Our studio has been ravaged by the flu bug that's been going around - which came as a bit of a surprise, because although I was sick for the whole month of January, I had no idea that it was THE FLU - the one that is dominating the current news cycle. And apparently, I'm the "Patient Zero" of the studio.
It's typical for me to catch at least one cold each winter, and it's also typical for that cold to get down deep into my lungs and live there for a month or so, giving me a hacking cough for a few weeks, even after I don't feel sick any more. And I never had that "someone, just kill me" feeling that we often associate with the flu. So the question I faced during January was "Do I go in to work, or not?" Nobody wants to get their co-workers sick, so that's an argument for staying home. But everybody also wants to be needed and productive, so that's an argument for going to work, especially since I manage two animation studios, both Signe's and Bill Plympton's. That's a lot of people to contaminate.
I think they recommend now that if you have the flu, you should stay home - and if it's just a cold, you should go to work (but take note of what you touch, try to sneeze into your inner elbow, all of this is good practical advice.). But what should you do when you feel like you just have a cold, but it turns out you have THE FLU? As you can probably guess, I felt all right after a few days, but I was probably still highly contagious.
About a week after I got sick, my wife did too - this happens every winter, too, and she's so tired of it happening that I'm a little surprised she still puts up with me. But I say that for a lot of reasons. Then some interns at Bill Plympton's studio started sniffling, and I could feel that I'd be blamed soon for causing work to grind to a halt, since any animation studio is powered by interns. And because Signe and I eat lunch together twice a week, I suppose it was inevitable that she'd start to show symptoms, too. (She did...)
In my defense, I DID get a flu shot last year, though I usually don't. But I'm at the age where the doctor is starting to insist on it, since the flu is particularly hard on the infants and the elderly. (I'm getting close to the latter.) But here's the thing about the flu shot - there are different strains of flu, and the CDC has to predict each year which strain is going to be prevalent a few months down the line, in order to produce enough flu shots to go around. They are NOT always correct, which I suspect has led to the current outbreak. Or perhaps they WERE correct, and keeping one strain of flu in check allowed another, more unpredictable or more resilient strain to ravage the U.S. population. All actions on the viral level have consequences.
And then Signe went to visit Sturgis in Maine, where he's appearing in a stage production of "Babette's Feast" and of this writing, he's still dealing with the flu, and so are a couple other actors. Sturgis went to see a doctor, and the tests confirmed he had the flu, and finally someone was given some medicine to start fighting this thing. But if you're in the Portland area and your enjoyment of a stage production was spoiled by a lot of coughing and sneezing among the cast, I take full responsibility.
After about a month with the cold (or flu, whichever) I didn't feel sick any more, but I still had a terrible sore throat that lasted for another two weeks. Then I started having trouble with my hearing - which makes sense, because a person's ear, nose and throat are all connected, so it seems that after a while one starts to affect the other. I started to hear this low thumping sound that sounded like it was coming from outside, like if every car on the street ran over the same loose manhole cover, and it kept happening again and again. When I sat in my living room and watched TV, it would sound like the neighbor next door was learning to play the bass guitar, only he was just playing the same note over and over. It got worse until it became this constant low hum, like there was a big piece of machinery on the other side of the wall, and I thought maybe my house's heating system wasn't working right, and maybe the house was getting ready to explode.
Now, Signe's studio has a problem with a noisy neighbor - there's a sound studio next door that doesn't have enough acoustic sound-proofing, so sometimes there's this loud vibration from hip-hop music, and of course they've always got the bass turned up very high. (They're all about that bass, no treble...) We hear that all day long sometimes, and on some level we get used to it, even though it NEVER STOPS. But when I started hearing similar thumping vibrations at home, I first thought maybe my ears were still ringing from my time at the studio. The funny thing was that my wife couldn't hear the thumping sound, or the loud hum, so I eventually figured out that it was coming from my own head. That's when I finally dragged myself to my doctor to get checked out.
I got my hearing checked, and it turned out that I have lost some hearing in my right ear, which explains why I'm always moving my phone over to my left ear to hear better. But I can't hear some of the higher frequencies now, and that by itself doesn't explain why I was hearing loud low noises at home that nobody else can. Tinnitus usually manifests itself as a high-pitched ringing in the ear, not a low thump or low hum. So they put me on medicine to reduce my blood pressure, which has always been somewhat high, but never in the "danger zone". The thumping I've been hearing could be related to blood pressure, or it could be a leftover from the month-long cold, I'm not sure yet.
First the doctor gave me ear drops, just in case there's a whole bunch of wax build-up in there, but after putting in the drops, I was supposed to rinse my ear out a few minutes later with a rubber syringe. I did that, and I managed to clog my ear even worse with water, so I had "swimmer's ear" for a few days last week. That meant I couldn't hear well out of EITHER ear, and everything sounded like I was at the bottom of a pool. Before enrolling in sign language class, though, I tried everything I could to unclog the left ear, and finally got it to pop open. But there's still something not right with the pressure in my head, because the ear still feels like it wants to close up shop every night, and I have to get it to open up each morning.
The news is still listing the casualties of this year's flu season, and I'm hoping heads will roll when everyone realizes how ineffective this year's flu shot was, but at least "Patient Zero" is on the road to recovery.