‘Wouldn’t it be ironic,’ commented my mate Leaks, ‘if, after having cancer, it was swine flu that finished you off.’
‘Yeah, cheers Leaks. The thought had crossed my mind, ta.’
‘Anyway,’ she continued. ‘I thought swine flu was a myth.’
‘Believe me, love, this ain’t no myth,’ I texted back from beneath my duvet. ‘I’ve now put my shoulder out from coughing so much, and I feel like Rik Waller’s sitting on my chest.’
‘Yeah, but did you really have swine flu?’ asked, ooh, everyone I’ve encountered since swapping pyjamas for my regular wardrobe.
‘Yes,’ I tell them. ‘I really had swine flu. And it wasn’t all that much nicer than chemo,’ I add, for shock-tactic, swift-change-of-the-subject (and kind-of-skirting-the-truth) emphasis.
Spreading faster even than H1N1 itself, it seems, has been not just swine flu paranoia, but the cynicism that comes with it. And yeah, I’m sure there are thousands of work-shirkers out there who have used The Media’s Favourite Story as an excuse to stay behind closed curtains for a day. And, y’know, fair enough. Hell, pre-cancer, I might even have been one of them, advocate as I am (sorry, boss, was) of the occasional ‘mental health day’. (Mum used to grant me one every sports day, and I remain as grateful today as I was while watching Grease in my front room as my classmates wheezed round the school running track in The World's Worst PE Kit: a red T-shirt with navy-blue knickers. I dare say it was the fashion as much as the activity that forced me into pulling a Ferris Bueller.)
But this, make no mistake about it, wasn't a mental-health break; it was swine flu. Horrible, feverish, wheezy, painful, shivery, raw-throated swine flu. Because really, might people genuinely think that, after eleven months in sweaty PJs rather than at my desk, I’ve not quite had my fill of sick days for, ooh, the next five millennia? I can’t even force myself to watch daytime TV when I’m off ill these days, so brought-to-puke am I at even the slightest hint of a reference to Jeremy Kyle. (Mind you, that might also have been the case pre-Bullshit.)
‘Seriously though,’ said Leaks during our lunch hour today. ‘You must have been bricking it.’
‘Well yeah, I was. All this ‘underlying health problems’ stuff. Christ, I’m Mrs Underlying Health Problems.’
‘Still, you can take anything on these days can’t ya?’ she replied. ‘Cancer, swine flu…’
‘Yeah, bring it on,’ I said triumphantly, strutting along a double-yellow line as Leaks suddenly hoiked me up onto the pavement by my elbow.
‘Bloody hell, love,’ she said as I belatedly noticed an angry-looking LCV raging past. ‘What, so the cancer and swine flu couldn’t do it, and now you’re trying the white-van route instead?’
‘Shit, yeah,’ I mumbled, remembering that having cancer hadn’t, in fact, made me invincible.
‘You nobhead,’ teased Leaks.
‘Meh, whatever. Bring it on,’ I repeated.