To this day I can’t decide which was worse: the fever or the feeling of razor blades in my lungs. That first day the flu hit, my body was wracked with wave after wave of fever. It’s a kind of misery that I can’t describe. It would last ten to fifteen minutes and the intensity was unbearable, but when it finally subsided my relief was minimal; I would become cold to the bone and sit dreading the next wave, which would come as regular as clockwork. I guess the one thing I could be grateful for is that I wasn’t vomiting.
In some ways, to my wife, I became an improved version of myself–I drank tea, I cranked up the heat, and I took long, hot baths. Baths? Who does this guy think he is, Winston Churchill?* I kept a garbage bag beside me that I regularly filled with mucousy Kleenex. My skin hurt. My bones hurt. My hair hurt. But my lungs hurt worst of all.
I had what felt like two cups of water and a dozen razor blades occupying the space where my lungs should have been. I had to sleep sitting up in a recliner because the second I lay down I felt as though I was drowning. I couldn’t take a deep breath and at times I couldn’t take a shallow breath, and that scared me. At about four in the morning on day six or seven, I was panicking and scared; I couldn’t breathe. It was the first time I ever thought, “I think I’m going to die.” I got Maureen up and we walked across the street and down about half a block to the emergency room of the University Hospital.
Everyone there was in for the same thing: H1N1. I was seen by the doctor and by this time I was able to breathe without the sensation of drowning. The doctor prescribed me Tamiflu, and they just had it right there in the exam room and were giving it out directly to save the patient from going to a pharmacy, which would not only be miserable but might facilitate the spreading of the virus. The doctor said that at this point Tamiflu probably wouldn’t do much and I’d just have to ride it out. He said that if I’d gone immediately to the emergency room and gotten on Tamiflu right away, I might have headed it off. This was the exact opposite of what we were told in the news and public health notices, which said if we got sick, stay indoors; don’t go to the emergency room as there’s nothing they can do.
So I went home and rode it out. I was sick for almost three weeks. I couldn’t speak and it felt like I had sandpaper in my throat. At the tail end of my flu I contracted a bronchial/sinus infection and was able to squirt pus out of my tear ducts; it looked like the world’s most disgusting cookie dough. For this ailment I was able to go to my regular doctor and get an antibiotic.
My lungs took a long time to repair. It felt like they’d been burnt and slashed, and even walking up a short flight of stairs left me breathless. But I did recover, and in the process I gained a whole lot of humility and a newfound respect and gratitude for my health.
*Winston Churchill was known for taking long baths so hot it turned his skin pink.