The Irish Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Dear diary, I've got swine flu
Kieran Garry in Fitzwilliam Square still recovering from swine flu.
Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
A. “It causes mild to moderate flu illness, and most people are able to get better at home after about a week.”
B. “Aches and pains – often severe, extreme exhaustion, fatigue, weakness can be prolonged for a number of weeks.”
BOTH A and B come from the HSE swine flu website and they appear to be describing two very different infections. That’s the first thing that strikes you about the illness, there’s very little clarity as to whether you have it or not. This is largely how it played out in our house.
Tuesday, Oct 27th: Most of the family are under the weather. The two-year-old girl and three-year-old boy have runny noses and lack energy. The parents are complaining about aches and pains, headaches, chesty coughs and low energy levels. Just another Irish household in October then.
Friday, Oct 30th: Symptoms persist. I feel worse and visit my GP. As always the doctor is understanding. “Clearly you are run down and suffering from a cold, it might be a flu. But I don’t think you have swine flu, because that is like being run over by a bus. It just levels you. And you are still functioning.” By 8pm I’m getting cold chills and I’m in bed by nine.
Saturday, Oct 31st, 2.30am: That bus arrives. Wake up with a fever to a cacophony of coughing and crying. I can hardly move off the bed. It’s clear that the family – with the miraculous exception of the teenager – has been struck low. The kids end up in our bed and are dosed with Calpol and Nurofen.
I exit stage left to spare room. Between the severe headache, fever and all-over aches and pains, it takes 20 minutes to get the energy together to get off the bed and get painkillers.
In the other room the kids continue crying and coughing until 4.30am. They awake again at 7.30am. It is clear that while they are sick they are not as badly affected as their parents. So maybe they have swine flu “A”.
Unfortunately, the parents have “B” and naturally the man is the worst affected. From a child-minding viewpoint, it is really fortunate that my wife’s symptoms don’t seem to be as severe as mine. By 11am the three year old is back in bed asleep beside me, the two year old is collapsed on the couch downstairs.
We all wake up in the middle of the afternoon. My wife and the boy head to East Doc in St Vincent’s Hospital that evening because we’re concerned about the severity of his cough.
The doctor diagnoses swine flu all round – swab testing has been dispensed with at this stage because of the numbers presenting at surgeries – based on our symptoms, soaring temperatures, etc.
We explain to the kids that they won’t be embarking on their maiden trick-or-treat adventure with the neighbours. We also explain that the neighbours probably won’t be coming trick-or-treating to us either!
Sunday, Nov 1st: A relatively decent night’s sleep would suggest a general health improvement the following day. Forget it. I feel worse and only want to sleep.
Monday, Nov 2nd: Groundhog Day. See Sunday. Wife phones the creche to let them know we have the “bug”.
Not surprisingly and as per HSE guidelines they don’t want to see the kids for seven days. I describe my symptoms on the phone to my doctor who says it’s clear we have it and we should stay at home for the rest of the week and then review the situation.
Tuesday, Nov 3rd: I flick onto the relevant HSE website to check the list of symptoms.
Sudden onset of symptoms;
High fever – temperature over 38ºC/100.4ºF;
Aches and pains – often severe;
Fatigue, weakness can be prolonged for a number of weeks;
Extreme exhaustion – early and prominent;
Runny nose, sneezing, sore throat – common;
Cough – common,
can be severe;
They should also add in night sweats and delirium. Yes, this is a bug which also tests the limits of your night wear collection! By the end of the day we have ticked all the boxes except vomiting.
Wednesday, Nov 4th: Day five in the Big Fever House, and cabin fever becomes more of an issue. It has to be said the wife has done a sterling job keeping the kids on track, entertaining them, buying DVDs, etc as well as caring for the patient in chief – me.
As energy levels slowly return we can look after kids in shifts, one person sitting up with them, while the other has a lie down. The kids have definitely overshot acceptable TV-exposure norms. At this stage I can do passable impersonations of Norman Price and Station Officer Steele – Fireman Sam aficionados will know where I am coming from.
The three year old gets dressed for the first time in days, and quite reasonably asks “where are we going?” He takes the “nowhere” on the chin, bless his little heart.
Thursday, Nov 5th: We are beginning to feel a little better at this stage, but energy levels are still very low. The biggest exertion goes on spraying everything that moves with anti-bacterial spray, keeping the kids amused, and sourcing the most passable handy meal available for the teenager. Dinner is not an option for the rest of us.
Friday, Nov 6th: Okay that’s a week. Time to get out of the house. After a 20-minute drive to a bitterly cold, windy and rain-swept Dún Laoghaire “to see the boats” I venture forth for some sea air for about five minutes. The kids wake up just as we are leaving for home. Still they get to see the world from the window of the car.
Saturday, Nov 7th: Another uneventful day, the only useful thing we achieve is sorting the kids’ passports. The three year old thanks us for bringing him to Dundrum Garda station. What a trooper!
Sunday, Nov 8th: Kids are better and are brought off to the park to meet other kids.
This is a nasty bug; And a very serious one for anyone with an underlying health condition or who is pregnant. My doctor said the symptoms I described to him were quite typical. I was surprised by the force of it and would say I am still in recovery mode.
The fact that most of the family got it together definitely exacerbated matters, and we will definitely get the vaccine once it becomes available. Apparently, having had it once is no guarantee against getting it again.
Kieran Garry is a media and communications consultant with Gordon MRM
Swine flu – survival steps
50/50 – Do I/ Don’t I have it: If you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus and you’re stuck to the bed with the array of symptoms listed on the HSE website, you probably have it. Stay at home. Not a bad idea to talk to your doctor on the phone for reassurance/ guidance. If anyone persists in asking you if you are sure you “really” have it, cough in their direction!
Ask the audience? Maybe not. You don’t need an audience with anyone and they definitely don’t want an audience with you. Rely on kindly types to drop in soups, shepherd’s pie, cooked chicken, etc from about Day Four on. Don’t be offended if they don’t stay for a cup of tea. You haven’t got the energy to talk to them anyway.
Phone/ find a friend Okay they don’t want to visit you, but they can offer moral support. They can also deliver that series of The Wire you haven’t seen, or any sports DVDs, PS games, CDs, etc. A good stream of DVDs is a big help with the kids and if they are not ill, they might even whisk them away for a couple of hours. But this is very dependent on the selflessness of the friend/relative.
Think Jackpot: There is an end in sight, and remember there are lots of people out there much sicker than you. Think positive. Every day you don’t eat you are losing weight. By the end of the week you will be able to get into that suit/dress you haven’t been able to wear since your cousin’s wedding in June ’07. Better still, fantasise about wearing it somewhere warm, sunny and illness free.