Warning: The following article is quite personal and a bit rambly, but it does end with some pretty good flu quotes and historical information on Influenza. I am writing it out mainly to process this week, and to remember what happened. If you aren’t interested in reading about me almost poisoning my daughter, or the terrifying blue lady ghost that she claims to have seen, or singing with my feverish and delirious wife or my flu experiences as a young lad…then feel free to scroll down and check out those quotes!

Two questions I’ve been asked today might give you a picture of what is going on in our household currently: “Daddy, why do I feel like I am spinning?” That was the question that Phoebe, our five year old, asked me earlier today, while she was sitting still on the couch, under her blanket.The second question was this doozy: “Daddy, would you be the one to do mom’s funeral?” That question was asked very soberly and seriously today by Kassidy, our nine year old. Here’s one more, for good measure: “Why does it hurt so much?” That question, asked deliriously by my wife, doesn’t have a good answer. The flu stinks…and it hurts…and it makes you spin, apparently.  As I am writing, Five out of Seven Thompsons are suffering with the flu.  (EDIT: SIX out of Seven Thompsons. Before I finished this article, my wife messaged me that I was “the last man standing.” Oh joy!) If there was a movie based on our lives this week, it would probably be called “The Flu,” and it would almost certainly be far too miserable to watch – the furthest thing from a 5/7 movie.

The Flu Movie – Two Thumbs DOWN

I remember getting the flu when I was a kid – fifth grade, to be exact. It was the worst I have ever felt in my entire life. My temp spiked to over 106, and my parents panicked and threw me into a cold bath, and poured bucket after bucket of ice in it. I think it nearly killed me, but apparently did bring my temperature down a little bit. I remember trying to watch Saturday morning cartoons – a huge deal when I was a kid – but I couldn’t enjoy any of them, because I was so miserable, and things just didn’t make a lot of sense. The flu is like that – it addles your brain and miserifies your body. #newwords

The flu began to visit our family late last week, though we just thought it was a fever virus at first.  Unfortunately, our first child that came down with the flu tested negative on the rapid flu test – which is fairly notorious for giving false negatives – and thus we weren’t aware we were dealing with the flu until about four days in, when others tested positive for the flu.

I believe this might be the sickest my wife has ever been; certainly close to it. She has had a fever top out near 105 three days in a row, and has been in intense pain and misery. Quite heartbreaking, actually. One night, she asked me to come sing to her at 3:00 in the morning. Now, I’m no singer, but it felt like a precious and  holy moment as we sang a few grand old hymns of the faith together. She mumbled and rested, and I sang quite off key, but I will remember singing Be Thou My Vision, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name, and other songs with her for a very long time. Earlier today, she asked me to read Scripture to her, and we read through some parts of Matthew. There is something about reading God’s Word out loud that is quite a bit different than just reading it quietly. I was struck particularly by Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, directly after Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from the path of crucifixion. Far too often, I am just like Peter- setting my mind on the things of man, rather than the things of God:

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:23 

Thus far, we’ve had two three other people (three four total…) with fevers that topped out over 105. That’s a spicy meatball!  We’ve also had all of the usual aches and pains, the coughing, sneezy, stuffy head and fever. We’ve also had a few…hallucinations(?), which have been interesting. I got in late Tuesday night from my seminary job, and was greeted by a very feverish nine year old, who was the only family member awake (at 11:15 p.m.)  She proceeded to tell me about her encounter with a glowing blue lady in our house that spoke to her. (!)  Here is her description, verbatim, of the blue ghost lady:

“She was blue and glowing, and her hair was flowing around her face. She was super realistic! She didn’t have any feet. She said something to me, but I don’t remember what she said. She had a long dress that went down to her shins. She floated and didn’t have any legs below her dress. There was nothing under the dress. Her voice was soft and silent. She had blue hair with dark blue streaks in it.” Kassidy, 9 – not a habitual liar.

Oh boy. As she told me this, she was very earnest, and not actually all that scared. I think I was probably more spooked than she was. I asked her what the blue ghost lady said to her – whether it was nice or not, and she reported that it wasn’t nice – something along the lines of, “get out.” She then offered to draw a picture of the blue lady, but I quickly told her that wouldn’t be necessary! I, of course, dismissed it as the flu-influenced imaginations (or hallucinations) of a child with the flu…but later that night, when I heard a voice of a woman talking in the living room, I wasn’t so sure.  (Don’t be too alarmed – that voice was probably just my wife deliriously talking in her sleep – she had a high fever too!) Yes, that is exactly what it was. I believe this 100% No such thing as ghosts, right?!

