Sam Smith

Ten days ago your editor came down with the first serious case of the flu or a cold or an allergy or god knows what since the Internet hit the big times. I did what I always do now when I’m trying to find something out: I hit the Big G. But unlike buying a new car, finding out local recycling laws, or checking the films at the E Street Theater, the Internet totally failed me.

True, it wasn’t all the Internet’s fault. The media has a strange approach to illness – obsessed with its possible fatalities but largely indifferent to less important matters such as symptoms and best cures. To the extent that modern medicine has discovered the Internet, it is still remarkably skewed towards preachy little statements that don’t help the patient much. Especially when he’s coughing.

As best as I can figure, this current unpleasantness had its roots in my granddaughter’s group nursery and was lovingly transmitted to pops and omah about ten days ago. This would put it well in advance of the swine flu epidemic and would rank it amongst the most normal of respiratory mishaps. Certainly my doctor and my wife’s thought so. We were part of the flu and allergy background noise of the season.

But once the swine flu crisis descended, things changed. On those surprisingly rare occasions when the media even bothered to mention the symptoms, it became ever harder to distinguish them from my own. CNN even claimed I had every symptom of swine flu. Which gave me one more reason to watch MSNBC.

There is something to be learned here. When one is ill, one has little taste for beautiful graphics or pompous and puerile prescriptions or suggestions of a worthy but, at the moment, unattainable life style. One wants cures, brands of cures, and useful warning signs that things are getting worse. One basic question, for example, went totally unanswered as far as I could find: when do you call your doctor?

All this could be accomplished on a simple spread sheet that helped one distinguish between the types of misery one might be enduring, what things might help it, when to get truly worried, and what to do then. The origins, history or geography of the illness is of little concern. There is, after all, only case that really matters. Yours.

As it was, nine days in I had to rely on an NPR correspondent. After all who in the world has a greater interest in not sounding awful? She explained to me something I had missed thanks to my rare contact with these problems and to the fact that I could find it nowhere on the Net. Water is not only important because of dehydration, but it actually soothes those tiny objects in the bottom of your throat that make you sound like a vertical Mt Vesuvius erupting every few minutes – proving once again that if you really want to know about something, go to someone for whom the answer truly matters.

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