Saturday, 15 August 2009

This Little Piggy

I can't even begin to fully explain how I've been feeling over the last two weeks, except to say it's as close to having had cotton wool stuffed into my head, in around my brain, leaving gaps and fuzzies, empty thoughts and the acute inability to function, and having had my life force literally drained out of me.

Two weeks ago I was at a baptism and celebration of the sweetest little girl, the daughter of a high school friend from way back. It was joyous and meaningful, and I got to prance around the church taking pictures as best I could without annoying the shit out of the Orthodox Christian priest, who ended up being very amusing and cool. Or perhaps amused at my lack of cool.

A couple of hours later and sitting down to lunch with a nice cool ginger inspired punch of sorts, a cough began to show its ugly head, and kept on giving, literally out of nowhere, throughout the afternoon. By bedtime, I was heading in a very uncomfortable direction. The incessant cough gave way to body chills, a sudden fever spike, and a general malaise that I have never felt in my life ever. In short: I started to feel like absolute crap.

Having made it through the night with minimum drama, I awoke feeling vaguely better. An hour later however, I knew something was terribly up. The short walk from apartment to the doctor's clinic confirmed it as I started to heat up and feel my body start to rebel against me.

Hitting the clinic, six people already within, three with miserable little kids, all of whom were hacking in one way or another or fever prone. Then my turn. Temperature hitting 38 C.. and the doctor advising me that one way or another they're treating everyone's flu as a strain of Swine flu/H1N1 at the very least, and the raw deal itself, at the most. No, I was not diagnosed with Swine/H1N1, but needed to look out for further symptoms just the same: a major cough, excessively runny nose and persistent fever.

What sorely lacked in this exchange was his ability to tell me very much more about it, because while it wasn't Swine/H1N1 there were several further symptoms and they were ALL awful.

Where the doctor was extremely helpful (not) was in telling me about the side effects of Tamiflu - where largely amongst younger children, when administered is causing psychotic hallucinations (the Straits Times had covered a few cases). I opted for a potent mix of antibiotics, cough mixture, and cough tablets, call my pals to tell them to inform whoever was closest to me at lunch, call mum and tell her she won't be seeing me for a bit, and then go home to curl up in a ball.

Now this is what doctors SHOULD be telling everyone, but are not.

The flu bug that's going around right this very minute is one of the worst that's ever showed. Even as a strain of Swine, it's a mess that will leave you in a mess for at least 5-10 days.

The symptoms I endured (and which I have now discovered others have endured too) are very acute and accurate however: you start with a hacking dry cough from no where. Move on to chills, then a fever of at least 38 C. You feel absolutely terrible: you can't sleep because the chills come and go. When you do sleep it's listless. Your body temperature changes every couple of hours.. so one minute your under the blankets, the next sweating like.. well.. a pig. Your nose won't run too much but you'll feel as if you have a bit of a cold. And that's day one.

One day two, the above continues, to a slightly lesser degree. You wonder why everything tastes slightly bitter - even water. You manage with the chills at night, and sleep badly again, and hope that at this point something, anything will just happen to reduce the symptoms. Oh and, it's quite likely that the combination of antibiotics and other medication will cause you to not only feel drowsy, but to also suddenly experience "halo's" around everything.

And the combination of everything may cause your blood pressure to drop: mine did, while venturing out to the store to buy lunch. Three times in the space of 15 mins I had to sit down, head between my legs. Dressed in my worst outfit no less.

While a blackout was essentially starting to happen I rushed to the nearest clinic and my suspicions were confirmed. Sure, I'd spent a lot of time lying down, but this was ridiculous, and very real. Twenty five bucks later, more medication - this time for dizzy spells and nausea. I realise that the antibiotics are quite likely to be causing the nausea: but haven't a choice. Keep taking them, followed by the dizzy pills. Things settle a little.

On day three you wake up slightly better. The fever should be gone, the chills settled. You'll feel vaguely more human and can even walk in a straight line to pick up the papers at the shops. But you'll be left with this feeling of not being able to quite draw enough breath into your lungs, and as a friend described it, an acute physical and mental feeling as if you've completely given up on everything and can't think straight or understand properly. Ditto. Enter, the clouds.

On day four - I had to work. And I felt pretty good. Except for the clouds in my head. Forced to think on my feet, I embrace the moment. Immediately after it, I head back home, and the fuzzies return. But at least the halo's have disappeared, the blood pressure is normal and the cough has subsided.

On day five the cough remain, but is subdued. The bitter taste remains. The head still feels like it's stuffed with cotton wool. Conversations are a bit of an effort, hell even Facebook is too much. But collectively it's not as laborious and sleep is far more blissful.

Today is 2 weeks since. The remnants of my brush with Swine/H1N1 are a lingering cough (into a tissue and away from people in general, obviously) that had one MRT commuter around the age of 75 react as if I'd spit in his mouth, and others look at me suspiciously and angrily, like I'd coughed on her mother. But at least I am back to near normal: normal sleep, thoughts, health.

What I was most incredulous about throughout this experience was what this flu bug did to my head and lungs. It felt hard to think or breathe. It was acutely difficult to concentrate. And it was truly difficult to find the energy to hold a conversation, type, or interact in any manner.

I had little to no energy. Which was the worst of it all.

So, take care of yourselves people. Be aware of the symptoms in the lead up to the current flu bug, and as importantly, during the period of illness. Stay hydrated - very important. Sleep lots and lots - you will anyway. Eat liquidy for a few days, then move to the solids. Keep clear of those you usually hug and kiss, and keep those hands and noses well wiped and germ free.

Yes, you may still get it, but at least you'll know a little more after reading this, and be a little more prepared.


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