There are WAY TOO MANY pictures of blue lady ghosts out there for my comfort. Instead of one of those, enjoy this puppy picture!

The next night, I had a more jarring interaction with our daughter Kassidy. I got in late from work that night too, and found Kassidy to be in significant pain from a very sore throat, and suffering from a very high fever. She was miserable, and I was eager to quickly help her, which almost led to a bit of a disaster. At our house, we have a medicine board (a dry erase board on our fridge that records when and what medicine we have given to our kids.) It is supposed to help us keep up with the kid’s medications when they are sick.

Unfortunately, I missed the notation that Janet had given Kassidy a dose of Tylenol at 10pm, and I gave her another doze at 11:30pm. It was only then that I actually read the medicine board more clearly…and noticed the double dose. My blood chilled as I berated myself for being an idiot. I knew enough about medicine to know that doubling up on Tylenol is never a good idea, and I was worried that I had just poisoned my little daughter. So, I did what every wise father would do in that situation…I took my daughter into the bathroom and tried to convince her to make herself throw up!  Don’t you just hate it when you compound one mistake by making ANOTHER mistake right after it? It was a comedy of errors, for certain. She tried, and tried to throw up, while I urged her on, but she was probably too afraid to make it happen, and my level of concern probably wasn’t helping things. It also didn’t help, I don’t think, when I tried to demonstrate to her how to make yourself throw up. Her eyes got as big as saucers when I was showing her – and gagging. Not one of my proudest moments. Anyway…I ultimately gave up that fruitless path, and ended up calling poison control, right after telling her to pack her bags and get ready to go to the hospital. The poison control person calmly asked me a series of questions, and I gave fairly precise answers. I don’t believe I will ever forget the relief I felt when the lady said, “Everything is going to be okay, dad. You don’t have to take her to the hospital. Just don’t give her anymore Tylenol tonight. ” I almost cried tears of relief…thank God for grace!

Speaking of grace – where is God in situations like this? Why do we go through such frustrating and painful situations? That is a question that all of us ask, and one I will be wrestling with extensively in an upcoming review of The Shack (hopefully out later this week.) For now, I will give a simple, biblical and very TRUE answer: followers of Jesus go through these sorts of trials, at least in part, to mature us in the faith:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” – James 1:2-4

If you desire a deeper answer, know that you are not alone. I often wonder about why my family or myself goes through suffering. In fact, I very consistently disobey 1 Peter 4:12 (Don’t be surprised at the fiery trial you are going through…”) by being surprised at fiery trials. Fiery trials frequently catch me off guard, even though Jesus PROMISED all of His followers, “In this world, you WILL HAVE tribulation.” (John 16:33)  But, this isn’t a post on suffering (that comes later this week…) this is a post on the flu. And below, you will find a selection of quotes on the flu, from several important people.

A Selection of Interesting Quotes on Influenza: 

  1. I am very weak, but I hope the nerve poison is gone. This influenza is a vile business….I am not allowed to write much, and my head soon takes fire, and feels vast and flaming, like a prairie.” – Charles Spurgeon.  Spurgeon wrote this in a letter during the Summer of 1891, just seven months before his death. Interestingly, Spurgeon was a victim of the 1889-1890 flu pandemic, the first pandemic to occur in the modern, connected world.  Spurgeon’s description of flu as a “vile business,” is spot on, as usual. (The 1889-1890 pandemic had aftershocks in June of 1891, and even into 1892)

  2. There has to be a basis for faith; you can’t just will to have no doubts if you are not sure that what you are asking for is what God intends to do. I have had the flu all week. But I have not been able to pray for healing with undoubting faith that it will happen. The reason is that I do not know the will of God in regard to my health. It may be that he intends for me to be sick for two weeks that I might learn to rely not on myself but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9). And since I don’t know what God intends to do about my health, it is impossible to have complete confidence that he will heal me when I ask him. In such cases we must always say, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Mark 14:36).”  Here (in a 1981 sermon) a very young John Piper lays down an excellent (and biblically faithful) teaching on praying for healing. Is it ALWAYS God’s will to heal? NO! Three times in 2nd Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul asked for God to heal him, and three times, God said, “no.” Why? Because God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, and sometimes His greatest good comes to us in times of sickness and trial.

