Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Got Me Some Flu

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.

29 comments:

Kate said...

Ohhhh! I hope you feel much, much better soon. I despise being sick like that. And you know there's no way past it but through.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the stomach flu which isn't really the flu, as you know, - so I'm not sure the shot would have helped you regardless.

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Ick..... Hoping you are on the mend and feeling less like sleeping for a week. I love naps too and always have.

Eileen said...

I hope you missed something out - the thought of you imbibing a bath you were lying in really doesn't sound a good idea under the circumstances. Now imbibing a glass of wine whilst in the bath...

Anonymous said...

um, have to second the previous Anonymous: Vomiting & diarrhea are NOT the defining symptoms of influenza. With influenza you commonly get respiratory symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, congestion, and fevers, headaches, and myalgias (body aches). Vomiting & diarrhea can happen with influenza, but usually only together with other, more typical symptoms. In other words: I think you had a viral gastroenteritis (stomach "flu"), not influenza. The "flu" shot only protects against influenza, not viral gastroenteritis.

StorytellERdoc said...

LOL...thanks to the two anonymous comments. I know that the flu shot is best for URI based symptoms, and mentions of the shot are from that angle (not wanting to get any more illness, period)--plus, it was easier to group together my thoughts for this post by putting them all under the same viral umbrella. Sorry if this didn't make sense...

Webster said...

I never get the flu, so I never get the flu shot. Also, I have MS, and, well, one never knows what might go awry with my immune system if I got sick. I do know one thing: I don't walk fast enough to get the runs! That would be my worst nightmare. The vomiting and aching I can handle, but the runs, please God, no.

I hope you're completely over this SOON.

Pissed Off Patient said...

The big question for me after reading this post is why no vaccine for the GI bugs? What is up with that?

We did not do flu shots this year. This is a first for us, but I do not like the shot this year, we had issues with H1N1 last year that I am not anxious to revisit.

Hope you are feeling better.

M

WrightStuff said...

Oooh where are my anti-septic wipes... I feel all germy...

I thought I had this last week. One minute I'm feeling fine, the next like I'd been run over by a steamroller and there I was 80 miles from home...

Crawled over the doorstep hours later and retired to my bed for 14 hours (asleep for most of them). Woke up the next morning pretty much cured! Me likey :)

WrightStuff said...

Oops, forgot to say 'feel better soon Doc!'

Anonymous said...

POP...there is a vaccine for the rotavirus that makes little kidlets get the runs and pukies, but the GI viruses (NOT the flu, as mentioned, *ahem*) tend to mutate too quickly for a vaccine. Not to mention, their name is LEGION.

Pattie, RN

littlepretendnurse said...

Sorry to hear you are sick, but glad you are getting better!

Anonymous said...

Interesting that we have similar rationales for not getting influenza vaccines. I got them EVERY year starting in the mid 1980s after having actual influenza that knocked me flat in bed for a week (and I was in my 20s). In 2004 I too developed a peripheral neuropathy shortly after getting the flu and pneumovax vaccines. Who knows if there was cause and effect, but I've decided not to continue annual vaccination. CardioNP

Anonymous said...

I got a flu shot in 1997 and promptly got the flu. I thought it was just a coincidence so I got another flu shot in 1999. Then I promptly got the flu. The last time I had to start questioning if I was having some sort of reaction to the vaccine.

I'm a pharmacist so I understand that the flu vaccine can't cause the flu; however, I didn't want to risk repeating 97 and 99 again so I never got the seasonal flu vaccine.

Fast forward to the week before Thanksgiving 2010. Fever, body aches, chills, congestion, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, dizziness. Two kids with the same symptoms (plus wicked coughs and diarrhea for a week) and one tests postive for flu. A full week of feeling lousy--3 days of acute symptoms (i.e. not getting out of bed)-- and I was finally able to stand for more than an hour without getting dizzy.

Next year, we will get the flu shot!

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

i know i'm not the doctor but what about norovirus? that's what i'd diagnose myself. but then YOU are a doctor so wtf? anyway i still say noro...

big smiles, bee
xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Katie said...

STOP LICKING THINGS! Have you and Nikki been hanging out lately? Ew. Ew! EW!

More seriously, I'm sorry you missed writing group! And I'm sorry you're sick, too. Thanks for thinking about us through your misery.

<>< Katie

Wren said...

