Notes from a previous pandemic

From emails sent while down with the H1N1 flu, 2009…..

Flu hit suddenly Sat noonish. You will crack up…Fyl had made some hummingbird nectar and put it in a dry goods container that was easy to topple.  I envisioned sticky red hummingbird nectar everywhere and freaked out, poured it into the sink and raged a bit about sticky stuff, then retreated to the couch and had an inexplicable panic attack for about a half hour, obsessing over sticky stuff. [I am epileptic and this was apparently some weird epileptic panic attack set off by the virus.] Then I got incredibly sleepy and managed to make it into the bedroom, shut the blinds, strip to skivvies and slip into bed under the covers and slept for a couple hours. Woke up damp with sweat. Up maybe 15 minutes and back to bed. Woke up sweaty again, with a real flu-sy feeling. No respiratory stuff, some GI discomfort.  Just feverish and sleepy. Sometimes intensely sleepy. Chills and mild fevers come and go. I looked up flu symptoms and this matched the mild symptoms of the swine flu that are being reported, especially the “lethargy, sometimes extreme”. Just a hint of respiratory stuff, a sore throat for a hour or two, mildly stuffy nasal thing. Cramps and aches pretty minor, chills come and go, but wish I could shake the tiredness. Seems to lessen by the day.

On Friday we were at a jazz joint and ran into a friend who had just returned from NYC [where H1N1 was pandemic] and was telling me all about the packed nightclubs. He leaned right into my face a couple times to be heard. This thing started about 7 or 8 hours later. The force it hit with is obvious by how it so threw off my epilepsy meds and caused me to freak about sticky stuff. I suppose I would have freaked out about anything. Sticky stuff is just funny…..

Having trouble reading, btw.  Get groggy. A drag.

My only real complaints about this thing are that the drowsiness makes it hard to read and that it’s severely circumscribed my quality partying time. We must have our priorities.

I appear to be on the recovery side of a sudden flu that hit me Sat afternoon the symptoms of which match the current swine flu. Never had a flu quite like it. Mild but the lethargy was debilitating…you just stopped everything and fell asleep. Chills, bone aches, a little GI discomfort, like that…respiratory symtoms almost totally absent…looked like I was gonna develop some Sat nite but dissipated in an hour or two, and had a cough and sore throat the same way. But muscle cramping, aches, mild fever and extreme lethargy…. Damn thing hit so fast om Saturday that within an hour I was in bed, asleep and sweating. Very dramatic onset. You can see how were one to have more severe symptoms it could be life threatening really fast. The first sign that something was amiss was a panic attack for the stupidest reason that left me shaking and freaked out—apparently the immune system reaction was so strong it must have completely thrown off my epilepsy med levels…within thirty minutes of that I was in bed just about unable to move. It was very impressive.

I woke up after a couple hours and tried to use the head—GI was upset—but passed out of the toilet!!! Right back to bed. Woke up soaked later and recognized that flu-sy feeling all over. That’s when I started to look up symptoms and found out I was kinda textbook H1N1. Now….Friday night—less than 24 hours earlier—we ran into an old pal who had just gotten back from NYC where he spent times in the jammed nightclubs…and who to make himself heard over the band in the room was coming in close to my face….I kinda figure that was contact for me.

Anyway, I am so proud to be the first person I know of with swine flu [as it was being called in the media at the time.] Alas, I quarantined myself, and Fyl as well so we have not done a very good job of passing it on. Even kept separate from her as much as possible. Hopefully back at work on Thursday.

Been home on the couch with the swine flu a few days. There was just a knock at the door. Jehovah Witnesses. I shouted from inside Black Plague-like that “we have the flu in here”. Jehovah filled them up with fear, I guess, as they blessed me through the door and fled down the steps.

I’ve been fascinated with the pathology of influenza ever since my dad used to tell me the stories he’s heard from his mother about the 1919 Spanish Influenza.  I read whatever I could find on it, which hasn’t been much till the last dozen years or so..and what I could never fathom was how a flu could be so virulent…not so much how contagious it could be, that I could understand, but the rapidity of the onset. How someone could be feeling fine and within an hour desperately ill. It didn’t seem conceivable until last Saturday.  I went from perfectly fine, feeling great, to passed out in bed in less than thirty minutes. The first effect was a bizarre panic attack of a few minutes about nothing, without warning, absolutely out of nowhere, followed within a couple by trembling, then a sort of lower extremity numbness, followed by chills and then a sudden attack of fatigue so extreme that all I could do was go into the bedroom, close the blinds, undress, get under the covers and fall asleep. We are talking at most fifteen minutes here. I probably laid in bed at the most five minutes utterly exhausted before passing out utterly. Fyl got into the shower after my initial freak out (being married to an epileptic weirdo she paid little heed to that) and by the time she got out of the shower I was dead asleep. She woke me up I think two hours later. I vaguely remember being sweaty and having vivid dreams. I got up. dressed, and I think told her we could still do the things we had planned on that night. I felt like I had the runs or something coming on, some kind of GI discomfort.. I passed out in the john, got up and immediately went back into bed. I guess i slept another hour and woke up sweaty again, got up, and realized that I felt like I had the flu. That flu feeling all over. Thus I had been sick for a good three hours but been so stricken with fatigue I didn’t even know it. That’s when I wondered if I might have that new flu, as this one was unlike any flu I had ever had. I knew the symptoms were mild, and there was so lung infection and just became completely fascinated. I was actually exited to be experiencing this new flu. At last I understood just how influenza could kill healthy people…. You see, the onset is so rapid, and so overwhelming, that if the symptoms did include respiratory problems, they would develop with incredible speed, so fast that even the healthiest body would be challenged to deal with them. The overwhelming immune response can kill the patient. All my responses—the crazy nervous system response—the panic attack—and the trembling and the fatigue were all side effects of my massive immunological response. That is how all those perfectly healthy young people died in 1919. That I knew. But this was how it felt. This was what it was like to have your body impacted by an extremely virulent form of influenza—even though the degree of infection was far smaller. And weird as it sounds I was really thrilled to get this. Now I knew.

By the way, the only thing I can compare it too in speed of onset is food poisoning. It hits with the same velocity and power.

My god I sound like Mr. Spock.

[I was the first person I knew to come down with the H1N1 flu and certainly the only one to admit it. I wasn’t allowed back to work for ten days. I knew dozens of people who felt achey and slept for several days, but none were dumb enough to call it the flu.]

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