Our Flu Stories – Kveller
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Our Flu Stories


With a major flu epidemic going around the country, two Kveller contributors, Carla Naumburg and Avital Norman Nathman, talk about how they’ve dealt with it in the past.

The flu has hit the Boston area in a major way. Last Wednesday, the mayor declared a public health emergency. In fact, the entire nation is seeing the worst flu epidemic in the past 10 years.

We’re Jewish mothers, which means that we’re all about obsessing over who’s sick, who isn’t, and how we can keep our kids healthy (and not just because we really need them to go to school tomorrow). We love the sordid details, and we know you do, too, so here you go–our flu stories.

Avital: I should probably preface my story with the admission that I’ve never ever had a flu shot, despite the fact that I’m married to a man who administers flu shots daily in his job as a pharmacist.

So, it wasn’t that big of a surprise when I eventually came down with the flu. It was October of 2011, and I had made plans to leave my husband for a long weekend and take my son down to Florida to visit with my bubbe and my mother, who was already down there vacationing. The plane ride down went as well as could be expected when traveling solo with a 4.5 year old, but by the time we reached sunny Florida, I was exhausted.

I woke up the next morning to an excited child who couldn’t wait to jump in the pool and a body that would not stop aching. The pain began behind my eyes and spread out, like a spiderweb of agony, throughout my entire body. My arms were painful straight down to the bone. My legs, eager to one-up my arms, could hardly support me as I hobbled to the bathroom. My sinuses provided fresh waves of searing torture across my face. Just for the fun of it, my left ear decided to become clogged as well, causing me to hear everything as if I was under water.

Thankfully, I had both my mother and grandmother there to take care of me. My mom whisked my son away to the pool so I could rest, while my bubbe took my temperature, made me hot tea and matzah ball soup.

The rest of the weekend was spent in bed, either shivering beneath layers of blankets in 80 degree whether, or sweating profusely until I had to drag myself to sit beneath the cool spray of the shower–there was no way I could safely do it standing up. I drank water, tea, Emergen-C, and soup, and blew my way through two boxes of tissues. My chest and lungs produced a rainbow of colored phlegm, while my head pounded, my nose burned, and my eyes watered. Worst. Vacation. Ever.

I was still rocking a mild fever with moderate aches and pains the morning we were set to fly home. I downed a few cold & flu pills, and prayed for the best. The best ended up with me sweating through three layers of shirts while my son blissfully watched 2.5 hours of Spongebob Squarepants on the in-flight personal TV sets Jet Blue so thoughtfully provides.

I somehow made it home from the airport. I spent the following week wallowing in bed, perfecting my tissue to trash can shot, and trying almost every single flavor of Vitamin Water available. And yet, despite that flu from hell, I have yet to get a flu shot this year. I’m toying with the idea of heading down to the local pharmacy and allowing my husband to jab me in the arm, but for my own reasons I haven’t quite made it there yet despite flu-pocalypse. I understand that flu shots are not for everyone, so if you’re not lining up to get yours–please do your best to be the healthiest you this cold and flu season: wash your hands, eat well, exercise, rest up, and drink plenty of fluids.

Carla: H1N1 went viral (HA!) in the winter of 2009-2010. A shortage of vaccinations meant that hospital staff, pregnant women, and physically vulnerable individuals got first dibs. As an asthmatic who was then 10 weeks pregnant with my second child, I fell into two of those categories. Although my “situation” had been confirmed by three blood tests and two ultrasounds, I hadn’t yet been transferred from the fertility clinic to the OB/GYN clinic and therefore, I wasn’t officially knocked up. No flu shot for me.

I came home from work one day feeling crappier than my pregnancy could account for, and the minute I saw the number “100.4” flash on my digital thermometer, I called my doctor in a panic. The thing is, I don’t get fevers. Ever. (This is not nearly as cool as it might sound. As my father subscribed to the “If you don’t have a fever, you’re going to school” philosophy, I rarely got to take a sick day, even when I needed one. Also, even if you have angry red streaks running down your boob and shooting pain every time your baby latches, doctors won’t diagnose mastitis and give you meds unless you have a fever.) Anyway, I had barely spoken the words “pregnant” and “fever” before the triage nurse gave me a prescription for Tamiflu and told me to stay home.

As my husband and 12-month-old hadn’t had their flu shots, I immediately quarantined myself to the bedroom. For the next four days, it was just me, my iPad, and my bed. The combination of a first-trimester pregnancy and the flu left me virtually debilitated. I watched the entire first season of Remington Steele on Hulu (*awesome*) and obsessively searched the internet for information about the impact of H1N1 on fetal development (*not awesome*). A few times a day, my husband would appear in the doorway holding our daughter, who would wave at me happily.

Looking back, I was lucky. Thanks to the Tamiflu and my fever-resistant body, my temperature never rose above 101. My sickness put my daughter into a high-risk category, which got her a flu shot. The baby was fine (although she is mildly annoying at times, but that’s probably unrelated). I know that many others died from the flu that winter, and this winter is no different. Please, take care of yourself and your family, and stay healthy.

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