Philadelphia Metropolis


Swine Flu Blues

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By James Lawler

"I am afraid you have H1N1 Type A Influenza," the doctor said.

I replied: "What?  Influenza? It's 2009! "

To my un-medically trained mind, influenza was something that was wiped out long ago, much like the Black Plague. Maybe it showed up in Third World nations, but not in Philadelphia. Not in 2009 and not inside me.

"It's a swine flu and it's very real," the doctor said calmly.

I had come to the hospital because I felt lousy. I certainly would not, could not have Swine Flu. But the doctor was clear. He was telling me I did.

I thought: Right, so be it.  I ride the subway, and some stupid kid gave me the flu.  I'll go home, pick up some Nyquil, a bottle of single-malt scotch, some DVDs, check on the web for the symptoms, make some Miso soup and work from home the next few days.  I will be fine. End of story.

That was my first wrong thought.

"We'd like you to come in for some tests," the doctor said, staring at me calmly while looking through some files and drawers.

"Right," I said. "When?"

"Now," the doctor said. "Can someone get you some things from home?"

"Why would I do that?" I said, beginning to panic. "What things?"

"You need to stay here awhile," the doctor replied, calm as ever but donning a gray face mask. "This is no ordinary flu."

I could feel a drop of sweat trickling down my back.

I am 39 years old.  I had been to hospitals before - for checkups, to visit a sick friend - but never for an overnight stay. In my mind, hospitals were for very sick people and if he was asking me to stay that must mean that I was....

I started to mentally compile questions when the doctor turned and left me alone in the small room for what seemed like an hour.  Finally, a nurse came in - also dressed in a mask, gown and gloves -- to take me to my room. Being a severe hypochondriac, I began to feel sick. Suddenly, I could feel a headache, fever and dizziness coming on. I was led to a room and the nurse asked me - calmly, annoyingly calmly -- to get undressed, change into a gown, wash my hands and face with disinfectant soap, then get in bed and wait for the doctor.

"Shouldn't be long," she said smiling.

I had never worn a hospital gown before and always laughed at those film scenes where you can see someone's butt hanging out of them.  All of the sudden it wasn't so funny.

So I quickly got my pale white butt into a bed and called my sister.

While I am prone to exaggeration, excess and extravagance, my sister is serious person.  A cardiac nurse, in a long-term relationship, with a Master's degree from Penn, she is a no-nonsense woman.

"They think I have swine flu" I said into the freshly disinfected phone that still reeked of the disinfectant.

"I'll get you some clothes and books and I will be there in an hour," she replied. "Stay calm." Stay calm?  Why shouldn't I be calm?  And hearing her say that to me, made me anything but calm.

For someone who has known me for years, it turned out my sister had no idea what I wear.  I wear the new media uniform -- black jeans, cool sneakers, black sweater, sunglasses, with an edgy book usually tucked under my arm. What did she bring me? A college sweatshirt, sweat pants, white socks and a book by John Grisham.

 I was feeling sick. Not in my mind, but in my body.  My sister explained the virus better than the absentee nurse would have - had she ever returned.   

That night the flu took hold of me. I slept fitfully, almost hallucinating.  I was sweating and kept waking up disorientated.  The next morning the doctor came in -- again masked and gloved --  and said: "We are moving you to another facility."

 I was so weak; I didn't know what to say or how to complain. The flu was tightening its grip on my consciousness.

I woke up in a new place, I had no idea where.  I was told not to leave my room for any reason.  Days and nights seemed to blend together  -- punctuated by visits from nurses and doctors and pills and food.  Then one day -- I now know it was a week later -- a nurse came in and said: "You can leave." I was groggy but desperate to get home.

I signed everything in front of me, took their medicine cabinet worth of pills and headed out to a waiting car. I stopped by the State Store to get some red wine (much healthier than Scotch) and went home.

Finally, able to access the Internet I investigated, through my medicated haze, about what I just had.  The doctor was right. This was a very real, very dangerous disease. And I was clueless about it, until I had it.

I had a lucky escape.  I still felt ill, but slightly better be back home in the warmth of technology, accessibility, TV and a few glasses of Vino Collapso.

I cancelled a few meetings, stayed in for a few more days, but didn't feel right for about a week.  Then, I started getting back to work and development meetings.

Yesterday, I met an inspirational woman who is working with young people in the creative industries and we had a long talk about work, life, the struggles people face and how to overcome things.

She said she was still reeling from the death of her younger, 29-year-old brother last year.

I said: "God, I am so so sorry.  How did it happen?"

"Swine Flu, 'she replied.

I felt a drop of sweat slide down my back.

James Lawler is a transplanted UK media developer, now living in Philadelphia.






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