I admit it — I look like death warmed over this week. But I have a good excuse — I'm a swine flu survivor. That's right, my family of four fell victim to the dreaded H1N1 virus last week, and we all made it out alive.
I'm here to tell you that I learned a few things while I was camped on the couch, chugging cough syrup and willing my lungs not to explode. The biggest lesson? When H1N1 hits home, it's hard to not be swept up in the "pandemic panic" we all blame on the media.
You have to understand that when the term "swine flu" first started floating around last winter, I was the biggest skeptic out there. I was a journalist at the time, and constantly complained to colleagues about how we were blowing it out of proportion and putting the fear of God into people over a simple virus that was likely to be no worse than the seasonal flu. When people talked about how scary it was, I countered with facts from the Centers for Disease Control. Up to 20 percent of the population gets the flu every year, I'd tell them. More than 35,000 people die from the flu every year. This was no different. Just a flu like any other. I scoffed at people wearing surgical masks on the subway and at travelers who canceled trips because of swine flu fears. Over-reactors, I thought.
But here's the thing. When my two preschoolers were burning up so hot that I could feel the heat radiating off their little bodies in the middle of the night, it was hard NOT to buy into the panic. I saw that 105 on the thermometer and my heart started to race a little; my mind wandered. Maybe they were right. Maybe all those over-reactors knew something I didn't. Admittedly, I had a high fever of my own last week and likely wasn't at my most rational, but I definitely started to panic. Should I let them go to sleep with such a high fever and bad headache? What if they didn't wake up? What if, God forbid, they became one of those heartbreaking stories in the newspaper, of kids who were healthy one day, dead from the swine flu the next? The pediatrician's office hadn't gotten their shipment of H1N1 vaccines yet, so my kids hadn't been inoculated. In an instant, all the fear-inducing stories I'd seen and read for the past 9 months came screaming back into my head. Were they going to make it? Was this flu really something to panic about? Was I a horrible mother for not being more paranoid about prevention?
Thankfully, I had a reassuring pediatrician and a calm mother (mine) to talk me off the ledge. They both convinced me that although it was scary, it was a flu, and we'd all recover in time. And we did. Let me assure you, it was no picnic. We're talking 7 straight days of 103 degree plus fevers for all of us, and the worst chills, sweats, headaches and coughs you could imagine. But we got through it, and we're no worse for the wear.
Still, the lesson hasn't escaped me; even a media-savvy skeptic can get swept up in the panic when her own kids' health is at stake.
–Contributed by Amy Erickson. Follow her @amyerickson