Monday, 20 July 2009

Swine Flu Anxiety

Honestly today I am soooo much better. I can now say for sure that I am disease free - still weak, but today I can actually say the coughing has stopped and each day I am feeling stronger. But last week I had one of the worst nights of my life. No joke, I really thought I was dying!

As with most days over the past few weeks I woke feeling a little better, but in the afternoon my cough got worse and became very tiresome come the evening and into the night. This particular evening, feeling truly exhausted and in need of a good night's sleep, but unable to stop the coughing whenever I lay down, my husband gave me a sore throat sweet that included in it an anaesthetic to help relax my throat which he said had helped him.

Indeed my throat muscles did relax, but then I started to feel really anxious that there was mucous building up in my lungs that I was unable to cough up.

I gave up trying to sleep and instead decided to have a steam with some Vicks in hot water and a towel over my head. Whilst doing so I made the mistake of continuing with a read of 'An Imperfect Offering: Dispatches from the medical frontline'. It is the autobiography of James Orbinski, past president of Medicine Sans Frontieres. I was part way through the chapter which recounts his time spent in Rwanda during the genocide that took place in 1994, when an estimated 1 million men, women and children were butchered to death in a matter of just 12 weeks. I had reached a particularly harrowing scene which involved many orphaned children when I put down the book and realised I could read no more since I felt sick to my core. Empathy is one of my strengths and imagination is another; I had seen too much and was feeling traumatised by the scene which was now imprinted on my memory.

I then decided to try sleeping sitting up, since lying down triggered the coughing, so wrapped a quilt around me and tried to get comfortable on the couch. That is when I started to feel short of breath and my pulse increased. I also felt a little nauseous and started to panic that maybe I had overdosed on cough medicine - I had completely lost track of how much I had drunk. My husband came downstairs to find me in a traumatised state and unable to speak easily to explain how I felt.

My (doctor) husband, after running through all my symptoms (palpitations, high pulse, sweaty, dry mouth, nausea), started to draw to the conclusion that I was likely suffering from anxiety, that my symptoms where perhaps psychologically induced. I honestly believed him, everything fitted, but I still couldn't get rid of that feeling that I was fighting for my life, to the point where I suggested a few times that he call an ambulance (to which he replied 'what for? all you are going to do is sit in A&E for a few hours and then get sent home').

All night I felt sick, trying to control my breathing and slow down the palpitations, trying to get some sleep, but each time I shut my eyes I felt like I was fighting to get my breath and all I could see was horrific scenes in Rwanda that I would have liked to tell myself were just a bad dream, but which I knew had really happened. The anxiety continued throughout the night. I managed to snatch maybe 20 minutes sleep here and there come the end of the night.

The next morning I felt slightly better for a short while, and then the anxiety started to return. It was stronger than me and try as much as I wanted to control it I was struggling. After a few hours tossing and turning, and then a few hours pacing up and down like a crazy woman, I decided that I simply had to get a grip of myself or else face a life of complete hopelessness.

I agreed not to finish the book and to instead read some light material for a change. Also to stop listening to the news and counting the swine flu death toll. I also shut down my computer and agreed to do nothing for a few days except spend time with my children. All this helped. I spent the day at the park, but as evening drew closer, and I knew that my husband had to work that night, I started to feel anxious again with the fear that the night would bring back the same terror of the night before, only this time my husband would not be there to help.

I know that many young and middle aged women become somewhat dependant on tranquillizers and sleeping tablets as a result of anxiety, and for the first time in my life I understood why and just how destructive this condition can be. Probably fortunately for me I was also anxious of what effect taking a tranquillizer could have on me, so was reluctant to take drugs and first wanted to try all possible natural methods before taking any medication. My fear was also that if I couldn't get a grip of my anxiety without drugs to calm my nerves, that I would always need them in the future.

I first looked for a lighter read and returned to the autobiography of Barack Obama. Then I remembered how the Psalms of David had helped me in previous life trials and thought to read a few verses. And then I remembered my guitar. It had been years since I had played, but it had been a trusty friend upon which I had come to rely during times of solitude in a previous life.

I was surprised to find that I had not forgotten how to play and within minutes of playing and singing a few lines (to my creator) I felt all the tension drain from me and I knew I was going to be fine. That night I shut my eyes with peace. I listened to a subtle voice telling me 'relax and I will heal you'. I knew then that I didn't have to make myself cough, I just had to relax and all the mucous would just work its way up on its own. That night I slept for the first time in four weeks (no joke - had actually been much longer before I had got a good nights sleep, since before I was ill my son had woken be every night for 3 weeks with his illness).

I was only woken by my husband who called me from his work at the hospital to check if I was able to get to sleep or in need of some medication. I told him I was just fine and wasn't going to have any more issues with anxiety.

