It is that time of year again; time to get a flu shot. I’ll admit that until a few years ago, I never got flu shots. I figured that I was young and healthy so why bother? There are always rumors floating around the internet that a flu shot can actually give you the flu (false, by the way). Plus, who has the time and inclination to go down to the drug store and pay for something that hurts? Then, something happened to me that changed my mind about flu shots and the danger of viruses in general.
In 2003, at the age of 27, I got sick with what I assumed was the flu. It became so severe that my fever repeatedly spiked up to 104.5, I couldn’t keep any food down, and despite sitting directly in front of a space heater I shook violently from chills. I went to the urgent care and they told me it was the flu and it would pass. Five days later, I tried to get out of bed to throw up and collapsed. My boyfriend (now my husband) rushed me to the hospital. This was during the SARS scare, so I was whisked into emergency almost immediately due to my severe symptoms. I was in such pain that I could no longer turn my head or stand on my own. I was so dehydrated that I had developed a kidney infection. I was given antibiotics, an IV and sent for a cat scan. My boyfriend called my parents and they raced to the hospital.
I remained in the hospital for six days. The doctors packed ice around my head to try and bring down my soaring fever. They did a spinal tap to rule out Meningitis. Totally unable to eat or drink I remained on IV. I was in and out of consciousness for much of the hospital stay and I remember it mainly as a haze of pain and weakness. A couple of memories from that time stay fixed in my mind, however. One is of my boyfriend crying over my bed and asking me not to die. The other is of a group of no less than 5 doctors standing in the room, taking notes and whispering to each other. At the end of the day my diagnosis was “unknown flu-like virus.” The doctors had no concrete idea of what it was or how I’d gotten it. When it finally became clear that I was going to pull through, my doctor said that he wanted me to be able to walk before he released me. Two weeks prior to this I had been working out bi-weekly with a trainer and playing a mean game of tennis. Now, I struggled to put one foot in front of the other, hanging onto a rail for support.
I survived that virus, maybe by luck more than anything else. It took months to regain the weight and strength I lost during my illness. My spinal tap didn’t heal properly and I had to have it repaired. For two years following, I got sick constantly. My immune system was so compromised that I got every little bug that went around. But the truth is, I’m lucky. I could easily have died from that virus, a fact that the doctors discussed with my parents more than once during my hospital stay.
While I didn’t have your garden variety flu and a vaccination might not have kept me safe from this particular strain, my illness really woke me up to the fact that viruses are very, very dangerous. 20,000 people still die from the standard flu every year in America. Just because you’re young and healthy does not guarantee that you will survive a nasty flu. During my rehabilitation, my doctor insisted I get a flu shot. I’ve gotten one every year since then and haven’t gotten the flu. I’ve also turned into a bit of a germophobe, washing my hands frequently and being quite conscious of what I touch and any sick people around me. I always tell my friends they should get a flu shot. When you’re dealing with viruses, it’s better to be safe than sorry. The flu, and viruses in general, are not something to be taken lightly. Check out the CDC’s website for more information on flu shots: Flu Shots.