I am one of those people who has avoided the flu shot, at least for the past six years. Outside of diligently receiving it during the few years that my son, Cole, and my mother were on chemotherapy, I find that the constant bombardment of exposures to various infections during a typical shift in my emergency department has given me the small doses of immunity needed to remain healthy and infection-free.
Although I'm not one to ascribe to the notion that the flu vaccination is the cause of a multiple sequalae of ailments after receiving it, several years ago I myself had developed an odd peripheral neuropathy after my third yearly shot. After multiple MRIs and blood work, including a spinal tap, failed to reveal the reason, I have since avoided the flu shot on this basis. And my peripheral neuropathy, thankfully, is a thing of the past.
Do I think the peripheral neuropathy was due to the flu shot? It depends on the day you ask me. After witnessing the flu shot being blamed for everything from causing heart attacks to promoting cancer, though, I was hesitant to put the blame on it for my own symptoms. I was young (in my thirties), healthy, and in great physical shape. I was admittedly stressed out, however, between Cole's relapse from remission and my mother's battle with leukemia, all the while desperately struggling to show the world nothing but a smile on my face. We all know how important a healthy mental state translates into physical well-being (known as "psychosomatic" in the medical community), so I had obvious other reasons, besides receiving a recent flu shot, to suspect my body's failings.
That said, I think the flu shot is a wonderful option for people who pursue it after an informed decision, and I have no doubt that it is responsible for saving a significant number of lives, especially those from the populations of being elderly, young, or immunocompromised.
It's just not for me.
Recently, after having several days off during this past Thanksgiving holiday, I returned to work, on Sunday, only to learn that the nasty GI bug had exploded in our community. Diffuse abdominal cramping, nausea with uncontrolled vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, aching muscles, headache--it seems this little bug was responsible for a multitude of holiday gifts to a multitude of people from every background. Gifts, unfortunately, that kept on giving. According to one of our senior resident physicians, during his prior day's shift, he treated twenty patients, seventeen of which had this flu syndrome. And, it seemed, the virus was working its way through our staff.
Uggggggghhhh. Welcome back to me.
I took every precaution I typically take before starting my shift. I got the industrial, kill-everything wipes (in the container warning to wear gloves before touching them) and wiped down my phone, my computer and its keyboard, my workspace counter, my pen, my stethoscope, my chair handles, etc. If there was a chance I was going to touch it during my shift, it got wiped. I may have even gone overboard, obtaining a clean bed sheet, folding it several times, and putting it on the cloth chair I was using. In my mind, I ridiculously believed I had effectively halted any bug from climbing from the navy blue seat, through my khakis, through my underwear, to my skin, where it would multiply and overtake me, unselfishly sharing all of its pleasant symptoms with me. I'm surprised at myself, on hindsight, that I didn't soak the bed sheet in ammonia first.
I'd be damned if I was going to get that nasty flu.
As usual, I made sure to put on latex gloves, from the hallway station, before entering any patient's room. Every time. Without exception. I wasn't going to be shaking any hands or touching any bed railings if I could help it. When necessary, I also donned a mask and disposable body gown, rendering me as a wrapped mummy. You can only imagine the screams from the pediatric patient who, on a normal basis, suffers from white-coat syndrome now being approached by a tall blob of a person bulkily wrapped in pastel-yellow paper, purple latex gloves, and a light-blue mask, two eyes peeking out of its top border. I think I would probably scare myself, even.
For added precaution, to make sure I didn't pass anything on to my family, I stripped myself immediately after walking into our mudroom from a shift, depositing my clothes in the washer and running quite briskly through the house to our bedroom shower, where I proceeded to scrub myself down. I'm hopeful I won't hear from any of our neighbors claiming to see, through our house windows, a naked man running around. Make that a sexy naked man, thank you very much.
So, after all of my precautions and not getting the flu for the past six years, I was pretty confident that I wouldn't be one of the unfortunate many getting ill during this recent outbreak. Nope, not me. Get out of here, you nasty bug, and find someone else to populate a new colony in.
Fast forward to my third and final shift. Tuesday evening. Eight hours into my ten-hour shift. Me, sitting at my computer in my tan cords and long-sleeved rugby shirt, happily typing in orders on yet another patient, thinking about having off the next four days.
And suddenly, just like that, I heard it. And then felt it. A loud gurgle, followed by a wave of cramping. "On no," I thought to myself, "it must be the fish sandwich and steak fries I ate for dinner." How easy our minds can hide the truth from us, sometimes. Despite my denial, the gurgling continued and the cramping waxed and waned. Finally, the shift over, I drove home, mumbling useless prayers, barely making it into my house before visiting the bathroom.
What a great way to spend a few days off! After missing basketball practices with my son and youngest daughter, skipping family meals, taking numerous small sips of water with repeated doses of ibuprofen, and imbibing in several warm baths followed by extended naps (yesterday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.), I am actually able to stand up from bed this morning without getting dizzy. I am hopeful that the cause of these past two days of misery is now on its way out.
I even missed writing group last night, which speaks volumes of just how miserable I was.
Are there any benefits to having the flu? Heck yeah. Like I just mentioned, the warm baths and extended naps. Trust me, those two things alone almost made being sick worth it. And being pampered by the family; for example, having a cup of tea made lovingly (after threatening to lick her face) by my youngest, Grace. However, if I am being honest, I don't think I was pampered nearly enough by my kids or wife. Whether it was simply avoiding me to prevent getting the flu themselves, or possibly avoiding my incessant manly whining, I'm really not sure. A moan from me, though, was more often met with laughter rather than concern. Maybe I was imagining it, in my febrile delirium, but I don't think so.
When I'm done finishing this post, I may go lick the clean rim of my wife's coffee mug before replacing it back on the shelf. That would teach her to give me more lovin' when I'm near-death.
Not really, of course. After all, at some point during my recovery, she and the kids carried up all of the numerous boxes of Christmas decorations from the basement and began to transform our house into a welcoming winter wonderland. What an appreciated, beautiful sight for me to behold after being bed-ridden for a few days.
If anything, though, now I may just have to reconsider the flu shot.
Oops, I have to run--the bathroom is calling for me. I hope this finds you all flu-free and healthy during this post-Thanksgiving season.
Flu shot or no flu shot? That is the question...
I'm back. As always, big thanks for reading. I hope you all had full bellies during this past Thanksgiving holiday. See you soon.