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Johnny Storm

Swine Flu Not As Mild As We Have Been Told

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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_...icle6722264.ece

My swine flu misery

Even drinking water feels like swallowing shards of glass

As I write, my brain feels as if it’s rotating very gently, floating uncertainly inside the cavity of my skull. In my left ear, I can hear the faint, rhythmic rush of my pulse. My right ear is a blur of inflammation, the remnants of tonsillitis only just under control. When I swallow, pain catches in my throat, and I am still grinding my penicillin to stop the bitter pills from getting trapped in the doughy mass of inflamed tissue at the back of my mouth. Every now and again my heart does a little, inexplicable, fillip in my chest, and if I walk upstairs I become unpleasantly warm and clammy.

And yet, compared with how I felt this time last week, I am in rude health. What’s a little dizziness compared with the thumping pain of a headache that made even the softest pillow feel like a rough stone; or a bit of ear-fuzz after a throat so inflamed that swallowing water felt like imbibing shards of glass? No, I feel positively perky, not to mention extremely lucky that the virus that has gripped me for the past seven days appears, finally, to be subsiding.

Like most people, when it came to the swine flu hysteria, I was very much of the Keep Calm and Carry On school of thought. Probably won’t get it, but if I do, it will be, as per the press release, “mildâ€. I envisioned myself wrapped in a blanket, watching TCM and sipping healing hot drinks. At no point did I see myself struggling with the impossible dilemma, given my body’s simultaneous need for both, of whether to use the toilet in the conventional manner — or as a vomitorium.

It came on very suddenly. I had gone to bed feeling oddly thirsty, in the way that you do when you’re getting a cold, and woke up with a sore throat. The headache that had been with me for about a week had intensified. I downed a couple of Neurofen, rang the office to say I would be working from home and sat down at my desk as usual. I felt bad, but OK. Just after lunch came the first bout of diarrhoea, along with a nasty sicky feeling. By teatime, as I sat watching Dumbo with the children, I realised that I couldn’t really lift my head. Shooting pains were assailing my arms and chest, and the muscles in my legs were joining in. And I was hot, really hot. Except actually I was cold, really cold. Brrr, shivery cold. Or was I hot? I had absolutely no idea.

If I closed my eyes, I could definitely see pink elephants, though. Dancing ones, with psychedelic trombones . . .

The next few hours are a blur. Getting my children, 6 and 4, ready for bed required every ounce of my willpower. Who knows what fabled delights I must have promised them in my delirium: trips to Disneyland, the entire Lego Star Wars collection grafted to the bedroom ceiling. It eventually worked. With the children in bed, if not actually asleep (and a bit freaked out by my uncharacteristic generosity), I decided, inexplicably, to take a very hot bath.

It just seemed like the right thing to do. I was so unbelievably cold, and also so sweaty after my exertions: I wanted to be clean but also, crucially, warm. The relief to my aching muscles was heavenly, but it didn’t last long. When my husband came home a few hours later he found me not quite asleep in his winter-weight winceyette pyjamas, clutching a hot-water bottle and shivering under two duvets and a blanket.

Being a man of action, he brought up the laptop and logged on to the NHS Swine Flu symptom-checker. I had every one of them. He took my temperature, using our superfast digital thermometer, and it was 39.8 degrees. The next morning, after a night that is probably best left to the imagination, he called NHS Direct. The recorded message told him to phone our local surgery, which he did. The receptionist was distinctly put out. “We’ve very busy, you know,†she said. He pressed his point. “All right, I’ll see if the doctor can call you,†she said, and that was that.

Around me, the day got under way. My daughter was still at school, so my husband took her on the way to the office, while my son stayed at home with our au pair. Luckily, as both my husband and I work full time, we have childcare during the week, and so I was able to stay in bed. Goodness only knows how I would have coped if I’d have had to look after my son myself — I’m really not sure that I would have been able to. I was having trouble making it to the bathroom, let alone meeting the vigorous demands of a bumptious four-year-old boy. And at least my children are at a relatively self-sufficient age. Trying to cope with something like this with a toddler or a baby would be quite frightening, not to say dangerous.

Eventually, around 1pm, the doctor called. She sounded harried, poor woman. It had been a nightmare morning. Anyway: what were my symptoms? By now I was finding it quite hard to speak, both because of exhaustion but mainly because my throat was so painful. Nevertheless, I managed an outline. “Oh dear, it really does sound like you have got this flu,†she said. “It’s hard to tell sometimes, but the chest pains are a bit of a give-away. Do you think you want Tamiflu?†I asked her what she thought. She said that she wasn’t entirely convinced, that it helped some people but that it made quite a lot of her other patients very sick. Then again, if it could help shorten the illness . . . I decided to try it.

