Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Taming Of The Flu, Part II - Lessons Learned

In the moments of semi-consciousness during my recent battle with Influenza (see, The Taming Of The Flu, Part I), the fragility of life became quite apparent.  Some seemingly insignificant virus had attacked my body and had attacked hard.  For the first time in my memory, I lost the battle.  My system was over-whelmed by these microscopic invaders.  

I am no longer invincible.  My presumed immortality must be questioned.  I find a different me gazing back in the mirror.  The cape is off.  The vulnerability to kryptonite has been made apparent. 

Interestingly, other than my new-found revelations, there are no outward signs of the trauma I had just experienced.  Not even a pin-prick hole where blood was drawn or where the IV that pumped four bags of life-restoring fluids had been (both holes as they missed the vein the first time).

Life.  The balance is surprisingly delicate.

Oh sure, we hear the stories all the time of people who survive tragedy and trauma: trapped coal miners; coma-wakers; natural disaster rescuees; organ-replacement recipients; heart-attack, stroke and cancer survivors; dialysis patients... In the pantheon of such, my little episode is nary a blip.  A relatively insignificant fainting spell that was subsequently and easily corrected by forcing a drink of water into my body.

How small it can also make one feel.

I hope never to forget those few frightening moments.  I want to see them as a wake-up call to change my ways.  Silly, I know... these are the things that people say after a life-and-death event.  But in those first few moments after regained semi-consciousness... those moments when I could hear all but had not the energy to respond or to even simply open my eyes... I was afraid.  Those few moments of simply not knowing what was wrong or what had happened to me were scary.

Life is fragile and temporary.  It should be treated as sacred.  Our bodies should be taken care of.  We are the caretakers of the vessels that hold our essence.  

In retrospect, I had just experienced a moment when the essence was awake, but the vessel had been felled.  If the vessel could not be repaired, I won't swear that the essence has an alternative.  I'd like to think it does.  I'd like to think it can go on without the vessel... possibly finding a future vessel to reside in.  That's where I draw my comfort in moments of true uncertainty.

Take care of yourselves.  You are all you've got.

The Taming Of The Flu, Part I - Felled By The Virus

After only ten minutes in the Urgent Care waiting room, I collapsed and began an unexpected journey over the next few hours.  Influenza is nothing to take lightly.  The cutesy name 'flu' does not begin to describe how serious this virus can be.  What had seemed to start a mere-48 hours prior, had now felled me.

I am normally sniffly and sneezy.  I've had allergies for my entire life; seven years of injections, countless prescriptions and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, herbals and dietary changes, acupuncture, acupressure, neti-pot flushes... nothing cures the constant nasal drip, congestion and throat misery (my karaoke days sadly ended three years ago).

So on Sunday night when my throat was feeling a bit more mucousy than normal, I sucked on a few cough drops during a Classical Concert.  Monday morning, I awoke at 6AM per my norm and after walking the pooch, showering and shaving, I headed in to work.

Come 11AM, I felt a bit draggy.  My head was getting foggy and all I wanted to do was go home and lay down... which I do.  Popping an Antihistamine, Guaifenesin (Mucinex), a Decongestant and Ibuprofen every four hours (for the ensuing body aches), I curl up in bed.  3AM brings not only another does of my capsule cocktail, but shivers and shakes.  I take my temp and it's only 98.0.  This IS a temperature for me as I normally run about 97.5.

Calling in sick for Tuesday, I spend the bulk of the day in bed, except for making a couple eggs and getting up for two 16 oz glasses of hot tea, leftover Pho from the night before, a can of chicken soup, a leftover breast/thigh/leg from Saturday night's chicken and a few other 16 oz glasses of water.  But I'm not making progress.  Still popping pills every four hours, my aches and pains are not subsiding, my headache is growing and I'm still feeling lousy.

Mark brings over some NyQuil/DayQuil - a combination that so many swear by.  Since the Ibuprofen I'd been taking hasn't helped the aches and pains, maybe the Acetaminophen will.  Nope.  3AM brings chills and fever again.  Still only about 98.

Wednesday starts off normally enough; coffee, a bowl of Granola, DayQuil and bed.  By 1:30 the afternoon, I'm feeling like crap and ask Mark to take me to Urgent Care.  I'm walking very slowly, I'm weak, don't feel like opening my eyes unless I have to and feel like I'm headed downhill.  After only ten minutes in the Urgent Care waiting room around 4PM, I begin to feel uncomfortable and a bit nauseous and hot.  I just want to lay down while we wait and I begin to struggle to remove a scarf and my jacket...


For the next 20 seconds or so, Mark reports that I'm grinding my teeth, my back is drenched in sweat and people are rushing around to get me into an exam room.  I remember feeling people lifting me into a wheelchair and while I'm now conscious and can hear and feel everything, I find opening my eyes unnecessary and until someone asks me a direct question, I don't offer up any information.

The IV misses the first time, but the second one takes.  I feel the fluid begin to enter my body as people are grilling Mark with questions and debating with each other about all sorts of things.  I begin to feel like an iPhone whose battery has died... when I'm hooked up to the recharging fluids, I slowly take in the power, but it takes a few minutes before I can acknowledge signs of life.  My blood pressure is taken, pulse-ox, and at some point, EMTs are summoned.

When they arrive, seven of them take over.  They change out the bag of IV fluids and begin asking me questions.  Someone listens to my chest, someone pricks my finger, assorted pads are taped onto me and leads hooked up... numbers are coming back pretty normal.  I begin to respond and open my eyes when needed.  I vaguely remember having to sign my name to some papers - god only knows what they were about.  After what feels like about 10 minutes, I'm loaded onto a gurney and transported by ambulance to the hospital ER, two or three blocks away.

In the ER, icy cold fluids are still being pumped into me, tubes of blood are drawn, nasal swab taken, EKG, X-ray, more blood pressure.  I'm now fully alert.  

I'm discharged at about 8PM with a diagnosis of dehydration due to Influenza Type A and a prescription for Tamiflu in my hand.

We all take getting sick lightly.  Sure, I could blame the Healthcare System for making it so inconvenient and so expensive to see a professional.  I could blame Employers (certainly NOT mine - they urged me to stay home!) who make you feel guilty for going home early or taking a sick day or don't provide adequate sick days.  But the blame falls on me.  'Drink plenty of fluids' is not just a platitude.  It is a medical necessity when you have a cold/flu... hell, every day.  If you are not drinking your 8-glasses a day, you may be flirting with an unexpected afternoon like I experienced.

No bueno.