There’s something about being in a pandemic that makes you feel so—a part of something. Yes, it’s true; I got the swine flu. Not 12 hours after hitting the Publish button on my last post I was sliding into the clutches of the disease du jour (the CDC would have us call it the 2009 H1N1 flu, but let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?), and have spent the majority of the past 10 days homebound and bedridden, clawing my way out. So much for my recent Medicine Buddha Initiation from the Dalai Lama. Oh well, even he said it wasn’t a panacea.
Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- “The suffering of this person will change.” I remembered this quote from Roshi Joan Halifax from the May Shambhala Sun in reference to her work with hospice patients. As I moved through the fever, chills, excruciating sore throat, snotty congestion, bone-throbbing sinus headache, debilitating weariness and hacking, sucking cough, I took comfort in Roshi Joan’s words that at least my suffering would change. Although I never was in danger of dying, there were moments I almost wished I would. (Okay, that is overly dramatic and not really true. But I was pretty effin’ miserable for a good six days.) Roshi Joan’s words apply both in and out of hospice.
- I have not been nearly as fanatical about hand-washing as I should be. If Daughter thought I was Paranoid Sunscreen Mom before, she hasn’t seen nothin’ until she encounters Paranoid Hand-Washing Mom. (Actually, now I remember her telling me that the proper wash time is long enough to sing two renditions of “Happy Birthday,” so maybe I do not have any room to get high and mighty about it. But still.)
- Do NOT let yourself get dehydrated. This can be difficult when every swallow feels like someone is sliding a rasp down your esophagus, particularly if you are home alone and have to will yourself off the couch. But do whatever you need to hydrate, as it is a self-perpetuating cycle that will exacerbate other symptoms, particularly fever. My situation improved greatly when my husband stayed home from work and delivered room-temperature watered-down Gatorade to my bedside that I forced myself to sip through a straw until I felt better. But even now I'm still working on it.
- Cheerios is a Miracle Food. If I can’t eat anything else, I can always eat Cheerios. They have taken me through morning sickness, stomach viruses, and now the swine flu. There is nothing more comforting than a big bowl of Cheerios and milk, and if I can’t stomach the milk, I can peck at the oaty little circles one at a time, letting them dissolve in my mouth until the nutrients seep directly into my bloodstream. Or at least that’s what it feels like.
- Being bedridden is a perfect time to listen to a story. None of the podcasts or grown-up audiobooks on my iPod were sufficiently comforting, so I browsed the Juvenile audiobooks and downloaded a childhood favorite, My Side of the Mountain. It was the perfect excuse to regress to my 10-year-old self when Mom took care of everything. Speaking of Mom, I called and asked her in my croaking voice to tell me a story, as I could listen but not talk very much. Mom has never been great on the letter-writing front, but she loves to talk, and told me all about the recent family reunion I missed, catching me up on all the stories. It was great, and something I should take time to do more often.
- Revel in small pleasures. The waft of a cool breeze on a fevered forehead, an afternoon shower and hint of rainbow, a plate of spaghetti cooked by someone who loves and cares for me that tasted like the best spaghetti I had ever had—these were a few of the unexpected delights I enjoyed while bedridden.
- Be grateful for small victories. I finished an entire glass of Gatorade - yay! I took a shower today! I took a shower and washed my hair. It’s all in the perspective.
- Human Beings are fickle creatures. After telling myself I would never take another pain-free swallow for granted again if I could only relieve the aforementioned rasp-like effect, what did I promptly do after that symptom ran its course? Uh-huh, I forgot all about it. (Pause for a moment to appreciate swallowing.)
- Vaccinating is not all about You. I am Pro-Vaccination on most all fronts. This is something I knew before, but having the swine flu reinforced my position, which is that vaccinating for highly contagious and nasty diseases such as swine flu, chicken pox, mumps, or any of their ilk, is not just about you; it’s about your community. It says, “I am taking a stand that if I get exposed to this disease, it is not going any further.” If you don’t get the vaccine, you run the risk not only of getting sick yourself, but also of passing it on to others who may not have your resistance. The whole reason we don’t have smallpox, whooping cough or measles anymore is that a shitload of people got vaccinated for it. I’ve read some of the Anti-Vaccination arguments, but in my mind they don’t trump the greater good of squelching these diseases before they get a chance to spread. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to get vaccinated before I caught it this time, but I definitely would have.
- I have awesome family, friends and neighbors. Everyone who has helped out in big and small ways over the past week and a half, whether by shuttling Daughter to and from school and after-school activities, taking me to the doctor, calling or emailing to check up on me, picking up my CSA veggies, sending me funny stories, calling to tell me a story, putting my name on the prayer chain, or just writing a friendly note on my facebook page, gets a great big Thank You from me. It doesn’t take much to realize how interdependent we really all are, and I appreciate every kindness. And of course Daughter and my husband Jim have been taking wonderful care of me, pretty much taking over running the household as well as going to the pharmacy, delivering Gatorade and tissues to my bedside and doing all the shopping, cooking and dishwashing. All in all, I’m a pretty lucky gal.
Photo credits:Cheerios photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/culpfiction/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0