Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The flu in the first person

We've written at RaisingIslands.com about the H1N1 flu virus in a somewhat detached way, but now it's gotten personal.

I'm just off of what could have been- (by some symptom-reading systems—more on that later) the virus formerly known as Swine Flu.

If it is, let me just say, about that business about it being a “mild” flu? Harumph!

I felt like someone had tenderized me top to toe with a baseball bat, and overdoses of pain killers didn't do a lot of good.

I am old enough to be in that group that's statistically less likely to get it. That didn't help me.

Parenthetically, there is a level of weirdness about being infected by a bug that's a direct descendant of a bug that may have been inside a Mexican pig less than a year ago.

I've had a few flus and to be clear, this one stands out.

Actually, three things stood out.

One was pain. Body aches, headaches, skin aches, joint aches. Lot of aches, and Aleve barely made a dent.

Another was the sensation that someone on speed was messing with the temperature controls. There were fevers and chills, and chills during fevers, and sweats, and covers on and covers off, ad nauseum. That an pretty significant fatigue—didn't get out of the sack much for the first three days.

Finally there was, to put it as pleasantly as possible, significant intestinal distress.

There were not in my case—and I give thanks for this—significant nasal congestion, coughing or other upper respiratory issues. I had a mild dry cough. I had no appetite.

From what I read, and my doctor reported, you can't really tell which flu you have without a blood test, and in the middle of both flu season and the H1N1 event, there are so many people getting sick that they're not testing for it any more.

According to some sources, H1N1 has a reputation of sneaking up on you and hitting hard, although other flus will do that, too.

In my case, at 7 a.m., I was out on the ocean, paddling a canoe and feeling great. At 9 a.m. I was wondering who'd wrapped me in a blanket and pounded on me with lead pipes. It was rapid.

I managed to get in to see a doctor at the end of the day, with a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit and a fraction, and he prescribed Tamiflu, which I started taking immediately. It comes in 10-capsule packets, and you take one morning and one at night. For me, the five-day dose coincided with the worst of the symptoms.

They say Tamiflu will take a day or two off the symptoms. On day five I was feeling reasonably human, weak but okay. On day seven I was ready to go paddling in the ocean again.

During the process, I was very uncomfortable, but alert enough to read. For some reason television was far more annoying to me than normal, so I ploughed through books. My librarian wife brought me a tall stack of paperbacks, and I needed the whole stack. I was feeling ornery enough that I wouldn't put up with authors who cheated, digressed or got silly. Half the books, even by well-known authors, didn't make the cut. I gave them 20 or 30 pages, and if they started wasting my time, on to the next volume.

Saving all my patience, I suppose, for getting through the disease.

The pain lasted about three days. The severe fatigue four days, with moderate fatigue beyond that. The feverishness and/or sweats also four days. The intestinal stuff started about halfway in and then outlasted everything else.

Can I say for sure it's H1N1? No.

There's tons of credible information at the government flu site, www.flu.gov, and lots of interesting information elsewhere on the web—some of it credible and some less so.

Some resources say you can tell the difference by symptoms. Others disagree.

Some assert, for instance, that very rapid onset (bingo!) is a factor in H1N1, and that body aches and tiredness are more severe with H1N1 than seasonal flu. Most reputable sources, though, say you can't distinguish a particular case accurately by these or other symptoms, and that rapid onset isn't exclusive to H1N1.

Here's a site that argues they're pretty much the same, except that H1N1 has more respiratory/sore throat symptoms, which of course mine didn't. The federal government flu site notes that the respiratory issues only occur in a few of the cases.

The upshot, of course, is that even in laboratory-confirmed cases, the symptoms are different in different people. Because of courses, it's not just about the flu, it's also about you.

As for me, if a flu shot appears on my radar, I'm taking it. I may now be immune this particular strain of influenza, whatever it was, but I don't want to go through anything like this experience again anytime soon.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009

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