  3. But on the Thursday of the week an overpowering headache came on, and I had to hurry home on Friday, to go up to that chamber wherein, for three months, I suffered beyond measure, and was often between the jaws of death.” This is Spurgeon’s description of his bout with the flu (mentioned above) written a few months after his recovery, and a few months before his death. THREE MONTHS! Spurgeon suffered with the flu for THREE MONTHS. How utterly awful.

  4.  My brother has only just got up after an attack of ’flu, which has put us all behindhand. This is one of the worst influenza years we have had for a long time, and is in fact a battle on two fronts; one ‘wave’ of the disease coming over from Norway, and the other working north across France from the Mediterranean. Different types too, which is not making the doctor’s work any easier. In the north it is so bad that work at the port of Liverpool is held up, and they are burying people by night, as in the plague days. This does nothing to dissipate the gloom with which we, and no doubt you too, regard the prospects for 1951.”  – C.S. Lewis letter to Edward Allen in January, 1951. There was indeed a very rough flu season in 1950-51 – not quite a pandemic, but close.

  5. My dear friend, you are in peril of eternal death. While you are hesitating, life is ebbing. During the past few months, how many of our dear friends have been taken away by influenza, and other causes! This congregation has suffered from sickness, in family after family, as I never knew it suffer before. May you not be taken? I charge you, therefore, do not act as though you had plenty of time. Possibly you have not another week to live. The clock, as it ticks, seems to me to say, “Now, now, now, now, now, now;” and for some of you there is an alarm in the clock, which, when it runs down, utters this warning, “Now or never, now or never, now or never.” – Charles Spurgeon Sermon in November of 1891, just 70 days before his death. Note here that he uses a version of the “if you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?” argument for salvation.

  6. “When spiritual drought happens we do not treat it very well. A lot of you busy New Yorkers, you’re really good at working out, but as soon as a cold or a flu bug comes along, you can’t miss work, you can’t stop anything, you can’t miss any of your appointments. The next thing you know you’re in the hospital. In other words, you’re really good at the positive physical disciplines, but you’re not very good at the defensive ones.” Pastor Tim Keller, in an April 2002 sermon on the book of Psalms. His point: Sometimes it is good to slow down and rest and admit our weaknesses. If we don’t face them – face the fact that we are neither immortal nor invincible – then we might just end up in the hospital, or worse!

    Pastor Tim Keller discussing the importance of hand-washing in avoiding influenza

  7. Disputatio medica inauguralis, de catarrho epidemico vel influenza, uti vulgo appellatur, prout, in India Occidentali” – This Latin phrase, the title of an essay that apparently appeared in 1703 in a University of Edinburgh graduate thesis by J. Huggar, is the first apparent written use of “Influenza,” by an English person. Loosely translated (I’m no Latin expert…) the title reads, “The first medical disputation [or: academic thesis] on the epidemic of ‘influenza,’ the commonly used name as in the West Indies.” Most etymologies of Influenza try to make the case that the word is from the Italian word that means, “to influence,” which indicates the influence of the stars and various astrological superstitions. My research seems to indicate otherwise. Apparently the word “Influenza” springs from the Latin word, “influxio,” which denotes a meaning similar to ‘flowing,’ and seems to be derived from the ancient medical philosophy of bodily humors (think: fluids) which was the reigning medical understanding from 400 or so B.C. into the 1700s.  As evidence of this, there is a 1554 document, stored in London, in which the Italian ambassador to England calls the current sweating sickness outbreak (a possibly older name for Influenza)  an “Influsso,” which is the Italian translation of “Influxio.”

  8. Second, we hope for the new heavens and new earth. Romans 8:20–21, “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Someday the creation will no longer be plagued by earthquakes and floods and hurricanes and the threat of flu pandemics.” Pastor John Piper, 2005 sermon on Romans 15. Take heart, sufferers of the flu – when Christ returns, there will be no more flu – or any other sickness!

