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Chantal Sicile-Kira Headshot

Swine Flu and Paranoia, North of the Border

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Recently I traveled to Mexico (see Autism and Hope, South of the Border) and came back really sick, so sick that I visited my medical clinic three times in two weeks. Last Friday, I actually got to see my regular doctor, but that was before we knew the swine flu existed.

Over the weekend, I started getting the phone calls from friends.

"What, you're still sick? You never get sick like this! Didn't you just come back from Mexico?" "Well, did you get tested for swine flu?"

I started getting worried, so I called my sister Dominique. She's a nurse practitioner, and she knows everything, medically speaking. I guess you see a lot of interesting things when you work in the ER of a hospital in Greenwich Village. "You should get tested, seriously. It's a pandemic alert level 4," she tells me. I had no idea what that meant, but it did sound scary.

I decided to poll my facebook friends. I filled in the "What's on your mind?" space with "OK, so I came back with an ear infection and really sick from South of the Border a couple of weeks ago. Should I get tested? I hate wasting my time. Am I being paranoid?" I have 822 friends, but only 9 cared to comment. They all said I should get tested.

I took a break from this strenuous decision-making process and went to visit my mom who lives down the street in a skilled nursing facility. There was a big sign on the door: "DON'T ENTER IF YOU HAVE BEEN TO MEXICO OR THINK YOU MAY HAVE SWINE FLU". Great, now I was really getting paranoid. My iPhone buzzed and I got a text from my sister. "I think you should be tested ASAP," it read.

I decided to call the doctor's office and let them decide if I needed to be tested or not. I was still sick, and if I was possibly carrying around something I could spread to others, I guess it was the right thing to do. Sheepishly, I explained to the office staff person that because I've been sick ever since I came back from Mexico, I wondered if I should get tested for the Swine Flu.

"What are your symptoms?" he asked.

"Well, my ears were all plugged up which turned out to be an ear infection. And it started with a sore throat. I still feel terrible."

"I'll talk to the doctor and get back to you," he said.

An hour later the phone rang. "Do you have, or did you have, a high fever?" This question always poses a problem for me. When I feel crappy, I usually pop tylenol or ibuprofen, anything to feel better. Of course, this reduces any fever as well. He asked me about a few more symptoms, and as he described them, I felt them coming on. "Do you feel achy all over?" I tried to remember what my initial symptoms were, and of course I then ached all over and I felt even sicker. I was really paranoid now, but still felt stupid for calling in the first place. He tells me he will talk to the doctor and get back to me.

I turned on the radio for a little distraction, and I listened to the news on NPR. "There are misconceptions about how the swine flu is spread," the announcer says. "Some people think they can avoid it by not eating any pork...."

"Well, I definitely didn't catch swine flu in Mexico, I was staying in a vegan household," I tell myself.

".... But the reality is it is spread by human contact. People should wash their hands and use alcoholic....."

"Unfortunately it was also a "dry" household," I remember. A week in Mexico, and no tequila!

"....gels and avoid sharing utensils and cups..", continues the announcer. I've had enough, so I switch off the radio.

A little later, the doctor's office calls back. "The doctor said not to worry, and there's no need to get tested," the person said. "Great!" I replied.

This evening, I heard on the local news that a baby died of the swine flu in Texas. "All of humanity is under threat," Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said during a news conference in Geneva. I guess it is true because World Health officials have raised the pandemic alert level to 5 (out of a possible 6), and in Egypt, health officials ordered the slaughter of 300,000 hogs.

Some officials in Washington are calling for the borders to be closed between here and Mexico. President Obama says that's not going to happen, "That would be like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped."

I'm sure he meant to say pig, not horse.

The local news continued, reporting that two new cases of swine flu were confirmed in San Diego County, and that there is one possible case at San Diego State University, where officials said a female student sickened by what could be Swine Flu would not be allowed back on campus until she had fully recovered.

In other local news, there were reports of local San Diego residents acting pig-headed and hogging the road more than usual, but so far any connection to the swine flu outbreak has yet to be established.

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