H1 or not H1 – what’s my social responsibility here?

I got rather sick with flu symptoms last week.  I’ve written this entry as a way of filling up limbo time while I wait to see my doctor, as over time it has become more likely that I may in fact have a mild case of H1N1 flu.  While for the most part I feel well enough to go out and do things (not the case during much of last week), I have been brought up short by the realization that I am now coughing more than I was last week, and that I had better consider carefully what my social responsibility is.

The History of My (Relatively Mild) Symptoms (I invite you to skip this if you’d rather not be exposed to the gory detals)

 Last Tuesday I woke up with a light but productive cough for no good reason (usually gunk in my lungs would come from post-nasal drip after a cold, which I hadn’t had).  My appetite was a little weird. I had a headache, which was not so unusual.  Since it was the first meeting of a book discussion group I had helped to organize,  I figured I should be there.  I ate a light lunch and took extra strength Tylenol, and all was well at the discussion group and an extended smaller meeting afterward.

By dinner time the headache was back, I really wasn’t hungry,  and I was continually thinking about the fact that on Sunday our church pastor had announced that his partner had come down with the flu.  I called the consulting nurse at Group Health Cooperative.  My temperature was normal then, although, when I called again half an hour later, it had risen to 100 degrees.  I talked to the nurses for quite a while and got pointers about how to cope with the temperature–specifically, to make sure that I drank enough water.

The night was long and uncomfortable, largely because of the headache and a couple bouts of dry heaves, and the next day wasn’t great either.  Because I was most comfortable when I first woke up from sleep, I slept a lot, which meant I didn’t drink that much, and by evening I called the nurse again to get advice about dehydration.  I remembered from my experience in Israel that severe dehydration can look much like the flu– the irony being that the logical cure–i.e. drinking water–can be difficult because the water  comes right back up again.  The solution for them was hydration solution delivered by IV.  As it happened, I didn’t have to go in to Urgent Care for this–on the nurse’s advice Jim got me Gatorade, which was surprisingly refreshing and I was able to drink a fair amount of it.  (Once you’re really dehydrated you need the electrolytes and calories, so water alone won’t do it.  You can make your own rehydration solution with water, sugar and salt, but I can say from experience that Gatorade is much more palatable).

It was easy to decide to stay home from a book group meeting that evening, and I rescheduled an oral surgery that had been scheduled for the following day (Thursday).  I continued to sleep a lot on Thursday, and to read with some interest the government’s web site on pandemic flu, for which several concerned friends had sent me the link.  By now I also knew that our pastor had the flu too–the only other flu patient I knew with whom I had had any contact.  (Jim had been down with something very similar to my symptoms while I was in Cleveland–my sympathy for him having to deal with it alone was growing daily.)  I read the H1N1 symptoms carefully and concluded it was possible that I had a mild case of it.  I took note of the list of  scenarios in which one should go to the doctor, and nothing applied, so I figured that I was just in that blest demographic of people old enough to have been exposed to a similar strain in childhood and therefore likely to become less sick with it.

But I was improving daily, and on Friday I was able to take the car for its oil change, and I enjoyed a full dinner that evening.  (One bonus of this whole thing was that in a few days I had taken off 8 pounds or so that I had been wondering for a while how I might get rid of). 

By Saturday I was feeling pretty good, except for a terrible backache, presumably from all the lying around.  Since walking was more comfortable than sitting, I walked to the chiropractor and back home.  In the evening we had tickets to see the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of Utopia, Ltd., which I went to see, with the aid of 400 mg of ibuprofen to keep the backache under control.

Yesterday (Sunday) morning, it was announced in church that the pastor has Swine Flu and is quite sick with it.  Well, ok, I thought, I might well have had it, and could thank my demographic stars that I had recovered.  We had tickets to the Intiman Theatre’s excellent imported production of Othello, and enjoyed it.

Back at home, after dinner, I coughed up a hunk of thick, yellow-green  mucus.  Since then, my body has been trying to cough up more.  Since one of the flag symptoms for seeking medical attention on the flu.gov web site is “if the flu symptoms get better, then return with a fever and a worse cough”, I called Group Health again last night and reported the cough.  I do not have a fever.  But the fact I had been exposed to a confirmed case of swine flu triggered an appointment being made today for me to see my regular doctor.

Better, But Maybe Not Really

So I’m writing this in limbo as I wait for the time to pass until I leave for the doctor.  Other than the cough, I feel much better than I did and could carry on with many of my activities and obligations.  But if I’ve really got swine flu, it seems to me that I have a social responsibility not to expose others to it.  This includes the cable repairman and electricians that we’d like to bring in to fix our non-operative cable box and an electrical circuit that stopped working while I was sick.  I canceled a regular dentist appointment for today, but my rescheduled oral surgery is tomorrow, not to mention the next meeting of the book discussion group that I am expected to lead tomorrow at noon.

I know that, realistically, it’s unlikely that I will go in this afternoon, spend 20 minutes with my doctor, and know right away whether or not I have swine flu.  The best I can hope for is some sort of guidance as to how long I might be contagious with whatever it is I have, and what I should do during that period.


One thought on “H1 or not H1 – what’s my social responsibility here?

  1. After I described my symptoms to the doctor, she was polite enough not to roll her eyes, but she did say that I had not been sick enough to have had the flu. She did hunt around for a flu test kit, an item for which there had been no call in recent memory, and she swabbed my nose and sent in the test. Not surprisingly, it came back negative.

    By that time I was feeling basically fine, although my vocal cords had enough swelling in them that my voice teacher sent me home from my lesson and I had to cancel a performance I was going to give a few days later. While it was a relief to know that I wasn’t coughing out swine flu germs everywhere I went, I have to admit that a part of me was hoping that it would be a positive test, just so I wouldn’t have to feel so foolish as to think that I might have had it.

    I am grateful for having had such good health all my life that I obviously have no experience with the flu–my measly 100 degree temperature was so rare for me that I felt I had to take notice. If in fact the flu is an order of magnitude more misery-inducing than what I had, that seems to me like a good reason to continue getting flu shots each year.

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