Fever and chills of flu mimic opiate withdrawal


God help you. There’s an ache in your back that’s like a great, invisible sadist grinding his knuckles into the muscles around your spine. The rest of you doesn’t feel so great, either. Your bones have been replaced by shards of glass. This aches. And that aches. It hurts whether you’re bent over, lying down or standing up.

Not that you plan to do much standing. If you had the choice, you’d stay right here in your bed, buried under a mound of blankets that weighs as much as your car. The blankets are good, but do they chase away the chill in your bones? Not quite. The chill is everywhere, too. Where your internal organs used to cluster in great, glistening knots now resides an iceberg that won’t melt no matter how many blankets you pile on or how close you sit to the nightstand you set on fire.

Yes, you’d remain in bed the rest of your life if you could because it’s marginally better here beneath the leaning tower of blankets. But you can’t stay. Not for long. You have to get up every 10 minutes in response to that unhappy roiling deep down in your gut. Your internal organs may have turned to ice but they’re still wreaking havoc in there. It’s like spring training for bodily functions and everybody wants a turn at bat.

There you go, shuffling from the sanctity of your bed to the horrors of the bathroom. You’ve got this red, hideous nose and a ratty blanket wrapped around your shoulders. Your hair is wild and clotted with untold goo. If you felt better, you could scare the bejesus out of some neighborhood kids, but no. There will be no such fun today. The walk from one room to another is a clinic in agony. Trembling legs, that infernal chill and the sadist, always there driving his fist into your flesh and bones.

You sputter and groan. Two thousand years of advancement and here we are. We can land ships on tiny space rocks yet we can’t cure the common flu in all its microbial craftiness.You wish there was a scientist right there in front of you so you could cough on him. Get on it, Brainiac! Quit spending all your time on bosons and neutrinos and cure the damn flu already.

I mean, it IS the flu, right? I have to ask because your symptoms match another affliction ā€” specifically, opiate withdrawal. The aches? The chills? The hollow rumblings in your gut? Are you absolutely certain this suffering isn’t the result of a secret relationship with needle and spoon? Or with painkillers that were legally prescribed?

Every time there’s a flu going around, I think about it. In particular, I think of my friend Dave. He’s dead now but in his day, how he loathed the comparison between influenza and heroin withdrawal.

“That,” he used to growl, “is nothing more than an easy explanation offered by quacks and eggheads who don’t know a damn thing about it.”

Sure, there is aching and chills, Dave told me, about a thousand times in the short time I knew him. But there’s more. There’s the horrible, inner trembling that feels like an army of ants is chewing through your breast bone. And depression, as deep and throbbing as the aches in the joints. All that unpleasantness but the worst, Dave said, was the knowledge that it could all go away with just a couple more pills or with the introduction of needle to vein.

There’s a reason they call it a fix.

“The fix is right there,” Dave used to say. “It’s downtown, with some guy carrying junk around in his pocket. Or at the pharmacy. But you don’t have money for the downtown guy and the doctor, that judgmental bastard, won’t write you another script. So you have to lay there suffering, in some stinking bed or in the gutter, knowing that the fix is there but that you can’t have it. It drives you crazy.”

And that’s why you read about people robbing banks and pharmacies, or jacking corner stores for a few bucks he can turn over to the downtown dude for a fix that will last a few hours.

So there’s a flu going around and a lot of people have it. But there’s something else afoot and a lot of people have that, too. Opiate withdrawal: It’s not just for street people anymore.

Perfectly ordinary people are hooked on heroin. Lawyers, doctors, the guy who does your taxes. They started with painkillers and found them good. They made the stress and pains go away and it was wonderful. But a prescription only lasts so long, so they turned to the street, where they discovered that the price of pills is astronomical, but good, old heroin can be bought on the cheap.

So, they made the leap. Just like that, they went from medication to street junk and in between doses, they’re shaking and aching, shivering and suffering, just like you poor souls with this year’s flu. I’m told it’s rampant and it’s the people you’d least expect to get hooked. Just another little something to further complicate your day.

I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. I’d come by and offer you something to take the edge off, but it’s tricky.

I never know whether to bring chicken soup or smack.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can email him at [email protected], but he won’t bring you any smack, and his chicken soup: meh.