The Olympics are making us sick

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US fans pose at the Olympics. Photo by Gemma Dempsey

It started with a headache last week. I should have gone to sleep early, but I stayed up watching NBC’s prime-time coverage of the Olympics. While I was lying in bed struggling to keep my eyes open, drugged on NyQuil, I watched Mckayla Maroney perform a near-perfect Amanar and was introduced to Ryan Lochte, which led to a series of Google searches and ultimately this video. The guy likes shoes.

Then came the chills and the 101 fever and I called in sick. I learned about slalom canoeing, imagining the strength it takes to heave your boat back up river and through the red gates. I took a nap. At 8:00 pm, in a haze, I overcame the aches and tired limbs and reached for the remote control.

The next day I was back at work. The fever was gone, I wasn’t contagious, but as the day dragged on so did the symptoms – a swollen throat, another headache. I took Advil. That night Michael Phelps swam his last individual race. My head throbbed.

Saturday, a dry cough, more sleeping.

Sunday, a thick fog. In beach volleyball, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings pummeled the Italians, playing flawlessly. The younger of the Italian duo, Marta Menegatti started crying. She reportedly idolizes May-Treanor. (“She’s a young player, and she’ll learn” to control her emotions, May-Treanor said. “She has no reason to hold her head down whatsoever.”) The night got late with NBC saving the best stuff for last. The commercials became hazy, I think a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich started dating a smoothie.

Finally, a visit to the doctor. “Usually it starts with chills and a fever,” he said. I nodded. He asked if I had been working too hard or if I had been skimping on my sleep. Maybe staying up too late watching the Olympics? Yeah, maybe. He told me there’s a spike in illness during the Olympics and that I had the flu.

For some it’s the experience of a lifetime, a chance to be a hero. For me, it’s been almost ten straight days of late nights and achy joints. The doctor said the best way to get over it quickly is to get lots of rest and drink lots of liquids. But last night was the women’s beach volleyball finals. The American women’s teams played each other. They’re all from California. They are so awesomely athletic. They jump in the sand! May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings even saw a shrink to work out their issues. They’re just like us!

You can’t get a virus from watching too much TV. But while I watched Michael Phelps win more golds than God, and cheered for athletes I didn’t even know existed, and vowed to go to the gym at least twice a week, I should have been sleeping and drinking more liquids.

I’m not alone. The Wall Street Journal reported on a new survey showing that the “Chinese are the world’s most likely citizens to call in sick to watch a sporting event, with 54% of Chinese employees surveyed confessing that they’ve ditched work for having stayed up too late watching or attending an athletic event.” In the US it’s a mere 7 percent.

Thank goodness the closing ceremonies are this weekend. I’m running out of cold medicine.