I distinctly remember the week the Swine Flu epidemic began. Ironically, I was sitting in my living room in Mexico saying “Swine flu? What’s that?” to my brother on the phone in California, even as I watched on TV a soccer game in a stadium closed to the public, due to the outbreak of the new flu. But swineflu? While eventually, stateside, I saw a Spanish-language newspaper headline calling it la gripe porcina, in those days in Mexico it was a worrisome bug not associated, in name or otherwise, with the massive pigs that bellowed behind our farmhouse.
Days after the quarantined soccer game, my sister-in-law entered a hospital in San Diego, in labor with her first child. I left my home in Mexico hastily, on the 8:00 a.m. flight from Guadalajara. Some people wore masks in the airport and were terrified to be confined with so many exotic travelers; I thought of nothing but my new nephew. I arrived healthy, and so did the baby.
For several weeks after my return, my mother was convinced that I had brought home, along with a lack of healthy terror for traveling alone south of the border, the swine flu. It took almost seven months of living in el norte again for me to contract the dreaded gripe-and not for lack of trying to get the H1N1vaccine. The family with whom I lived in a rural village in Michoac¡n did get the vaccine, and joke that they will be safe from the swiney American germs I might bring when I come to visit them in January.
I have an annoying psychic ability, usually for bad news. Last Sunday, when I began to feel a little warm, I checked my mother’s old thermometer, the one that consistently tells me my temperature is below 98Â°, the one that I assumed was broken. I tried it again. Its numbers raced to 101Â°. I’m not one to get hysterical, but I looked up an email my father sent:
Know the Difference between a Cold and H1N1 Flu Symptoms
-Fever is rare with a cold. -Fever is usually present with the flu in up to 80% of all flu cases. A temperature of 100Â°F or higher for 3 to 4 days is associated with the H1N1 flu.
-A hacking, productive (mucus- producing) cough is often present with a cold. -A non-productive (non-mucus producing) cough is usually present with the H1N1 flu (sometimes referred to as dry cough).
-Slight body aches and pains can be part of a cold. -Severe aches and pains are common with the H1N1 flu.
-Stuffy nose is commonly present with a cold and typically resolves spontaneously within a week. -Stuffy nose is not commonly present with the H1N1 flu.
-Chills are uncommon with a cold. -60% of people who have the H1N1 flu experience chills.
-Tiredness is fairly mild with a cold. -Tiredness is moderate to severe with the H1N1 flu.
-Sneezing is commonly present with a cold. -Sneezing is not common with the H1N1 flu.
-Cold symptoms tend to develop over a few days. -The H1N1 flu has a rapid onset within 3-6 hours. The flu hits hard and includes sudden symptoms like high fever, aches and pains.
-A headache is fairly uncommon with a cold. -A headache is very common with the H1N1 flu, present in 80% of flu cases.
-Sore throat is commonly present with a cold. -Sore throat is not commonly present with the H1N1flu.
-Chest discomfort is mild to moderate with a cold. -Chest discomfort is often severe with the H1N1flu.
The only way to stop the spread of the epidemic is to spread the awareness
Good thing somebody spread the awareness. Besides the fever, everything, including my arms and legs, felt heavier. Hard not to notice, since I also finished moving into a new house that day. I was diagnosed without fanfare with H1N1 the next morning.
Perhaps it was fortuitous that I moved out of my parents’ house that weekend. My mother is justified in her swine flu paranoia, but being quite wily, she also managed to get herself vaccinated. Still, when I went to Urgent Care, and saw the doctor I’d seen since junior high (I had to drive to Goleta, but where else could I be seen at 8 a.m. with no appointment and no waiting?), it was his idea not to mention my H1N1 incident to my mother, another of his patients.
My doctor’s insights were reassuring (and sometimes hilarious). He asked if I’d traveled anywhere exotic recently. Without hesitation, I said yes. To L.A., on Saturday. He agreed that was unusual and I personally decided that was where I had been swine flu-ed, given the rapid onset typical of the virus. I felt comforted when he said my symptoms at the onset of the virus would decide its severity; that is, it wouldn’t get any worse. But I did need more for the pain. He wrote a prescription for a stiff narcotic, and told me to buy it, go home, and stay there for five days or until I had been fever-free for 48 hours, whichever came later.
I stole several masks from the front desk on my way out, and no one stopped me. I put one on and drove cautiously to the pharmacy.
It was necessary to buy food while I waited for my painkiller prescription to be filled. After all, I had just moved into a house with an empty pantry. I went to the supermarket, overwhelmed with guilt at possibly exposing children to my virus. I picked out food, both delicately (so as not to touch a single can, bag, or box I didn’t purchase) and with abandon (watermelon-flavored applesauce?). Children and mothers stared at me and I silently pleaded, I promise, promise to be out of this store as fast as I can. My last hope that people around me might think that my mask was to protect me from them was dashed when the mask billowed a little with a weak cough.
I picked up my Vicodin, drove home, and have been here ever since.