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Write On, Colorado

When I got the flu in 1968, I had no idea how deadly it was. Maybe that was good.

Colorado authors, thinkers and readers share their thoughts on living through historic times as the state fights the progress of coronavirus

It was over Thanksgiving break. I was a college student at Brandeis University. Most students had gone home. The dorm was open but mostly empty. There were only a few students left. My roommate was gone. She went back to California. I believe that a few people were still around, down the hall. 

I got sick with the flu. I was too stupid to know this was potentially dangerous. It was only decades later that I discovered that the flu of 1968 was dangerous; that thousands had died from it.

What I remember was fever-flashing. This lasted maybe three days.  The fever would be so high, you would have vivid dreams or day dreams. Infused with bright colors. I do not think I was actually asleep so it couldn’t have been dreams. I remember lying on the floor – maybe to cool down, the air is cooler on the floor. And not being terribly worried. 

Probably I was having a touch of delirium. This is what you call it, when the fever is so high you start hallucinating. It wasn’t unpleasant. During the Age of Aquarius, we kinda welcomed hallucinations. Although they were usually courtesy of LSD. 

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Just for the record, I did not do LSD. Nor much in the way of marijuana. I was a timid young person, from the distant kingdom of Cleveland, Ohio. Not sophisticated like the kids from New York. 

This was before personal computers. One did not have access to a wealth of stray news or information. I did not know the flu was going around. As far as I knew, I was the only case. This was also before there were flu vaccines. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

This episode may have been beneficial, it turns out. Those of us who caught the 1968 flu and survived have an extra layer of immunity. Somehow, it conferred enhanced immunity to the Swine Flu epidemic of 2009. Those of us in our 50s or 60s, who had already gone through the 1968 epidemic, were less likely to get sick with it. 

I am not sure what lesson this holds for the young people during this current pandemic. I do remember feeling invincible in my late teens and into my twenties. The idea of being seriously ill never crossed my mind. I believe I was too febrile during the above-described illness to get too worried.  Although, in my life since then, I have heard of young people dying of complications from the flu. 

There was a young medical student in Kentucky….she got badly dehydrated, in an apartment by herself, and died. But the risk of death was way beyond my understanding when I was 18 or 19.  In a way, I was enclosed in a bubble of self-absorption. 

Maybe it is just as well that the young people are too naïve to worry — as long as they are constrained enough by social strictures to protect themselves.  For the health of their parents and grandparents, if not for themselves.


Janet Tamaren lives in Denver.