Writing While Sick With The Flu

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Woodland Phlox blooming in my garden now.

Last week I said I’d be away and wouldn’t be posting a blog today. I’m supposed to be in a quiet location about an hour from here at a five day insight dialogue meditation retreat. Unfortunately I came down with the flu the day before I was supposed to leave and have been in bed ever since. I don’t do flu shots, but this dance with this nasty bug has me wondering if I should get one next fall when they are once again offered.

Except for a nasty cold after the first of the year, a UTI several weeks ago on a Saturday that took me to the ER, I’ve had a healthy winter. The hospital has a new system where you if you need to go to the ER you log in on line before you leave your home. They will tell you when to be there. I called at 3 PM and was told to be there at 5:30.  I expected immediate treatment, but sat in the waiting room until 9:30, filled with folks, young and old with the flu and the very nasty Norovirus.   I know that is where both Bill and I picked up this bug that has had both of us in bed for days.

While Bill is feeling much better and has slipped out for groceries, he still finds a need to take care of himself and not overdo. I was told of someone who had this bug for 3 weeks, because he went back out into the world too early and got sick again. I was told I’d be welcome at the retreat even a few days late, but though I am feeling somewhat better, I’ll take no chances and just stay put for the next few days. The retreat is over on Wednesday. No way am I going to make it.

For me it’s been five days of misery, yet despite my fight with a fever, a constant barking cough, a burning sore throat, and extreme dizziness, my head has been filled to the brim with writing ideas.  On Saturday, I decided to put two nonfiction books aside that I’ve been reading. The first was, Dreamland: The true Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, by Sam Quinones, which is hard enough to read when you’re feeling well. I’m not at all sure that I will ever finish it. It’s just too damned depressing. The second one that I truly love and will absolutely finish is, The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World, by Nancy Collier. Who needs nonfiction when you can’t stand up straight, walk across a room without weaving back and forth like a drunk, and can’t breathe?

Both of those books are about addiction and though I don’t and never will take opiates, being addicted to the internet and the iPhone is something I admit to and resonate with.  You’ll hear more about this in future posts. I find America’s addiction to all things technical an alarming addiction and a difficult one to break.

After putting those two books aside, I picked up Christina Baker Kline’s, new novel, A Piece Of The World. I loved her book, Orphan Train, and heard her talk at the Virginia Festival of the Book just a few short weeks ago. Her use of language, descriptive passages, and narrative based on hours of research into Andrew Wyeth’s relationship with Christina Olson, the woman in his most admired painting, Christina’s World is phenomenal. I’ve only just begun this book and my eyes get tired easily, so I read for short stretches. But her beautiful words tumble through my mind as I cat nap between putting the book down and picking it up again.

Yesterday, feeling better than I have in a few days, but still a bit fuzzy headed, I picked up, Natasha Trethewey’s book of poems, Native Guard. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2007. I heard her talk about her work and poetry at a journaling conference I attended last May. The child of a racially mixed marriage, her poems “confront the racial legacy of her native Deep South.” Like Kline’s words, Trethewey’s verse is beautifully written, phenomenally descriptive of both place and emotion, leaving no doubt as to where you are and exactly what is happening.

With those two books tucked under the covers with me, I became inspired. It was the first time in a long while that I felt that I absolutely had to write something right then and there,  as often happens when I read the words of exquisite writers, like these to women.

And realizing that April is National Poetry Month, I got it in my head to write a poem a day for the rest of the month. I missed April Fool’s day, because I was so sick, but maybe I can write two poems another day to make up for missing the first day of this new month. I immediately wrote the following poem.

Abed With The Flu

Four days in my sick bed
I sleep and read the time away
Sun wakes  falls asleep again
The half-moon lends light to the dark
Fever comes and goes
First I’m cold then sweaty
The world stumbles along
Outside my door

My cough sounding dog-like
Brings flem to the surface
Encouraging my own song
Like these words
Stories I will tell again another day


Have you ever had the urge to write when you were sick or otherwise engaged?


  1. Joan — Sicker than sick and you still wrote. Amazing. Utterly amazing!

    • Thanks Laurie! I’ve always believed that writing is healing and today I feel much better that I have in a week. 🙂 Checked in with my Doc today and she said I’m doing great. Should be back to normal by the weekend!

  2. Amazingly, your sick body can create superior poetry. I’m not good at poetry even as a well person.

    My theory about being sick: the body gets a chance to reboot which leads to renewal. You are an awesome woman, Joan. Here’s to good health –

  3. Francine Brady says:

    While there are a lot of pesky viruses going around I would advises to get a flu shot.
    There was a time when influenza meant death. The virus dose mutate and you may still get it,
    but the illness will not be as virulent,

    • Thanks, Francine. The reason I don’t get flu shots is because when I have gotten them, I get the flu. The years when I don’t get a shot, I don’t get the flu. This year is an exception. I don’t think I’m going to get one next year. My immune system is all juiced now and I’m feeling great again.

      • Francine Brady says:

        Yes, everyone has a story. Mine is the opposite..never got the flu when I had the shot.
        The one time I took a chance, I was sick for 6 months.
        Glad you are feeling great again.

  4. Such creativity in the midst of the flu, Joan! I have to admit, I get a lot of reading and writing done when I’m housebound by illness. Hope you feel better soon!

    • Thanks Kathy, I’m pretty much back to normal today. I did a lot of sleeping the first couple if days and think that’s a huge help. I spent time outdoors in the garden today. It was wonderful.

  5. Joan, this post reminds me of how nourishing writing can be — even at the most unexpected times. I’m recovering from a bout of something myself right now, and today the writing is really calling to me. I think I will answer. 🙂 Wishing you a speedy recovery!

  6. Isn’t it amazing how we’re called to write at the strangest times? I love it. Hope you write, write, and write some more!! And feel better soon, too!