I know now that whenever anxiety returns in my life all I need do is play my guitar. Of course relaxing music has always been used to help calm people down, but I would suggest that a much more effective remedy, rather than just listening to music, is playing music (and getting in touch with your soul). Maybe all those people suffering with a long term anxiety disorder would be well to take up playing a musical instrument?

I suspect I am not the only person who will be suffering anxiety as a result of the swine flu. It wasn't just the swine flu that left me in this state, it was a combination of things (extreme fatigue, overwork, locking my keys in the car, housework building up, worry for my children's health, a growing interest in and concern for human rights and past atrocities, etc...) but the swine flu pushed me over the edge, since it exhausted me physically and it also worried me mentally.

If you are worried about the swine flu, I'd encourage you to turn off the tv, stop reading the media, eat healthily, sleep well and relax! Do lots of fun things and then maybe you'll recover a lot quicker.

For those with an interest in anxiety, here's the MedWorm topic on Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). For those stepping into my blog now interested in swine flu, make sure to check out my previous swine flu posts in the blog archive at the side, or you can start my swine flu experience here.

(Update: Now fighting fit physically, but the whole 'feeling close to death' thing has had a significant impact on me. Left me still struggling somewhat with anxiety and also revisiting some of my fundamental beliefs about life.)

Thursday, 16 July 2009

My Swine Flu Update

Just in case you were wondering what happened to me, another 6 days later and I am still coughing! The antibiotics have certainly taken the edge off the illness by putting a halt to the secondary bacterial infection that was starting, and took the pain away that was developing in my chest, but I was left I think with a lingering case of viral bronchitis that wasn't going anywhere fast.

Realising that modern medicine didn't have much to offer me I looked into some natural remedies and then went out and bough a big bag of licorice and a bottle of cinnamon leaf oil. Not sure how much effect the licorice has, but I have been surprised at the almost instant relief to my symptoms and also lift to my mood that I experienced from just a drop of cinnamon leaf oil (not to be placed on the skin or taken orally, but just inhaled, and not in large quantities either, just one drop seems very strong).

The day after (which was yesterday) I was feeling much better, but then in the afternoon and evening, and well into the night (2am) I did some more heavy duty coughing as whatever must have been lodged deep in my lungs from the now shifting illness started to make a move up.

Not nice to detail, but for medical purposes I will tell you that it was yellow and incredibly sticky stuff like I have never experienced before in my life. Even though I was feeling much better in myself, it was at times a little scary getting this stuff up as I started to wonder whether the sticky stuff might block my airway altogether, so did some steaming with Vicks in hot water and a towel over my head which I think helped, as did another drop of the cinnamon leaf oil.

Finally got to sleep at 2.30am, too exhausted (again) to cough any more. Hoping for further improvement in my condition today! (yes that doesn't sound like improvement, but all the while I have been feeling better in myself like the infection is diminishing).

The other symptom I forgot to mention was a white furry tongue with red spots - we've all had it. I was one of my first symptoms, nearly four weeks back now, and I noticed I still have it today. I think that when my tongue returns to normal I will know that I am finally better.

4 weeks ill with the swine flu: week 1 getting ill, week 2 definitely ill getting worse, week 3 getting better in the mornings then relapsing in the afternoons, week 4 fighting off the secondary bacterial infection and then starting to get better (I think/hope). Who said this thing would be gone in 7 to 10 days?

Let me make this clear, I am a fit and healthy women in mid 30s, my husband also (although not a woman!) suffering the same duration of illness, my father too, in his 60s, but also fit and healthy. My younger sister (in 20s) was also ill for weeks, but I think closer to 3 than 4 weeks. My son, aged 4 (also normally healthy), was ill a few days sooner than us, was more seriously ill at the beginning (very high temperature in particular) but seems to have recovered much quicker (although again this morning a touch warm and a little cough so I hope nothing is returning).

I can understand why pregnant women are at high risk since there is no way I could have managed the heavy duty coughing in my third trimester.

Lots of reports around that this is no more serious than seasonal flu. I have had seasonal flu a couple of times. Seasonal flu made me feel awful, very achy, heavy head cold, extremely week, but at no time concerned that what I had could be life threatening. With this I didn't feel as achy or wiped out, but the cough is the worst I have experienced (bar the whooping cough I had as a young child that I still remember) and at times when I was fighting to get the stuff out of my airways I was truly scared as to how much worse things were going to get and very aware of my mortality.

When my mother started to develop symptoms a few days ago she took no messing around - knowing that it is only effective if taken in the first few days of symptoms she insisted that the doctor prescribe her Tamiflu since she had seen how much my father had suffered and she was not prepared to go through the same. Good for her I say! Not normally very assertive, she was well informed and took her health into her own hands - she had strong evidence to suggest that we had the swine flu, that she was developing it, and knew that the Tamiflu had to be prescribed straight away if it was to be of any effect, and had the courage to call her GP and argue her case. I think this was sensible. The rest of us did not ask for Tamiflu since we knew it was too late for us. My father was prescribed it even though he had been ill for 3 weeks, and confirmed that it had no effect on him whatsoever, but my mother is feeling her condition improve rather than deteriorate, thanks to her own swift action.

