A Look Back at the Swine Flu 2009
It was just about this time last year when Julia stepped off the bus looking pale. Her eyes were shadowed by dark rims and she had no energy. I knew it was the H1N1 virus just from the look of her; I'd worried about it for weeks, had even considered the vaccine. Nature made the decision for me. Peeling off her jacket, I led her to the bedroom and watched as she lay down without direction; she was so tired and hot and not at all the little flutterbudget I was used to. I turned on some afternoon cartoons, but she fell asleep in minutes without even watching.
The next few days I watched as she went from high fever to normal and fine, then it would start all over again. It was a strange pattern, and the worst thing was the cough. Sometimes the fever would come back, but her energy had returned to its normal happy level. I tried keep her in the back room with a humidifier and a nice stream of shows or books or music for entertainment.
At some point while taking care of her, I noticed something weird happening to me. I started craving horseradish and would go eat little teaspoonfuls out of the jar in the fridge. I also noticed a strange taste in my mouth, and it wasn't from the horseradish. I thought it was some over greasy potato chips I'd been eating at lunch every day. Deciding not to eat them anymore, I ignored the taste and went on as usual. But there was something else: a strange prickly feeling in my chest. At night I'd lay in bed thinking about Julia, and be startled by this deep, pinpoint sensation, like a popping inside my lungs.
I woke up in a few days with the fever, but ignored it because moms can't get sick. I've had the flu before and took care of the kids the whole time without more than a few little naps and I would do it again. But the fever spiked so high that I lay in bed one night sweating like it was the middle of July. The next day I was fine. I even called my mom and told her I must have gotten over it quick and all was well. That night the fever came back. I ignored it and for the next few days learned to live through the flu's deceptive pattern of temperature, all the while wondering if the growing heaviness in my chest would go away.
I stopped eating. That strange taste in my mouth, the heat, the fatigue, taking care of the kids, had led me to a state of no appetite. That's where things went downhill. I woke up knowing I had lost the battle with my chest and I was scared. Add to this the fact that even though Julia had gotten better, Liam was now showing signs of being sick. The virus was all over the news, people would go in and get worse in a matter of hours. I didn't want outside family to contract it, especially my mother. I know it's stupid, but I told myself I would just have to get better and that was that. My husband was in Texas for work. He'd been there for days and would come back that night, maybe. The recession had made his office nervous and he told me I'd just have to take care of everything myself.
By evening I had already spent the whole day with a hot water bottle against my chest, but the cold inside wouldn't go away. I couldn't talk without coughing, I couldn't do anything without coughing. My chest felt like it had one inch left to take air, and that was about it. I was scared. I paced the kitchen and tried not to cry, but I felt like it, because I was so worried that I would die and I didn't want to die. I love my kids so much and I just wanted to be strong and take care of them. At the same time, I longed for someone to take care of me. I wanted to lay down in bed and know that someone else would take the weight off my shoulders for once in my life.
Around nine o'clock I made a frantic call to my mother. I told her my husband was almost home and the second he walked in that door I was going to drive myself to the hospital. She said she would be up there to watch the kids if he didn't come home and I agreed that would be okay. By nine-thirty he pulled up in the drive and I had my things packed. He looked shocked when I told him what had been happening that whole week and that I was going to the hospital.
It was late October, cold, dark. Silent. I drove to the hospital in a weird mental state. I thought about my life so far and what it was that I wanted for my future. I thought about my book and how I wanted to be published. I thought about my kids and how they needed me to be healthy and strong.
The hospital staff requested I slip on a face mask after I told them I had the flu, then led me to a room for a check-up. X-rays showed I was in the early stages of Pneumonia but that I should be just fine. They didn't test to see if I had the actual Swine Flu—it was pretty much confirmed by my condition. I was so tired, and so relieved to have other people taking care of me, that I just lay there on that hospital bed and slept until they told me it was time to go. They gave me an inhaler, some oxycodin and a prescription for some very strong antibiotics. On the way back home I saw a black 1972 SS Camaro just like I had written in my book. Something in me sparkled back to life and I hit the gas a little and followed it down the road a bit. It was a nice gift from the universe.
I kissed my beautiful children when I got home and crawled in bed and let the drugs do their job. Of course, I had to pay for it, because I threw up all week-end after that, but oh well. We all got better and celebrated Halloween perhaps with a little less energy and body weight than the rest of the world, but we were alive, and for that I am very grateful.