A fever pitch designed to throw you for a curve


A suggestion to those who have recently taken early retirement: get sick.

Please hear me out even if you have an infected ear. Rankman recently welcomed in the flu and has never enjoyed more having his body savaged by viral invaders.  We’re talking the kind of ill where combing your hair hurts and walking up the stairs for bed requires rest stops at three base camps.

(This blog, it should be noted, is brought to you by the makers of Nyquil, the cold medicine that promises to knock your ass out.)

The fun part was not having to give a damn about anything except getting better and doing the common sense things you’re supposed to do: rest, drink liquids, watch 10 straight episodes of House Hunters International,  hallucinate, read the back of a  Cheerios box, relive game-winning homer in Little League.

The notion of resting comfortably rarely occurred during a 35-year career in print journalism, where the paper came out every day with, or without, a doctor’s note.

Last  week as I lay dying, almost certain to recover, I felt for all the sick people dragging themselves out of bed at 6 a.m. in San Bernardino and coughing their way to Los Angeles down the 10 freeway.

The dumbest thing I NEVER did in three-and-a-half decades at the L.A. Times was call in sick. What the hell was I thinking? In the early days it must have been the macho, competitive sportswriter  in me. It may have been career fear: if I called in sick the bosses might assign someone else to cover the Bolsa Grande JV football game! A  bigger factor later was being allowed to cash unused sick days at the end of the year (a policy that ended way too soon).

Not calling in sick became my personal Cal Ripken longevity streak, lacking only a standing ovation in every city and ESPN panel-discussion worship. The more I started working from home  the easier it became because, let’s face it, writing with a 100-degree temperature in your pajamas is easier than breaking rocks with a jackhammer.

The truth is no one, other than me, cared about The Streak. My indomitable fortitude never showed up in an annual performance review. Not once overheard was anyone saying, “wow, Dufresne is closing in on Bob Snibbe’s record for consecutive healthy days at the company.”

In retrospect, I probably should have called in sick for cancer in 2008 when I was diagnosed with melanoma just before the start of the college football season. That required significant surgery and the removal of lymph nodes but never, in the course of human endeavors, was it going to ruin the middle of my daily countdown of top 25 teams.

The night before mid-August surgery, scared shirtless, I pounded out enough team advances to buy me a couple days until I could move my arms again.

Could someone else have done those advance previews? Um, yeah. But, you know, I had THE STREAK to consider. It also, admittedly, kept my mind occupied from thinking about melanoma’s worst-case scenario.

I also found it untenable to call in sick while on assignment for a company while a million papers awaited my words, even though there was a reliable alternative available who answered to the nickname “AP.”

When you spend more than two years of your career on the road–trust me–illness becomes part of your toiletry bag.

Two years ago,  I woke up in a sweat following  a terrible nightmare in which I had contracted viral pneumonia in a half-constructed hotel where all the house maids spoke Russian. The only way down the mountain-top  was via chairlift and the closest doctor you would trust was 40 miles as the raven flies.

Except this was no dream: it was true. I was sicker than a Bolshevik Retriever, on top of old Gorky, covering Alpine skiing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. This was the closest I’ve come to calling off The Streak since contracting strep throat in the Japanese Alps during the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Russia nearly did me in and it took all the strength I could muster to resist surrendering to The Vlad Putin Center for the Internationally Screwed Over. The cruelest part was learning the antibiotics I had smuggled past the blood hounds to prevent this kind of sickness were worthless against my viral menace.

Survival required drinking more tea than the Dalai Lama.

Anyhow, these are now rear-view medical nuances. The Streak survived food poisoning at the Kansas City Airport Marriott, sinus woes leading to surgery and losing a front tooth before the 2006 Turin Olympics. It persevered through ruptured ankle ligaments at the Alabama-Notre Dame title game of 2012 and a viral thyroid infection in advance of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Getting sick last week, by comparison, was a weekend getaway to Laguna Beach.

I must confess being incapacitated never felt so liberating.

I urge the newly retired to accept your first pensioned head cold with a stiff, slobbery, upper lip. Don’t tell people it’s allergies caused by the pollen of an elm tree.

I don’t want to make getting sick a popular thing, but it really could get contagious.



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