Ugggg I do hate the stomach flu! I'm glad you're feeling better, Dr. Jim, and I hope that nasty bug is truly on its way out. Since I started taking meds for RA that compromise my immune system rather thoroughly, I've been getting a flu shot each year. Before I started the meds, though, I'd get one most years (though not all--it depended on my spare time and the shot's availability). I've never had any adverse effects from the flu shot, and other than the occasional stomach bug (which may or may not be "flu"} I've not gotten the flu, either.

Keepin' my fingers crossed. I hate getting sick!

Welcome back, by the way. Miss you when you're gone for very long...

:o)

Joe said...

I think if I were to imbibe several warm baths, I'd be pretty sick too.

I hope you didn't use soap.

Gelfling said...

Our hospital has started requiring all employees to obtain the flu shot every year or lose their jobs. I don't usually get the flu shot, simply because I'm young, healthy, and a hand hygiene nutjob. And having it forced upon me with the threat of being fired definitely rubbed me the wrong way. So far (knock on wood) I haven't gotten a respiratory illness yet this season, though I did suffer a two-day stomach virus that sounds similar to yours a month or two back.

Heather said...

I'm a million percent for the flu shot! ;)

Also, ew. and yuck.

We refer to it as the Puky Fever Virus (PFV), and I am seriously, almost truthfully, deathly afraid of it. UGH.

Praying it was self contained.

Cal said...

Nothing like a GI virus to make you feel half-dead! Hate the vomiting, especially when there is nothing coming out and your body just keeps trying to empty itself nonetheless.
Glad you are feeling better!
Also, stomach viruses are so easy at spreading! My daughter had what probably was rotavirus at age two(as do so many children at that age). Three people in my household got it, you could almost see the chain of contagion! I fill a spray bottle with 70% isopropanol and tackle the house!

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, a year ago in October, I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. I was also 24 weeks pregnant at the time. And, before my diagnosis, I was going to get the H1N1 shot, but didn't, due to the GBS. I will never get the shot now, for obvious reasons. I'm glad that your neuropathy has gone...mine is almost better, but I still have residual numbness in my feet, and face gets really "tired"..feels like my eye is heavy, although it's not noticeable to anyone - or so my husband reassures me. *LOL* Just curious, but do you you run across a lot of GBS in your practice? My presentation was what I like to call "atypical atypical"...whole different story.

~Julie

emmy said...

I have a heart condition that makes it dangerous for me to take cold and flu medications, and since I have had cancer I am immunocompromised. I get the flu shot every year and have never once had a problem with it. What I do have a problem with is all of my cube neighbors at work who don't get the shot and don't take sick days. Even with the shot, I'm endangered by their germs. It is embarrising to have to change seats in a meeting to get away from the guy hacking up a lung.

Rositta said...

In 1989 I had to a flu that knocked me out for over 10 days. My doc says probably that was the cause of my fybromyalgia (which I deny I have). I have gotten a flu shot every year since then. Last year I also got the H1N1 shot which has been linked to Guillain-Barré. Just last week at my physio hospital I saw someone stricken with this illness. After 10 months he still can't walk. Scary stuff really but the bottom line is that the flu can and does kill especially elderly and immune system compromised people. I guess I'll take my chances and get the shot...ciao

Kristina said...

Ohhhh am sorry you missed the 4 days of fun and family time. I must admit knowing a doc does get sick from time to time and whines about flu is amusing... My bad!

I wish you the best of health!

Anonymous said...

The gastroenteritis was pretty widespread in Dallas this fall. I missed four days of work and had to call a neighbor to buy me adult diapers at the drugstore! Safe to say I now have no pride left.

Well of course get the flu shot, if only so that you don't get it and trasmit it to a patient before you have succumbed and gone home!

Charles Pergiel said...

"manly whining"!

SeaSpray said...

Oh Jim ... I am so late coming to this. I am so sorry you went through that.

Plus ..I have to say ..you positively warmed this gernmaphobe's heart ..hearing how you wiped everything down and took precautions.

I try to be careful too. When at the hospital ..I'd wipe, phone,desk, keyboard etc down and *try* to keep my hands away from my face and if I had to use the back of my hand to move my hair touch my face.

I don't know if this works ...but when I am in the store ..I leave my gloves on when pushing the cart and touching things. then take gloves off if need to touch face. :)

Also funny post. And your family transforming your house must've felt magical. :)

SeaSpray said...

Oh ..I've never gotten a flu shot and have wondered if wise.