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Tale from the Flu Front: Congestion, exhaustion with a side of nausea

Posted January 23, 2015

I had a lot of plans for this week. Volunteering with my girls over the MLK Day holiday. Interviews lined up for Go Ask Mom. Dinners planned. Even a rare movie night with some girlfriends.

Then came the itchy eyes and dry cough on Friday and Saturday, followed by extreme exhaustion on Sunday that kept me in bed for nearly the entire day. I get nasty sinus infections from time to time. I chalked it up to my latest one.

I mean ... it couldn't be the flu. My kids, husband and I had all gotten our flu shots. And while I'd read and even written reports about how this year's flu shot is only 23 percent effective at protecting us against this year's flu strains, I was still in denial. Not me?!

On Monday, I was still mostly flat on my back, in bed and exhausted with a fever hovering around 100 degrees. I had a killer headache, horrible congestion and so many body aches. Even my gums ached. I alternated between Ibuprofen and Alka Seltzer Flu and Cold; heavy doses of saline nose spray; and copious amounts of water.

By Tuesday, my temperature was over 101 degrees and I got myself to the doctor, who made it official. I have the flu. She prescribed Tamiflu, which has helped to alleviate those flu symptoms. My fever and congestion are gone. But it's also added a new one to the mix: nausea, a common side effect from the antiviral medication.

For those who have not had the flu before, that might give you some insight into the misery that comes with the flu. Nearly constant, low-grade nausea (still with a headache) is actually preferable to how I was feeling before I started taking Tamiflu.

The flu isn't just a really bad cold. It's not a stomach bug that lasts a couple of days. It isn't something you get over once that fever is gone. If you say, "oh, I had flu over the weekend," you probably didn't actually have the real, honest-to-goodness flu. It's an illness that truly knocks you off your feet.

Doctors tell me it could be another week or more before I actually feel 100 percent again and can return to all of my regular activities and my running routine. That's a long time when you're in the business of being a mom, or anybody really.

"You should be back up to full mom probably five days after your fever breaks," said Dr. Ryan Murray from WakeMed Physician Practices – Garner Primary Care.

And while I write about all of this with a slight sense of humor, it's important to remember that the flu can be deadly. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported this week that this year's flu deaths have surpassed the total from last year.

I checked back in with Jessica Dixon, infection prevention project specialist at WakeMed, who I spoke with earlier this month for a post about staying healthy during flu season. Now that I'm starting to recover, clean-up and prevention are on my mind. So far, (knock on wood), my husband and daughters are healthy.

I'd followed her recommendations before I got sick (though Dixon said then and would say now that nothing is foolproof). And I've followed them exactly since I've gotten sick. I primarily sequestered myself in my house's guest room. I've not shared hand towels. My hands are red from the amount of washing I've done.

I haven't even physically touched a door knob or faucet in my house, using the sleeves of my giant, comfy high school field hockey sweatshirt that I pull out in times like these or elbows instead. There certainly have been no hugs or kisses. And, when my daughter needed somebody to stir her yogurt, I put gloves on to get it done.

I called Dixon because I had some questions. When will I know whether or not my kids and my husband are safe from catching the flu from me? Will my guest room ever be safe for guests again? How long do all of these germs actually live?

Dixon told me that I'm not completely out of the woods.

I could be contagious for up to seven days - a day before the symptoms appear and as much as 5 to 7 days after getting sick. The incubation period for the flu is between one and four days. So that means I won't really know, for certain, until next Thursday if my kids or husband will get sick thanks to me.

She also told me that flu germs live on hard surfaces like door knobs, tables and counter tops for two to eight hours. My guest room will be habitable for guests, though I'll do a serious job washing all of the bed linens and airing it all out.

"The good thing about flu is all of the cleaning stuff works for flu," said Dixon, who shared some great tips for cleaning when somebody is sick in the house earlier this month. I'm getting a bottle of hand sanitizer for the kitchen table based on her suggestion now.

