I have a terrible revelation to make. It’s not one I make lightly — I am quite aware of the responsibilities I bear in shattering the cherished preconceptions of the Australian public and turning everyone’s world upside down. It’s not that I want to shake your inner snowglobe and send your moral compass whirling wildly out of control till you lie sobbing in the gutter of uncertainty, but as a professional journalist I feel my higher duty is to the cause of Truth, and I must tell that truth no matter what the costs.
So sit down with a stiff drink and brace yourself, because what I am about to write may crush you. Here it is:
I’ll give you some time to absorb that. I know it comes as a blow. I was like you. I assumed that politicians were good-hearted folk placing themselves entirely at our service, eager to always keep us completely informed as to what was going on in the halls of power and committed to utter transparency, with any slip-ups attributable only to their natural stupidity and incompetence. How did I become disabused of this notion?
Remember when swine flu first came to these shores? Remember our political leaders, in soothing tones, assuring us that this was a "relatively mild" strain and there was no need to panic? I swallowed this outrageous falsehood like everyone else, seduced by the calm serenity of government and the seductive toss of Nicola Roxon’s flaxen hair.
Until last week, when I got swine flu.
Let me tell you something about swine flu. It is "relatively mild" when compared to, say, the killing fields of Cambodia. It is "relatively mild" compared to a child pornography ring. It is "relatively mild" compared to a Michael Bay marathon. But compared to any other normal illness, it is not "relatively mild". It is a mighty fusion bomb of disease that lays waste to your body, your mind, and any vain hopes you might have harboured for a happy and productive life. While a week ago I was an ambitious young go-getter making my way in the world with dreams of fame and fortune in the lucrative field of making jokes about Bob Brown, today I am a shivering wreck huddling under a blanket with dreams of shooting myself in the face. Sadly, these dreams will never come to be, as I lack the energy to pull a trigger.
It starts so innocently. A sniffle. A sore throat. "Hmm," you think to yourself, "I may be coming down with something." And then, out of nowhere, BANG — suddenly cannons are going off in your skull, knives are thrusting rhythmically in and out of your eyeballs, your legs are apparently devoid of what is technically referred to by doctors as "bones", and — and this is the strangest thing of all — your hair hurts.
I didn’t understand that. I could accept the headaches, and the rubbery legs, and the nagging nausea, and the suicidal dreams, but my hair? Surely this should be off-limits, and it serves to illustrate one very important point: swine flu has no decency.
Naturally, I went to the doctor, who treated me in a disgustingly cavalier way, not so much as broaching the subject of euthanasia. The prospect of Tamiflu was raised, but he made ominous mention of "the expense", and I realised that I could not in good conscience spend up big on long-shot "cures", when my money would be more prudently invested in securing my family’s future once I was gone. And so I staggered home, without a remedy.
Panadol, of course, was recommended. Ha! Panadol! Panadol isn’t a drug; it’s a low-calorie alternative to eating chalk. What is "paracetamol", anyway? After the past week, I have come to the conclusion that paracetamol does not, in fact, exist, and Panadol is actually constituted from the ground-up bones of people who died waiting for the Panadol to kick in.
Of course, in the state I was in, I didn’t take ordinary Panadol; I took "Panadol Rapid", so that I could become aware even faster of how much pain I was still in. When will the Government come to its senses and legalise the use of hard narcotics for people with the flu? I know there have to be controls — you can’t let the poor have drugs — but as long as you can prove that you are genuinely ill, and that you genuinely want to take some hard drugs, I don’t see what harm it would do handing out some therapeutic heroin to flu sufferers. They hand out money to single mothers, and they’re not even sick — just immoral.
It is with such idle thoughts that I have been whiling away the hours. The terrible thing about an illness like swine flu is the toll it takes on your capacity to work. At first I determined to "soldier on", until I read this article by Tracee Hutchison, which advised me that "soldiering on" was a terrible idea, so I rang work and told them I would be off until Christmas, and curled back up under my blanket to shiver and sweat and watch Are You Being Served and periodically scream in pain.
I tried to write, but the satire glands are the first to go when you’re "riding the bacon", as we in the swine flu world call it. For one thing, it’s so hard to keep up with the news. Every time I picked up a newspaper, I seemed to see nothing but the word "Masterchef" swimming before my eyes, until I collapsed to the floor. Admittedly, this was also true before I got sick, but there was a lot less mucus.
For several days, in my fevered state of mind, I conceptualised a 3000-word essay revolving entirely around amusing misunderstandings of the name "Stern Hu", but this turned out to be a dead end when I looked over what I had written and found it was all in Chinese.
Because swine flu is not like other, less debilitating sicknesses — like gastroenteritis or lupus or legionnaires disease. Swine flu messes with your mind. The delirium is insidious, but total. One minute you’re blowing your nose, the next you’re speaking in tongues and joining the Nationals. It is possible that Barnaby Joyce has been suffering from swine flu for the last 20 years of his life.
So there you go. Swine flu is nothing but unremitting pain and misery and terrible TV that you can’t turn off because the remote is more than eight centimetres away from your barely twitching fingers. Now I know why pigs seem so content lining up to have their throats slit. They know it’s really for the best. I curse my parents for not doing the same to me when they had the chance.
But the most important thing to remember is, don’t listen to the politicians when they tell you things aren’t so bad. Whatever the issue — swine flu, climate change, Simon Crean — if they tell you it’s going to be OK, start panicking. NOW.
Because a politician’s reassurances are like the opening number of a rock eisteddfod — just a sign that before long, you will be praying for the sweet embrace of death.
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