Soup, Ginger Ale, Fuzzy Blanket and Mayberry on 'Sick' TV

Article excerpt

Byline: Burt Constable

When an animal gets sick, it crawls into a hole, curls up and dies - or gets better.

We humans really aren't much different. Our bodies all aching and wracked with pain, our dizzy heads packed with dense pockets of mucus and our throats scratchier than an old Run DMC mix tape, we totter into drugstores. We show our photo IDs, sign papers suggesting we aren't mules for methamphetamine labs, and cough up some cash for over-the-counter medications that might not even work.

Then we go home, crawl into a hole, curl up and feel as if we are going to die.

"The natural motivation we have when we are sick is to withdraw from the normal activities of daily life," explains Dr. Margaret E. Kemeny, director of the Health Psychology Program at the University of California, San Francisco.

"There are these proteins in the body that cause this withdrawal and disengagement from the things that normally are exciting or interesting," Kemeny says. "It's wired in, and it's a function of these inflammatory proteins."

But we don't just retreat into any old hole. Many humans carve out elaborate, "sick alter ego" identities.

We have the comfy sick clothes and fuzzy blanket we always don when we are sick. We have the familiar "throw up" container at our side just in case. We crave the same "sick food" - mine is Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup with Nabisco Premium Oyster Crackers and a glass of Canada Dry Ginger Ale. We even have our own "sick TV" - I'm partial to a prescription of "The Andy Griffith Show" reruns.

A squirrel with the stomach flu would do the same thing if it had a couch, a can opener, an appreciation for the genius of Barney Fife, and opposable thumbs to run the remote.

"Animals will seek things that are more familiar to themselves. To some extent, that may be true for humans as well," says Dr. Michael Irwin, director of The Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA. …