UNDER THE WEATHER : Coping With the Sun, the Fun and the Flu in Southern California

Tis the season. Rain or sun.

The house is inhabited but dark, and the air inside is hot, stale and claustrophobic. Intermittently, a hacking cough or a sneeze can be heard amid muffled wheezes and rales.

In the bathroom, near the overflowing wastebasket, the floor is littered with the foil and plastic remains of sinus caplet containers. Sticking out of the wastebasket, bottom up, is an empty bottle of antiseptic mouthwash that is swimming in aspirin boxes, soiled tissues and a chalk-crusted blue bottle of liquid laxative and analgesic.

The bathroom counter is cluttered with several vials of alcohol-free expectorant for chest and head congestion and assorted throat lozenges. Next to those are several bottles of vitamins--C, B complex and E--all in crystalline pure, yeast-free gelatin capsules. In the medicine cabinet, squeezed between the aloe-plus-lanolin soap and the cotton swabs, is the combination echinacea and goldenseal herbal extract and the fiery vaporizing ointment.

In the kitchen, trash is piled up in one corner, dirty laundry in another. The sink is plugged up with gray, soapy water two evenings old. Dishes, silverware and pans cover the length of the counter, spilling onto the stove. The coffee maker has been on for hours, the decanter choked with stewing tea bags. The refrigerator is bulging with lemons and oranges, cranberry and apple juice, seltzer and tonic waters. The shelves are packed with boxes of instant-soup mix and cans of bouillon.

There's a war on, and we're not winning. But if all remedies fail, there's an elegant, slim-necked bottle of extra-smooth brandy (80 proof), mellowed in aged oak, sequestered next to the matchbook collection on the mantel.

Jokes about Southern California climate aside, there are only three seasons: spring, summer and flu. My husband, my son and I considered ourselves lucky to get through the holidays without anyone falling ill. It promised to be a banner year, but just as we were starting to feel invincible, it struck.

I was dismayed as my husband, who boasts radiant health because of his tough Brooklyn upbringing, moaned, "But I'm never ill!" as he collapsed onto his studio futon. He got the bug at work. Immediately, I raided the nearest supermarket pharmacy section for my reliable combatants, spending a fifth of what it would cost, in time as well as cash, to see the doctor. After a quick study of contraindications, I supplied my husband with what would probably work best for him and then put aside my own precious stash, loading my purse for trips outdoors.

"I can't afford to get ill!" I groaned, frantically waving the calendar as if I were waving a cross at a vampire. Its pages were glutted with urgent appointments, social engagements and rapidly approaching deadlines. My husband and I had kept apart for a week in an effort to save me from the clutches of this troublesome, acute, debilitating, pandemic disease.

But the conflagration has spread. Last night, our hefty 14-year-old lost his supper to "a tummy ache," his first since infancy. And despite ingesting sickeningly sweet syrups and bitter pills to a fare-thee-well, I've come down with it, too. Hard.

Unlike many children of the '50s and '60s, I still have my tonsils. I live in dread of sore throats and their complications--pharyngitis, which could possibly indicate an acute tonsillitis or that horrible-sounding complaint my great-aunt used to warn us kiddies about, the quinsy, which is an abscess of the tonsils. There's also the threat of laryngitis. And I have a tendency to lose my voice.

Now this mean virus persists, well into its second week of evil, and we've finally called to see the doctor but his assistant said she's down with it, too, and that we might as well save our money, stay home in bed and drink plenty of fluids.

Next year, maybe we'll get flu shots, as I swear we will every year. But I'll probably forget, lulled by the sunshine and blue skies that promise invulnerability.


Would somebody please pass the brandy?

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