My au pair, now promoted to “flu friendâ€, collected the prescription and I took my first Tamiflu at around 6pm. After about an hour, I became dimly aware of a strange foreboding in my stomach. I turned over, willing it to subside. Nope, there it was again: unmistakable. I adjusted my pillows, hoping for a reprieve. No, I was going to be sick. Really sick. I barely made it to the bathroom before my body unceremoniously ejected the Tamiflu, along with the only other thing I had swallowed that day, Ribena.

Three clean pairs of pyjamas, several packets of antibacterial wipes, a bucket of bleach and a washing machine load of unspeakably soiled linen later, my system seemed finally satisfied that the chemicals were now gone and it settled back into a straightforward fever. I couldn’t face another run-in with the Tamiflu, so the night passed relatively uneventfully between dizzying trips to the bathroom and sweat-soaked sheets.

On day three, I woke at 6am with only one thing in mind: antibiotics. My tonsils were so swollen that I couldn’t open my mouth more than half an inch. Yesterday it was announced that a six-year-old girl who died after becoming infected with swine flu suffered septic shock as a result of tonsillitis — and Dr Mark Porter, The Times doctor, said that there was evidence that influenza A infection such as swine flu could increase a person’s susceptibility to other infections. Having suffered from tonsillitis since I was a child, it’s likely that my flu increased my susceptibility. I knew there was one cure: penicillin.

Again, my husband rang the surgery and the doctor called back. “Mm’ve gnot tnonsllitis,†I said, sounding like I was trying to swallow a large dumpling. “Plnease gnan I hnave . . .†“Don’t say another word,†she said, “I can’t bear it. Send your au pair, I’ll give her a ’script.†She paused. “And the Tamiflu?†“Tnen tnimes wnorse,†I mumbled. “Ah,†she said, “So sorry. Everyone thinks that it’s this big Holy Grail and it’s not. Sadly, though, it’s all we’ve got.â€

If you are worried that you are experiencing side-effects from Tamiflu, contact NHS Direct or NHS 24 for advice.

How to take your temperature

A persistent complaint among doctors fielding panicked phone calls about swine flu is that patients have often failed to take their temperatures before dialling. Here are some tips on how to do it properly.

A temperature above 38C suggests an infection — though swine flu is only one of many possible causes. Ideally, take two separate readings 20 minutes apart, and check that the thermometer is clean.

An old-fashioned mercury thermometer is fine for use by adults but not by children (who might bite the glass and ingest mercury, which is poisonous). It should be shaken before use.

Digital thermometers can be used in the mouth (under the tongue for two or three minutes) or, less preferably, under the arm (which might be easier for a child).

An armpit reading can be obtained by placing the thermometer against the skin under the arm and holding the arm against the chest. It can take as long as five minutes. The reading will be slightly lower than the body’s core temperature — so add 0.5C.

If placing it under the tongue, don’t do it just after eating something hot or cold; wait ten minutes and then take a reading.

Thermometer strips, which are held against the forehead, measure skin temperature and are relatively crude.

They should be held in place — fingers away from the temperature-sensitive panels — for two to three minutes.

Ear thermometers are very accurate but expensive. Read the instructions to find out how long a reading will take. If a person has been lying down or been outside, wait 15 minutes for body temperature to stabilise before doing the reading.

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As I write, my brain feels as if it’s rotating very gently, floating uncertainly inside the cavity of my skull. In my left ear, I can hear the faint, rhythmic rush of my pulse. My right ear is a blur of inflammation, the remnants of tonsillitis only just under control. When I swallow, pain catches in my throat, and I am still grinding my penicillin to stop the bitter pills from getting trapped in the doughy mass of inflamed tissue at the back of my mouth. Every now and again my heart does a little, inexplicable, fillip in my chest, and if I walk upstairs I become unpleasantly warm and clammy.

This is what flu is, sounds relatively mild if the correspondent can take on advanced stuff like climbing stairs. Makes me wonder how many people have ever actually had flu before. Deeply disgusted to see this person actually called the Quack out to her home over this trivia! Meanwhile I dare say some poor old granny ten times as sick was suffering on her own without a husband and slave (sorry, "au pair") to run around after her :angry: If she gets a migraine it will be a bloody ambulance for her impending brain tumour no doubt!

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Guest absolutezero
This is what flu is, sounds relatively mild if the correspondent can take on advanced stuff like climbing stairs. Makes me wonder how many people have ever actually had flu before. Deeply disgusted to see this person actually called the Quack out to her home over this trivia! Meanwhile I dare say some poor old granny ten times as sick was suffering on her own without a husband and slave (sorry, "au pair") to run around after her :angry: If she gets a migraine it will be a bloody ambulance for her impending brain tumour no doubt!

