. I highly recommend to anyone reading this to click through to Bobbi’s site and start reading. Love the way you write, and will make a point to get back there, too. Thanks for taking the time to visit!

  3. From one dog lover to another, I completely agree: laughing at your dog IS the best medicine! 🙂

    Great post, Jim! Bobbi’s right; it almost felt like I could ‘feel’ the flu! And thanks for the goofy pup visual. Similar antics take place with our pooch, so the relevance of your article really hit home.

    • Thanks so much for reading, Kimberley.

      We are accidental dog lovers, in a sense. Just over a year ago, we rescued Layla from the local ASPCA. Now I can’t even put a value on the light she’s brought into our lives. Glad you liked the imagery, and very glad the flu season is all but behind us now. It sucked!

      Love your writers’ website, too, Kimberley. We’ll talk some more, for sure. 🙂

  4. Nice job! Working while sick…. never easy.

    Laughter is a more effective medicine for the flu than the usual mega dose of orange-C. As Bobbi said, laughter releases all sorts of great hormones, which in turn increase immune activity.

    If you’re interested – http://www.hospitalclown.com/archives/vol-02/vol-2-1and2/vol2-2berk.PDF

    • That’s so cool to learn, Amit!

      I knew only that we both felt better for awhile. I’d love to see a prescription pad with “Watch Caddyshack or Blazing Saddles” written in.

      Hope you’re doing well, Amit. Are you still writing brilliant 5,000-word posts? Thanks very much for taking the time to stop by.

  5. Well I’m so glad you didn’t succumb to getting a flu shot. I know of one woman whose life is over. As head of a large nursing team she had a shot and has been parylized ever since – end of her life you might say! Try a daily dose of organic coconut oil. When all around are succumbing to whatever virus, you will be healthy and able to get that last writing task done! Love the post by the way!

    • Well, wow Maranna, I had no idea that a flu shot could be so dangerous!

      How terrible for the woman you know. And I’m sure she had no choice about getting that shot, given her profession.

      I can’t recall ever reading that advice about coconut oil before. Any idea what the driving force might be behind that benefit?

      Thanks very much for reading!

      • Hi Jim – have posted two links for you, one on the lady who is now paralyzed and one on the benefits of coconut oil. We have been coconut oil fans for a very long time, and maybe it’s just good fortune, but I like to think otherwise, we have not been sick since we began using it. I could fill a whole post on the amazing benefits that my family alone has enjoyed!! I came across it when I was at the end of my tether. My daughter was so sick and had done the rounds of supposed medical specialists, for years, all to no avail. Together we began our research and this was one of the changes we made in our diet. The difference it made to her was nothing short of miraculous. So now we cook with it, bake, and use it on our skin. Enjoy!

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