  9. Immediately upon leaving the camp at George’s Creek on the 14th, I was seized with violent fevers and pains in my head which continued without intermission until the 23rd following when I was relieved by General Braddock’s absolutely ordering the physicians to give me Dr. James’ Powders, one of the most excellent medicines in the world for it gave me immediate ease and removed my fevers and other complaints in four days time. [This remedy was a ferocious nostrum, which in full doses produced vomiting, sweating and diarrhea.] My illness was too violent to suffer me to ride, therefore I Was indebted to a covered wagon for some part of my transportation.” – George Washington’s journal from 1755, two decades before the Revolutionary War. According to Dr. Rudolph Marx, the sickness that Washington is writing about here was none other than Influenza!  Having done some research into Dr. James’ Powders, I can tell you that it contained antimony and was probably poisonous, despite Washington’s praise for it. (This might be why Dr. James ‘remedy’ gave one fits of vomiting, sweating and diarrhea!)Two days after this journal entry, Colonel Washington engaged the French in the Battle of Monongahela, despite being still very sick from influenza. During that battle, a disastrous loss for the British (whom Washington was serving with at the time), Washington lost his senior officer, General Braddock. Not only that, but Washington was also shot four times by musket balls (all four went through his clothing and not himself!) and had two horses shot out from under him. After the battle, he wrote one of his half-brothers,  “I am not able were I ever so willing, to meet you in town for I assure you that it is with some difficulty and much fatigue that I visit my plantations in the Neck; so much has a sickness of five weeks duration reduced me.” Yes – heroic Washington was laid low by the flu for FIVE WEEKS!

    Death of General Braddock, with Washington (suffering from the flu) nearby

  10. Then, of course, there are great infections that come—a wave of influenza, fevers, things that kill people by the thousand. Corresponding things come also in the married life—trials, troubles, tribulations, which are going to test the marriage to the very limit.What do we do about these? Once more, what do you do with your body when you get that kind of illness, when you get that attack of influenza with a raging temperature? The answer is that you put yourself to bed, with a hot-water bottle; and you put yourself on the appropriate diet, and so on. You do everything you can to treat the fever and to help your body to resist it. ‘So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies’. If there is some peculiar, exceptional trial or anxiety or problem, something that tests your wife to the uttermost, then, I say, the husband is to go out of his way to protect his wife and to help her and aid her.”   – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, from his book, “Life in the Spirit in Marriage. Here Dr. Lloyd Jones is advocating, based on Paul’s commands in Ephesians 5, that a husband should protect and preserve his wife in the midst of trials in the same way that he protects and preserves his own body when faced with medical trials, such as influenza. Quite an interesting illustration, which hearkens back to the days when indoor heating was quite a bit rarer, and things like hot-water bottles assisted in keeping patients warm during sickness.

  11. When you have done preaching take care of your throat by never wrapping it up tightly. From personal experience I venture with some diffidence to give this piece of advice. If any of you possess delightfully warm woolen comforters, with which there may be associated the most tender remembrances of mother or sister, treasure them—treasure them in the bottom of your trunk, but do not expose them to any vulgar use by wrapping them round your necks. If any brother wants to die of influenza let him wear a warm scarf round his neck, and then one of these nights he will forget it, and catch such a cold as will last him the rest of his natural life. You seldom see a sailor wrap his neck up. No, he always keeps it bare and exposed, and has a turn-down collar, and if he has a tie at all, it is but a small one loosely tied, so that the wind can blow all round his neck. In this philosophy I am a firm believer, having never deviated from it for these fourteen years, and having before that time been frequently troubled with colds, but very seldom since. If you feel that you want something else, why, then grow your beards! A habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial. One of our brethren, now present, has for years found this of great service. He was compelled to leave England on account of the loss of his voice, but he has become as strong as Samson now that his locks are unshorn.” – Charles Spurgeon, from an 1875 lecture to seminary students. Here Spurgeon warns strongly against wearing anything – such as ties or scarves – that would be too tight on the neck. Such a constriction, promises Spurgeon, could very likely cause one to get influenza!While I doubt that Spurgeon’s testimony is fully born out by science, I nevertheless heartily agree with him, and avoid ties whenever possible. Who wants to feel like choking? Nobody! What is a better face adornment than a tie? According to Spurgeon – a beard! As  he says here, a beard is a habit most natural, scriptural, manly and beneficial. Grow those beards, guys – and avoid the flu!

    Beards are manly AND ward off the flu!