Thursday 29 September 2016

Brendan O'Connor: 'This was the weirdest dose of anything I ever got... I became convinced I was going to die'

'If you've had one of these weird flus that are going around pardon me for boring you.'

Published 22/02/2016 | 02:30

Brendan O'Connor: Smiling is the best possible way of fooling yourself into thinking that everything is great.
Brendan O'Connor: Smiling is the best possible way of fooling yourself into thinking that everything is great.
Age rage: Ben Stiller in 'While We're Young'

In some strange way I feel that my life is intertwined with that of Ben Stiller.

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This goes back a while. Strangely, I once bumped into Stiller's father in New York. I was on my honeymoon and Gerry Stiller, who played Gerry Costanza, George's father in Seinfeld, was in front of me. My face lit up with recognition, and clearly spotting the warning signs, he grabbed his wife and ran off in the other direction. Stiller Jr is increasingly portraying onscreen the kind of simmering rage his father did. Last week I watched him in While We're Young, where he plays an angry guy in his mid forties (stop laughing) who starts hanging around with a young hipster, partially because, like all of us at this age, he is having difficulty accepting his age.

In the movie, Stiller goes to the doctor one day who casually mentions to him that he has arthritis. Stiller obviously feels there is some mistake, that the doctor must be talking about some other kind of arthritis. Because arthritis obviously, is something that old people get. "You mean arthritis arthritis?" Stiller asks. To which the doctor replies: "Yes. I usually just say it once."

Perhaps the reason I felt for Stiller's character so much in that moment was because as I watched I was undergoing my first proper grown-up, flu flu and realising that I was now one of those vulnerable people who really should get the flu jab. Me, babies and old people: Those are the categories of people that are at risk from the flu flu.

If you've had one of these weird flus that are going around pardon me for boring you. But this was the weirdest dose of anything I ever got in my life. Clearly the people who make flu have gone like the financial markets. They are bundling up all kinds of crap together and then sending it around the world. The one thing I still don't quite understand is how each bit of the flu knew when its turn was, and knew to wait patiently until the previous bit had gone. Germ technology is clearly more advanced than we knew.

Phase one was uncontrollable shivers at work and then a feeling of needing to lie down on the ground. I left and spent the next 48 hours thinking I'm fine but I'll just have a little lie down. And on cue I'd go into a kind of psychedelic delirium, a semi-waking dream based loosely on what was on the radio. I'd come to every few hours in a soaking wet bed thinking I was now fine and I'd get up to go down stairs and get on with my day. I'd last a half an hour and then bang, I was gone again. One thing that was new about it for me was that I would occassionally become convinced I was going to die, that it was attacking my heart or vital organs. On Sunday it became necessary for me to supervise 35 eight-year-olds on a climbing wall. Most of them weren't mine so it was important they didn't die. I steeled myself with Solpadeine and a double espresso and got through it, even the bit after they ate the jellies, where they all transcended speech or logic and screamed at the top of the heads hitting each other with balloons. But I came home and bang, back to delirium.

Next morning I decided I had licked it. I was pleased. Everyone else had said it was a week, though I heard of one guy who did it in four days. I had done it in three.

Off to work I went. And then the stomach hit. I had one of the worst evenings of my life. But I woke up next morning feeling human again and ready to get on with my life; even the broken glass style pain in my throat which had been a constant in all of it was abating. So again, off to work, day goes well, I come home and bang, suddenly I have the most splittingest headache ever. It feels like my head is going to explode. Obviously I decided I was dying again.

The headache has come and gone the last few days. A friend of mine swears a really bad cough is next but I feel no signs of it yet. Not that that means anything with this thing. It is obviously waiting its turn and will just suddenly spring when it feels like it. I'm trying to see the bright side of all this, which is that I've lost a fair bit of weight.

The downside is that I have now stared death in the face. I am now an old person, who fears the flu could get me. So next season, I'll queue with the others of my kind for the jab.

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