Of course, I learned on Wednesday that I can't go around cleaning the house right now. I spent about an hour Wednesday, my first fever-free day, scrubbing down the bathroom and wiping down various things with Lysol wipes. On Thursday, I was totally spent. While I'm no longer lying in bed, I barely made it off a small couch in our living room (that nobody, but me, is allowed on right now).

Dixon said a healthy lifestyle also can be important in protecting yourself or your loved ones from the flu. I'll be making sure my kids and husband are getting plenty of rest, eating healthy and staying hydrated.

Dr. Murray echoed her recommendations on taking good care of yourself and the need to take it slow even after the fever is gone. Flu sufferers should take it easy for about 48 hours after the fever breaks, he said.

"You’re putting everything internally into really fighting this," said Dr. Murray, a father of three. "You really need to replenish your stores. Good nutrition and hydration, really. But most especially rest."

The fact that I've not wanted to eat much over the last many days means that I need to push fluids - really water - as much as I can.

And both Dixon and Murray reminded me that this could happen all over again ... even before this year's flu season ends.

"Most of the time we have a second peak later in the season like late February," Dr. Murray said. "And it's usually a different strain. You have good immunity to the influenza virus that you got infected with. Your immune system is primed and ready to fight it. However, the society at large has another one for you."

If there's anything I've learned from getting the flu, other than that it's absolutely horrible, is that it's just fine to take some time for myself. All of us moms hear this from time to time. In this case, I've been forced to take it seriously.

My husband and kids have managed to eat and get to work and school without my help. On Monday, when my husband had to check in at the office, my kids, ages 9 and 5, managed to get their own well balanced lunches entirely by themselves. They've done just fine, actually. And friends have rallied to help, shuttling my kids to and from school; offering to air drop Gatorade and soup; and sending some much needed laughs by text.

So, yes, I've fulfilled some of my 2015 resolutions more quickly than expected thanks to the flu. I've lost some weight. I've rested more. And I've taken extra time for myself.

I'd say this year is off to a perfect start if only it didn't all happen because of the flu.

Sarah is a mom of two and Go Ask Mom's editor, who feels a lot better today.

9 Comments

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  • Sarah Hall Jan 26, 2015
    user avatar

    Thank you, Faye! It is no fun.

    And so sorry to hear that @Desiderata. I hope you're all on the mend now. How scary! Definitely agree about seeing a doctor ASAP.

    Sarah

  • Mariann Byknish Jan 26, 2015
    user avatar

    I got the flu shot , almost first in line! BUT , got the flu on a Sunday night, Tamiflu obtained at 24hours, did nothing to help. Ended up hospitaized for 4 days getting IVF , had kidney damage from dehydration. Taken several weeks to get back up to speed. This flu is REALLY BAD! If you get sick, see a doctor, it can be deadly!

  • Faye Prosser Jan 23, 2015
    user avatar

    So glad you are starting to feel better, Sarah. What a rough week it has been for you. Hoping your family stays healthy!

  • homeschooljs Jan 23, 2015

    Don't for get to grind up fresh horseraddish too.

  • homeschooljs Jan 23, 2015

    Braggs Apple Cider vinegar, onions, garlic, ginger chopped. Put in glass bottle. Let it sit out room temp for two weeks. Strain juice back into glass bottle. Take three to four drops when needed. My family including the children take this and we have not had the flu or taken any conventional cough medicines that do not work. You can also take the juice and marinate your meats with it. Sorry to burst your bubble but all of you in the same house...batten down the hatches. Hopefully it won't be too bad.

  • Sarah Hall Jan 23, 2015
    user avatar

    Thanks for your concern, @RaleighBoy524. I started working on this yesterday when I was feeling much better and tired of sitting around doing nothing!

    Feeling much better these last couple of days, @NewsSaavy72. Thank you!

    Sarah

  • Obama-in-2016 Jan 23, 2015

    Did you get this flu in Durham?

  • newssaavy72 Jan 23, 2015

    Wow! Sorry that you caught the flu Sarah! I wish that you will make a speedy recovery!

  • raleighboy524 Jan 23, 2015

    Sorry you are sick but why write a column when you should be resting and getting well? Misplaced priorities!