Sunday, February 05, 2012

Flu can be such a swine

Well, I don’t any longer think I’m going to die (at least in the immediate future). And believe me, this is real progress.

When they admitted me to hospital with severe pneumonia, I was alarmed.

I was even more concerned when a nurse let slip they suspected I was suffering from swine flu.

Swine flu? That’s the sort of disease they make horror movies about while Governments prepare for Armageddon.

It doesn’t happen to people like me. Surely it’s a Third World illness caused by grinding poverty, filthy living conditions and close association with muddy farm animals.

How did I get swine flu anyway? And is there a cure?

Suddenly I’m hidden away in an isolation unit with a notice about infectious diseases on the door, an antibiotic drip in one arm and an oxygen mask on my face.

No medical staff are allowed into the room without wearing a face mask. So, for several days, I don’t actually meet anyone, I just try and get some idea what they’re like from their eye.

Mostly, though, they won’t look at me. They just get on with taking blood samples, checking my blood pressure or offering me cups of tea.

The tea, inevitably, is vile but it doesn’t matter much to me. I haven’t eaten for a week and I’m generally so racked by coughing fits that breathing is more important than food or drink.

Occasionally a doctor comes to see me. I saw six in five days. Never the same one twice. I could tell, even though they were wearing masks, because they all asked the same questions.

What did I do for a living? It seems they were expecting me to say swineherd not journalist.

How much do I drink? Admittedly this is a tricky question. When you’re at death’s door, your alcoholic intake suddenly looms large in your life.

Do three glasses of wine a day make me an alcoholic? Do I actually drink that much anyway? If I promise to cut down, will you make me better?

Cigarettes? Oh dear. You begin to feel you have nobody to blame but yourself and your appallingly self-destructive lifestyle.

But flu isn’t self-inflicted. You catch it from other people. Granted, an unhealthy way of living might make you more vulnerable and the illness worse.

But it seems my real problems stem from the fact that I haven’t got a spleen.

That organ was removed in an emergency operation when I was ten years old. It was snowy. I came careering down a hill on a sledge, hit a tree and ruptured the thing.

At the time, and for years afterwards, I believed the spleen was an obsolete organ like the appendix. But it seems it wasn’t quite as unimportant as I thought.

Modern thinking, apparently, suggests anyone without a spleen should take antibiotics every day, as a matter of routine. Great – now they tell me.

It’s difficult to work out where and when I caught this dose of flu. I’ve been to London a few times recently and a packed underground may well be a breeding ground for all kinds of germs.

But it was in Wolverhampton that I realised something was seriously wrong.
I hadn’t slept the night before but I was due to speak at a business breakfast at the Wolves’ Molineux ground and I didn’t think I could just not turn up, no matter how ill I felt.

So I coughed and spluttered my way anti-socially through the event. I say anti-socially because anyone with a disease like flu should stay at home if they have the slightest suspicion they may be liable to infect other people.

My excuse is that I didn’t realise how bad I was. I only found that out when I tried to address the assembled business people.

My voice, which is generally quite a noisy instrument, would not play. It was a struggle to get the words out and by the end of my much-reduced speech I was almost inaudible.

That was the moment I stopped feeling like a normal human being and transformed into a pathetic invalid.

And as the days passed, I found myself getting worse not better. The GP said take penicillin and Paracetamol and it should pass.

When it didn’t, he gave me some kind of blockbuster antibiotic and said I’d start to feel better the next day.

When I didn’t, he sent me to hospital where I have been languishing ever since.
Yesterday doctor number six breezed into my room trailing trainees and nurses in his wake. He said he was too old to wear a mask.

He was brisk, friendly, informative, funny – a breath of fresh air.

He said the results of the swine flu tests were still not back five days after they were sent to the laboratory.

But declared it didn’t make any difference if I’d got swine flu or not; what mattered was dealing with the illness and making me better.

And he said I was making progress. Indeed, he’s sent me home.

It looks as if I can breathe again – literally as well as metaphorically.

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