This holiday season, I’ve done everything differently. Due to a nasty respiratory infection that has been terrorizing my lungs and sinuses for nearly a month, our family’s time-honored Christmas traditions have been replaced with alternative holiday rituals.

Normally, I would fill bowls with festive red and green M&Ms and place them throughout the house, enticing our family members with this special holiday treat. Instead, I’ve adorned our house with sticky bottles of cherry flavored Robitussin DM and Kleenex tissues sopping with verdant snot. In lieu of singing Christmas carols, I’ve been uttering deep, raspy vocalizations that would give “Exorcist" demon Pazuzu a run for his money.

Rather that put on my grandmother’s red beaded necklace for a pop of holiday color, I’m wearing two deep circles around my eyes so dark, I look like I was hit by an Amazon delivery truck. Instead of hitting the stores for Christmas presents lovingly picked for loved ones, I’ve done all my shopping slumped over a laptop, ordering thoughtless gift cards with messages that say “Merry Christmas!” but really mean “Go out and buy your own damned gift this year, sucker.”

In lieu of watching my favorite Christmas movies while I trim a freshly cut tree, I dragged a fake tree from the basement and plugged it in before collapsing onto the couch, where I fell asleep with my mouth open while watching a crime documentary about serial killers. I would have plugged in one of my vintage ceramic Christmas trees to light up my bedroom, but this year the outlet beside my bed supplies electricity to a cool mist humidifier intended to liquify mucus. Rather than dreaming of dancing sugar plums, I’ve been sleeping with my head elevated to facilitate sinus drainage, waking periodically when my lungs seize up with a sudden coughing jag.

Instead of ringing Christmas bells, I’m ringing up the Naval Health Clinic at 7:30 a.m. to beg for a follow-up appointment with my PCM because I still feel like crap after a full course of Prednisone. Instead of writing holiday cards for friends and family far and wide, I’m using my pen to complete sudoku puzzles while I wait in the base pharmacy for my prescriptions to be filled. Rather than nibbling nostalgic Christmas cookies, I’ve been trying to choke down Augmentin horse pills needed to kill the bacteria that conveniently infected my sinuses two weeks after a respiratory virus invaded my lungs.

Instead of celebrating Christmas like I always have with my family and our annual traditions, I’ve been too sick and tired to deal with it all.

The only comfort in this most unfortunate holiday has been that I am not alone. Misery loves company as they say, and this holiday season, many people have been miserably sick like me. Hospitals all over the United States have been swamped with patients complaining of respiratory symptoms of coronavirus, flu virus, or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). In early December, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warned us to mask up again, not necessarily for COVID-19, but to guard against a possible “tripledemic” surge of the three viruses, which could overwhelm our understaffed healthcare system.

The CDC also urged the public to get flu shots, get the latest COVID booster, wash hands, social distance, take rapid tests, yadda, yadda, yadda. Ironically, experts link this year’s explosion in flu and RSV cases to people’s vulnerable immune systems after two years of masking and minimizing exposure to viruses.

I was signed up to get my flu shot and COVID bivalent booster on December 5th at my local military health clinic. However, our clinic’s COVID policy wouldn’t permit anyone in the facility with cough, runny nose or fever, so I had to cancel my immunizations despite the fact that I’d tested negative for COVID.

So let me get this straight … I can’t get boosted for COVID because I have RSV symptoms, and I have RSV symptoms because I’ve been protecting myself from COVID?

Just like the holidays, I’m too sick and tired to sort it all out. Instead, I’ll wish you all a Mucusy Crustmas … er, I mean, a Merry Christmas!

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