Back from Erma, flu-free

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I awoke slowly, a tiny ray of light peeking through the curtains as I tied to open my eyes. The dog was breathing in my face, his wet nose crammed into my right eyeball. My eyes hurt, but I don’t think it was from dog slobber. They felt itchy and irritated, and when I finally hauled myself out of bed and looked in the mirror, I could see they were also red. I panicked.

Uh oh. Do I have pink eye again?

I’d recently gotten back from the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton, OH, where I spent four days socializing and eating dessert before dinner. The sessions were instructional, the keynote speakers inspirational, and the message one of encouragement and embracing one’s mission. We all left feeling empowered.

And for some, nauseated.

What do you get when 350 women and 9 men check into a hotel for a weekend-long humor writing conference featuring top notch guest speakers, dessert with every meal, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

You get the flu, that’s what you get.

Prior to the conference, most of us had joined the Erma Attendees Facebook group, taking time to learn each other’s names, discuss packing lists, and admit fears about attending the premiere workshop for humorists.

After the conference? The talk was all about who caught what from whom and when.

Patient Zero clearly brought the dreaded virus with them to Ohio, because a few attendees were struck down the first night and didn’t recover until it was time to head home. A few others got sick over the weekend; as I left the hotel on Sunday morning, I saw several people who looked like they might not make it out the door.

And then as people returned home to their corners of the country, like a giant domino chain of nausea and fever, one by one others fell. Someone even started a Facebook poll to track who was sick, since so many people were posting “Me, too” in the comment sections of other people’s posts.

Me? I got lucky. My stomach was upset, but that could have been from all the cheesecake; I don’t usually have dessert at every meal. I checked my temperature every hour, just in case I was burning up and didn’t know it. Nope, no flu here. But my eyes were killing me, and I was afraid that in addition to my business cards maybe I’d also passed out pink eye. If the next discussion thread was about who caused the painful temporary blindness, all fingers would point to me.

Not how I want to be remembered.

A quick trip to the doctor proved that I didn’t have pink eye. Phew. Nothing contagious. Just dry, irritated eyes probably caused from a weekend of crying with laughter – and self discovery, as fears melted away, replaced by creative power and inspiration. And maybe some chlorine from the hotel whirlpool where I’d spent an hour soaking with friends while we skipped the last session.

While I was at the doctor, I also had him look at what I thought was a persistent blister on my toe. It took just a few seconds to diagnose my eyes and I figured as long as I had his attention I’d get my money’s worth from my copay. Turns out it wasn’t a blister, it was a wart. Eew! He froze it off, and now in addition to my itchy eyes, I had a painful toe.

Clearly none of this is in the same league as what some of my fellow attendees were dealing with. A dozen or more people were out of commission for several days, bedridden with fevers and vomiting and other not very fun mementos of the conference. At least one person ended up in the hospital. This was no laughing matter.

But as Judy Carter said in her session on The Message of You, “If no aspect of your life sucks, you have nothing to write about.”

I’d say the Erma flu victims will have enough material to last until the next workshop in 2018. My itchy eyes and painful toe? I’ve exhausted that experience in one blog post.


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