Now finding a 'flu buddy' who would be prepared to visit my mother for her id and prescription, and then travel to the Tamiflu distribution centre to wait with other 'swine flu buddies' (risking their own contamination) - that's a different story (a strategy that has obviously not been clearly thought through and I have to tell you does not work for even those people that have lots of friends in the community - so how it should work for someone that is more isolated I don't know).

Now if you want more information on swine flu, I have to tell you that you won't find a better source than the MedWorm swine flu updates (every hour, compiled from nearly 7,000 sources):
- Swine flu official news
- Swine flu in the medical blogs
- Swine flu discussions (join in by commenting on any of the swine flu articles in MedWorm)

If you have just stepped into my blog here, make sure to also read my posts on when I first realised I had swine flu and also about my swine flu recuperation. There's also now one more post about my swine flu episode that comes after this one, which talks about a swine flu anxiety attack I experienced, to round off my experience.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Swine Flu Recuperation

Today I feel better. Yesterday after posting that I was on the mend I then seemed to take a turn for the worse - my temperature started to rise again, I developed pain across one side of my chest, started to sweat a lot and sensed my cough was changing into something maybe worse. So after 10 days of fighting this thing and feeling completely exhausted, I accepted it was about time to start antibiotics since my infection was likely turning bacterial. I started to read about pneumonia and decided I didn't want to take the risk.

I then started to worry about my father who seemed worse than myself and not really getting better either. I called my mother and insisted that she call the doctor the next morning whether he agreed or not. My father, in the typical British manner, prefers to struggle on without medical intervention. We are all now so conditioned by GPs telling us that what we have is a virus and there is nothing they can do for us, that many are now scared of calling a doctor unnecessarily. Recognising when one has deteriorated enough to make that call is tricky. I believe that often when ill and gradually deteriorating you are not able to take the right decision yourself, and the call is often made far too late.

Now 24 hours and 4 doses of antibiotics later I can safely say I am now feeling better. For the first time in days I was able to lie down and have a nap without coughing almost continuously. And my father now has his antibiotics too so I can relax I think. Phew!

Let me tell you, swine flu is no 'walk in the park'. Of course one shouldn't panic, but at the same time it should be taken seriously. I am fit and healthy without any underlying conditions, but I have to tell you there were a few moments when I really struggled and started to wonder how much worse the cough was going to get. It must really be a concern for the many people that do have underlying conditions.

Here's my swine flu tip: If you start to feel a little tired and unwell, take time out then, sleep a lot, eat really well, get lots of fluids, take some vitamins. Do everything you can to get shut of it in its early days. I instead carried on about my business. Although I felt very tired I did nothing to get more rest and I think that is partly why it hit me so hard the following week. My daughter, when she felt tired, slept, and slept, and slept, and then she was fine. Maybe that helped her?

Isn't it nice when we feel illness on the retreat and normal health start to return? Isn't good health such a wonderful thing?

Yesterday I watched a lady on the TV who had been awaiting a lung transplant for the last 2 years. She had cystic fibrosis. Everyone at the hospital talked about how wonderful she was and what a positive outlook she had. But without a lung transplant soon she will not have much future.

I asked my husband about cystic fibrosis. He said to think of the annoying secretions that I had experienced on my lungs over the past few weeks, and to imagine experiencing that all my life. I can't.

I wondered whether with new lungs she would be cured, or whether she would always suffer from this terrible condition.

Here's the MedWorm section on cystic fibrosis and here's the one on swine flu. You can read what happened next in my swine flu story here or read more about when I first realised I had the swine flu in my previous post.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

I've got the swine flu.... probably

GPs aren't testing for the swine flu in the UK anymore, and the WHO is about to advise that countries with widespread cases stop testing, since 95% or more cases of flu are now caused by H1N1, so there is no way to prove that I have the swine flu.

But I am sure that is what it is, as is my husband (who is a doctor). My sister's friend, who is Argentinian and was living in Spain flew to visit her and then got ill - next to follow was my sister, who was visited by parents just before she presented with symptoms. My parents then came to stop at our household for a few days, and then my sister also paid us a visit. Shortly after my sister getting ill, my mother started to feel like she was developing something (although she seemed to fight it off), and then myself, my husband, my son and my father (who does not live with us) all fell ill at the same time.

