Swine Flu: One Woman's Experience

09/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

When the swine flu hits, it can be like a tsunami of symptoms or it can be mild. One of my patients, Kate (not her real name) related the following to help others know what they might experience. She was the ideal sick person, she did everything right!

Kate first thought she might be sick when she returned from a weekend away with her boyfriend. She noticed a slight sore throat, stuffy nose and a constant headache that covered her entire head. She didn't have a fever, and because she works in a medical office, called them for advice.

This office did all the right things, they had her enter through a side door, so she wouldn't expose anyone in the waiting room, had her put a mask on as soon as she came in and then put her in a room and closed the door. The health care provider who saw her was also wearing a mask. They swabbed her nose and sent it off to the lab for a PCR test, which is the most accurate.

They didn't know whether she had the Swine Flu (H1N1), but took all the right precautions to protect their other patients and everyone who worked there. As soon as the results came back in 24 hours, they prescribed Tamiflu.

Before Kate could start the medication, her fevers started. They spiked to 102 and she'd try to control them with Motrin, but as soon as the Motrin wore off, the fever would spike again. She was worried when her fevers spiked, because she has a history of epilepsy and was concerned that the high temperatures would trigger a seizure. Because she was home by herself, this was even more scary.

She described the coughing as constant and raking. "It was awful," she said, "I just couldn't stop." There was lots of thick yellow mucus, despite using Mucinex, drinking lots of water, and bombarding her body with Vitamin C. She described the thickened mucus as one of the worst parts of the illness, and so draining. Her body just kept coughing and coughing and despite all her attempts to thin out the mucus, it was so thick. She said that now she understands how someone with Swine Flu could develop pneumonia from this and how their lungs can fill up and she feels lucky.

A friend said that her deep voice from her constant coughing and sore throat made her sound like a man, but that the coughing was so constant, she could barely finish a sentence.

When she started the Tamiflu, it took 2 days before her symptoms began to subside. Though she felt much better in 3 days, she still wasn't out of the woods. She kept herself quarantined, didn't go out of her apartment, and luckily had friends and family who would drop by with food and medicines. She says her mom became Mom on Wheels, delivering food and nurturing everyday. Any one who stopped by, of course, wore masks, washed their hands and didn't get too close. Her boyfriend, who lives over an hour away, brought by flowers and magazines and checked on her several times with text messages. He didn't get sick and neither did her mom.

Kate says that being quarantined was also difficult. She's a very social person and found being isolated very depressing. She felt that she was going stir crazy. At one point, she wondered if she'd ever get better and be able to leave her apartment, but she waited to return to work until 1 full day after all her symptoms were gone.

Kate told me all of this a week after all her symptoms disappeared, when she was as happy and healthy as the past. She shook her head and said, "Boy, when it hits, it's like a freight train."

If you think you have the flu this summer, it's most likely the H1N1 virus or Swine Flu. You may not have all the symptoms and they may be mild, so it can be difficult to recognize. Luckily, this strain has not caused as many serious cases and deaths as we feared, yet, it's still important to keep washing our hands, and taking precautions. Not everyone with H1N1 is as lucky as Kate, in fact there's a pregnant woman in a local hospital right now on a ventilator, because her case of H1N1 was much more severe and she's fighting for her life.

Be well. Nurse Barb