Apparently a shingles epidemic has hit town, as Karen relays the gory details of those struck down with this horrible illness Andy starts to fidget, “I’ve been feeling a bit off all week” he says, Karen asks if he has a rash and promptly dashes upstairs to check.
This isn’t an unusual occurrence in our house. Emotional contagion syndrome refers to those who are compelled to mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another. Folie à deux (a madness shared by two) or shared psychotic disorder is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another. But I’m not quite sure what the correct name is for believing that you have the same illness as everyone you come into contact with. In our house I call it Extreme Man Flu, although I believe Andy would rather it had a title with syndrome on the end.
It would take me weeks to document my husband’s many cases of Extreme Man Flu (syndrome). I once came back from a visit to the ladies in a restaurant to find him, trousers rolled up, comparing knees with the man at the next table. “Look at the lumps” they cried. His wife and I rolled our eyes “they are meant to be lumpy they’re knees” we replied. This was in the same week that he had been to the doctors to see if he had MS/ME and was too embarrassed to tell the doctor that after banging his head on the car door he believed that his ear was becoming detached from his head.
When planning for a holiday I have a six month check list that includes, book flights, organise travel insurance, research locations, transport and accommodation. Andy’s six month check list is research local beers and read the “Health” section of the relevant Lonely Planet travel guide. At the one month checklist point I am applying for visas, buying suntan lotion (or thermal vests) and searching for last year’s mosquito net (or woolly hats). Andy’s one month checklist is re-read the “Health” section of the Lonely Planet. Once on holiday he will obsessively check for mosquito bites and as soon as the first one appears he will be struck with most of the symptoms associated with all of the diseases in the previously read Lonely Planet chapter. I find it best to tell him that he has Japanese Encephalitis. It has a fairly short gestation period, there is no treatment and it’s usually fatal. So there’s no point in talking about it we might as well get on and enjoy his last 48 hours.
And therein lies the problem of being sufferer of Extreme Man Flu in our house. It’s me. I just can’t be sympathetic. I blame my parents. I have so little to blame on my parents they were on the whole pretty perfect. Which is a terrible blight in life; it means any faults or idiosyncrasies that I have are absolutely mine and mine alone, so it’s quite nice for something to be their fault for a change. I don’t remember either of them ever having a day’s illness until my Mum broke her hip and as children we were never allowed to be ill. Any gripes were caused by late nights, as we got older late nights & tight jeans, and everything was cured by early nights and/or Febrilex syrup, which I assume was some kind of Paracetamol concoction. Many times as I was throwing up in the school nurses office she would ask “why did you come to school today?” the answer was always the same, my Mum said I’d be fine. If we were sent home from school, there was no lying on the settee watching TV (I’m not sure that daytime TV had even been invented) or being nursed with hot chicken soup and sympathy. You went to bed and laid in a dark room until you were better, every hour you had a teaspoon full of wa
ter to stop you from getting de-hydrated.
My lack of illness empathy extends further than to my husband. I remember clearly telling a friend about a mutual friend who was a real hypochondriac. “There is always something wrong with her” I said “In the last 6 months, she has broken the same finger twice, had hay fever, an allergic reaction to her hay fever drugs, and loads of migraines. “That’s not called hypochondria” he told me. “That’s called bad luck”
Man flu is no joke – especially if you are a woman expected to provide constant sympathy & saintly nursing. I do not doubt that Man Flu and especially Extreme Man Flu syndrome are very real and very unpleasant. However a recent study by menthol lozenges manufacturer Fisherman’s Friend found “Man flu’s a fairly recent phenomenon that has emerged alongside the ‘metrosexual male’,” the study points out that “Men were real men when Fisherman’s Friend lozenges were first created in 1865 to help relieve extreme conditions on voyages. Those sailors wouldn’t have got their wives to call their captains to excuse them from their voyages just because they were a bit out of sorts.” However another article reports the” irrefutable scientific fact” that Man Flu is more painful than childbirth - based on a survey of over 100,000 men! A recent article in the Telegraph stated “according to a study, the fairer sex should not be so quick to accuse their partners of suffering from Man Flu, because women are far better at resisting bugs.” I just take that as further proof that we are far better at everything - except maybe wrestling.
A bout of Man Flu can often be diagnosed when he cannot give you a concise breakdown of his symptoms ‘it hurts everywhere’ or when you find him poring over an A-Z guide to health problems or trawling medical sites on the internet, with a resulting rise in the number and severity of his symptoms.
But mostly it will do you well to remember that this is a competitive ailment, so if you point out you suffered from the same thing but struggled through and recovered expect the response “Oh, but this is much worse.”
The Man Flu official web site (I kid you not) describes the condition as “a crippling and debilitating disorder indiscriminately striking down male members of the human species without warning.” It goes on to say that “Extensive research has proven that the only way to combat the crippling effects of Man Flu is complete withdrawal to the sofa and uninterrupted mollycoddling by the girlfriend / wife.” Bearing this in mind, I think that my husband’s only hope at combatting Man Flu is to get himself a girlfriend. Another “scientific fact” I read somewhere is that “More men die each year from MFN (Man-Flu Neglect) than many other serious conditions.” Once again it’s not looking good for Andy.
Maybe I need to turn over a new leaf. Andy this morning met a man with his leg in plaster and already I can see that he is starting to limp. Right. The new improved me is on the case. Where did I put that Febrilex syrup?