Since coming down with H1N1 a few weeks ago, something unexpected has happened: I’ve become a swine flu celebrity. Due to the rampant news coverage and the fear the media has put into the minds of all when it comes to H1N1, I have the full attention of absolutely everyone when the subject comes up. I am the total authority – over the CDC website, over doctors, news programs, even over celebrity MDs Dr. Oz and Dr. Gupta. I lived it.
When I walk into a room, those in the room will awkwardly steer the conversation to the topic of illness or specifically swine flu. Then, the collective attention turns to me. “Andy, are you feeling OK finally?” they might ask. It is a strangely powerful feeling – I feel like I could say or do anything. The temptation to make up symptoms, embellish the suffering or otherwise just be the purveyor of misinformation sometimes becomes as strong as the temptation to yell in church during the middle of a sermon.
You know how people look at you without diverting their glance whatsoever – totally focused attention hanging on your every word? How people almost can’t listen to you enough? Well that is what it’s like. I tell stories of what it was like to have swine flu. I tell them about what my doctor said and how some of what he said was slightly different than what the CDC’s website says (this draws significant interest). I tell them about how Tamiflu made me feel WORSE than swine flu itself – justifiably spreading the fear of Tamiflu. When I speak people look at me like how they might look at a car wreck – they don’t seem to want to look at me/have any close contact with me whatsoever, but at the same time, they can’t look a way. I can’t remember holding court as often as I have since coming down with swine flu.
So, I was enjoying this newfound celebrity until the other day when I was talking to a friendly coworker who was a bit older. I had what I now consider to be a rookie celebrity moment because I pushed my assumed license to say anything too far. I was trying to describe what the swine flu headaches were like and my talk became a bit too free-flowing. I said that really, the headaches were most like “a delayed hangover headache, you know the kind that catches up with you at some point the next afternoon”. Younger friends seemed to find this description useful, but when I saw her reaction, I knew right away I had created a lead balloon moment. I forgot that I worked in an environment where counselors evaluate substance abuse (among other things) on a daily basis and that sometimes even the mention of drinking a beer in one’s past can draw looks (nice work environment, I know). So our conversation died at that point and I felt a bit like a real celebrity who just found out that it was the National Enquirer he just opened up to, not a “fan”. It’s interesting that my swine flu stories have been in less demand these last few days.