Fear the flu: Get a shot

Last winter my entire family and I had influenza. Rather, I should say, I contracted influenza and then gave it to my children and husband. We were unwell for almost four weeks collectively.

At our worst, our fevers were close to 105 degrees. Our chests filled with mucus, which made our breathing difficult and our coughing a constant. Our nights brought little sleep but instead brought chills, body aches, spiking fevers, tears, lots of sweat and the inability to find a comfortable position in which to sleep in.

My body felt like it had been hit by a truck on a highway and then run over several times more by all the cars following the truck.

Since I was the first in the family to fall ill, I still had to get up and get the children ready for school (until they, too, were so unwell they couldn’t attend school). On these mornings I crawled on the floor from my bedroom to the kitchen, I felt so weak. I would chop up a few vegetables for their lunches, and then sit on the floor for a break while trying to breathe. 

I was using my nebulizer machine 24 hours a day, otherwise I could not breathe. I felt as if my chest was being stepped on by an elephant. It felt as if I was in a permanent asthma attack. 

On one morning, I woke up gasping for air. When I got out of bed I was confronted by my reflection in the mirror: my hair was wet from sweat, my skin was gray and my lips were blue.

“This is how people die from the flu,” I thought, giving my blue lips a second glance.

I went to the doctor, but apart from the nebulizer treatment they administered and a refill prescription for medicine for my home nebulizer machine, there was nothing they could do. 

The flu was a virus. 

And I could have protected myself from that virus if only I had gotten a flu shot. 

I had been meaning to get one. I had been meaning to take my kids for their flu shots as well, but life got in the way. 

We hadn’t made the time for it, and then we paid the price. We suffered in pain for weeks. I felt tired and weak for several weeks after our fevers resolved and our lungs cleared. 

I never want to feel that unwell again. So once we were feeling better, I took my family to the doctor and we all got our flu shots.

A few weeks ago, during summer, my children and I felt unwell again. We had fevers, weakness, coughs and painful sore throats. We went to the doctor and were told it was most likely a flu virus and there wasn’t much that could be done. But because we had gotten our flu shots a few months earlier, this time around wouldn’t be as severe or last as long. It wouldn’t be deadly. 

What does seem to be deadly is the recent outbreak of coronavirus.

The news expresses concerns that this upper respiratory illness is far more dangerous than influenza because of its high mortality rate and our lack of a vaccine. Cities are being quarantined. Flights are being canceled. People are being checked for fevers at ports of entry. Cruise ships are being kept at sea. 

After the announcement of confirmed cases of coronavirus here in Melbourne, people are wearing masks out in public. Most restaurant workers are wearing masks and gloves. Shopping malls are empty. My children’s school sent home a note stating if anyone had been to China recently that they should self-quarantine themselves at home for two weeks to stop the possible spread of the disease. 

My friends, especially my mom friends with babies, have expressed their fear of contracting the virus and are trying to keep themselves and  their children at home as much as possible. 

With the virus spreading to Europe, sporting events and even fashion shows are being held without audiences to help stop the spread of the disease. 

NPR reports that the recent outbreak of the coronavirus has infected over 85,000 people and killed over 2,800 people so far, with most cases in China. 

However, the CDC estimates that during the recent five-month season (from October to February), influenza has infected almost 40 million people and killed between 16,000 to 40,000 people. Influenza. The virus that has a yearly vaccine available for anyone who wants one. 

The coronavirus may not have a vaccine available yet, but influenza does. And I encourage everyone to get the vaccine, every single year. 

We also need to follow the simple guidelines of frequent hand washing, sneezing into our elbows/into tissues and not into our hands, and staying home when we are sick to help stop the spread of illness — any illness.

It may feel a bit hopeless when it comes to stopping the spread of the coronavirus, but together we can help stop the spread of the flu, so that no one has to suffer as my family and I once suffered. 

Because who really wants to feel so weak and terrible that they have to crawl on the floor to get across their house? Not me.

Andra LK Guccione is a former Jefferson resident who lives in Australia.

Her parents, Milan and Deb Kucerak, reside in Jefferson.

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