I think it was a telephone consultation rather than a home visit.

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Guest theboltonfury

I'm getting the word 'melodrama'

Au pair! This is just a posh cold

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I slept funny last night and have an ache at the back of my neck, and a bout of diarrhoea this morning (probably due to the KFC I succumbed to yesterday and the vegetable bake I made last night).

It's enough to make me a bit twitchy, and in the face of a little anxiety all symptoms are 10x worse.

I'm off my feed this morning and am drinking water, hoping I don't get any more symptoms as I will get paranoid!

And I really don't want tamiflu or any other cr@p unless it's a proper life-saver. Problem is the effectiveness is thought to be only if used early on, so I'm likely to old-school it and not take it until it's too late.

TFH

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Can't be that bad if she can write. When I had flu, I couldn't get out of bed.

Sounds like she's exaggerating everything. Oh princess!

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Tamiflu has to be taken within 48hours of symptoms. Sound like she had a headache for a week before, which is a symptom, surely?

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Flu is nasty and is not really a mild illness, that's the point being made.

The fact that this journo is a bit spoiled and has clearly never experienced flu before doesn't change that.

A relative tells me her hospital are treating lots of people, they don't give beds in the emergency ward to people with a mild illness. And no, not all are obese or have underlying health conditions.

She's not visiting the rest of the family until she's either had it herself or is vaccinated (yes, she's going to accept the vaccine if offered).

There are a lot of lies being put out on the subject of swineflu. Ask someone on the front line who isn't an official spokesperson and who will give you an honest answer.

I predict the NHS will be in total disarray by November.

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Guest theboltonfury
Flu is nasty and is not really a mild illness, that's the point being made.

The fact that this journo is a bit spoiled and has clearly never experienced flu before doesn't change that.

A relative tells me her hospital are treating lots of people, they don't give beds in the emergency ward to people with a mild illness. And no, not all are obese or have underlying health conditions.

She's not visiting the rest of the family until she's either had it herself or is vaccinated (yes, she's going to accept the vaccine if offered).

There are a lot of lies being put out on the subject of swineflu. Ask someone on the front line who isn't an official spokesperson and who will give you an honest answer.

I predict the NHS will be in total disarray by November.

Loads of people who have had it have actually come out and said it was bad, but not awful and they were just laid low for a couple of days or so. So now, hospitals are full of near Zombies are they?

Which is it? Who is talking nonsense?

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Flu is nasty and is not really a mild illness, that's the point being made.

The fact that this journo is a bit spoiled and has clearly never experienced flu before doesn't change that.

A relative tells me her hospital are treating lots of people, they don't give beds in the emergency ward to people with a mild illness. And no, not all are obese or have underlying health conditions.

She's not visiting the rest of the family until she's either had it herself or is vaccinated (yes, she's going to accept the vaccine if offered).

There are a lot of lies being put out on the subject of swineflu. Ask someone on the front line who isn't an official spokesperson and who will give you an honest answer.

I predict the NHS will be in total disarray by November.

Is this particular hospital in one of the worst hit areas?

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Loads of people who have had it have actually come out and said it was bad, but not awful and they were just laid low for a couple of days or so. So now, hospitals are full of near Zombies are they?

Which is it? Who is talking nonsense?

Did I say that? Let me check.

No. Thought not.

In answer to your underlying question though, it's a numbers game. It doesn't require everyone, or even a majority, to be hit hard by it in order to overwhelm the NHS. It doesn't mean that thousands will die (though they might). A large number of people all requiring treatment at once will overwhelm the system. The hundreds of thousands recovering on their own in a few days may be in the majority, it doesn't matter.

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So birds do get manflu after all.

Always knew it was a scam. Yes some of us blokes can be pathetic, however birds can be even worse.

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If you didn't bother reading it, here's a precis: Tedious middle-class woman gets swine flu a cold and drones on bout what it's like to be ill whilst pretending to have a serious disease.

Sorted for you.

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If you didn't bother reading it, here's a precis:

Tedious journalist gets swine flu, rabbits about it at work and so her editor suggests she hype it up as a silly-season lifestlye piece on what it's like to be ill. Editor very pleased with part that suggests Tamiflu a danger because for a small proportion of people it has the same effect as a dodgy kebab and gives it more column inches on a more prominent page.

Which does a great disservice to the health workers who are taking it all seriously and trying to steer a balanced line between alternate public/media complacancy and hysteria.

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