My none-scientific calculations, if our source of illness is correct, tell me that the incubation period is quite long, something closer to the early suggestions of around about 8 days between coming into contact with the virus and developing symptoms. Now my son's (4 year old) friends are also starting to develop suspect symptoms, and if they caught it from him then the 8 days would also fit. However, I read that recent reports suggest a shorter incubation period that could even be as short as 1 - 4 days. Personally I think that this may be due to the virus being so widespread at the moment - when you go down with the flu, maybe your friends are too, but doesn't mean that's who you caught it from - it could well be that you and your friends were in contact with someone else at the same time, who may have had the illness that you don't even know about. After all, who wants to advertise the fact that they think they may have the swine flu? I certainly didn't want to be the one that got my children's schools shut down! I am relieved now that our government are no long taking this cause of action, since the disruption to everyone when this happens is huge, and I figure everyone is going to come into contact with this now sooner or later.

So how we feel? Why are we convinced we got the swine flu? And what treatment did we receive?

I first started to feel a little 'odd' like I was going down with a strange cold that I thought was suspicious. Felt a little unlike other colds although I wasn't sure why. I was quite tired and I remember had absolutely no energy in my aerobics class and being very out of breath. I had a slight saw throat and developed a very 'sticky' cough that came on very quickly, which I found unusual since I am not prone to catch many coughs, and certainly not so quickly. I found it 'stickier' than anything I had experienced before, but I wasn't very unwell. A slight temperature. I had started taking Sambucol (black elderberry extract) which I had researched on Pubmed and seemed to be effective in boosting immunity against flu viruses. I then seemed to be getting better and shifting whatever it was, before it came back and hit me a second time. This time the cough was much worse. It is a deep chesty cough that seems to hit you in waves - sometimes you think it is getting better, and then all of a sudden you feel really bad - and then you pick up again. The cough goes on and on and keeps you up at night. Mine didn't have any yellow secretions, although my husband's did a little (so he took some antibiotics to fight any secondary bacterial infection). Sounds like we have TB. I've been coughing badly now for 9 days, but today I would say I am definitely feeling better and can say now I think is is subsiding. My sister tells me she was really ill but is now 100% better with no symptoms at all - which is reassuring.

I did not visit the doctor. I took lots of Sambucol, which I believe took the edge off things (I would always feel better a few hours after taking it) as well as chesty cough medicine containing Guaifenesin, which I could not have done without, as well as bronchial balsam mixture, and lots of Vicks almost permanently on my chest (which I think may have helped relax me slightly). I haven't taken any paracetamol, instead preferring to let myself run with a very slight temperature, since my own theory is that helps me fight the infection better. We have also been drinking lots of red berry juice - which tastes very good to me at the moment! Have been tired and worn out, which is no surprise due to the disrupted sleep and heavy duty coughing. Now I am quite pleased I have had this and am on the mend since I figure I can relax a little come the Winter without any major concerns for the flu. One thing I would say is that this flu has seemed different to any other. The main thing has been the cough. I have felt maybe a little achy at times, and have had a slight 'sniffle', but nothing like the aches and head colds of previous flu - but that may have been due to the Sambucol which I believe is effective in fighting such symptoms.

My 4 year old son was also hit by two waves - first off he got a high temperature round about 39 degrees (under the arm) that responded after a few hours to Calpol and Calprofen - followed by a sudden cold that seemed to be clearing after a few days - but then 4 to 5 days later had a sudden temperature that rose above 40 degrees - not sure exactly how hot, since after that we were so busy trying to get the temperature down we didn't have time to take it again (well maybe we were too scared to) until it had dropped a little. After that he developed the same cough as us. He has on the whole however slept better than us, after his initial temperature, his cough hasn't been quite as bad and I think been getting well quicker (at least I hope so, although it is obviously much more worrying seeing him ill than experiencing this ourselves).

We initially called NHS Direct regarding our son, who gave us general advice on treating the flu. Later in the night we called our out of hours doctor who told us to take him to our nearest treatment centre - which was quite a drive actually to the hospital, so we didn't bother since his temperature was starting to come down. The next time his temperature flared up we took him to the GP the next day who thought it was probably a virus but saw that his throat was sore, so prescribed antibiotics as a precaution. Swine flu was not mentioned since there were not many known cases in the area at that time. However, just a few weeks later when my friend took her children to the doctor with the same symptoms they have said it is quite possibly swine flu, although they cannot confirm this. She was not offered Tamiflu, which I found was surprising since both her children are asthmatic, but told to go back if it got much worse.

Worth noting is that my mother felt she was going down with something, so on my recommendation took Sambucol and then felt fine, as did my 14 year old daughter (who we have been coughing all over the past few weeks, and after just a dry throat and slight temperature one night, and several doses of Samucol, has also stayed well).

So that's our 'probably swine flu' story, for those that are wondering whether they have it too and what the symptoms might be. Good luck with your dose! Read what happened next in my swine flu story here.

Don't forget to check out MedWorm for all the very latest swine flu news.