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What Swine Flu Feels Like

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I am happy to report that my two youngest daughters and I have survived swine flu. There is great relief in that statement, because I think the worst part of the pandemic is wondering if you or your kids are going to be among the 1% who suffer serious, if not fatal, consequences of the disease. Like any sickness, it is as much an emotional journey as a physical one.

H1N1 comes on fast. Flu usually does. It's not a day or two of sneezing leading to a stuffy nose. It's waking up with a sore throat or a cough and getting a fever and feeling like crap all on day one. You can go to the doctor at this point. We all did. But no doctors are actually testing for H1N1. All three of the doctors we saw said that the test is expensive, and takes a long time, and since there is no regular seasonal flu happening right now, if you've got the flu, you've got swine flu. But the tell-tale signs are the cough and fever. I had the cough the worst (and still have it a bit). Eve and Lucia only had a little cough.

If you go to the doctor's office, they might give you Tamiflu. All three of us took Tamiflu. Although the doctor I saw towards the end of my infection was mad that another doctor in her practice was giving it out, since she is concerned about the virus getting resistant to it.

So the first part of the swine flu is the fear stage. It's the "Oh My Gosh how bad is this going to be and are we all going to die?" stage. The gathering of weapons of healing is the only defense: liquids, vaporizers, blankets, DVDs, soups, slippers, and the SpongeBob SquarePants thermometer. The good news about this stage is, because H1N1 is so contagious, there is no guilt about staying home from school or work. In fact, Eve's school shut down for three days because so many kids were out sick. Instead there is determination about staying home till it's over, and settling in for whatever that brings.

Stage two is the languishing illness stage. It's too soon to know if you are going to have complications; they usually occur between day 5 and 7 of the flu--just when you should be starting to feel better. So all you can do is lay in bed, drink iced beverages from a glass with a straw, and perhaps watch a movie. We all watched the just-released anniversary edition of The Wizard of Oz, a movie my two youngest kids had NEVER seen! Actually, I had never seen it without commercials. It was quite good. But seriously, at this stage the fever might be down, and the symptoms lessened, but you're still sick: hot, cold, sweaty, woozy, and too tired to do anything of significance other than delete emails (I deleted 1,140 of them in one day, and it left me shaking and utterly exhausted). I made Eve watch The Princess Bride in bed, which is the greatest movie ever made and has the best line..."Anybody want a peanut?" And at night I went into their rooms and checked their breathing and feel their foreheads to make sure they weren't feverish.

The final stage is the part where you look death in the eye and decide whether or not you are going to choose life. One of my favorite movies is The Piano. And I often think about the end, when everyone thinks Ada's going to die (and the whole movie has that literary affect to it, so you genuinely believe she must die or it won't be a serious movie...) and she surfaces from the water, the voice in her head exclaiming with surprise: "I choose life!" I always get that feeling towards the end of a sickness--and even when I come home safely from a trip--it's kind of like being reborn. There is surprise, joy, and just a sense of renewed purpose.

So that's how I feel now that we are through the Dread Swine Flu. We all chose life. Eve is back to school. Lucia, who never stopped jumping on beds and couches during the whole thing, is fine. If she falls, she shouts "I'm OK!--I'm weewy, weewy OK!" And I'm back to work, now worrying about all the people at Rodale just like I worry about my own family. But now I've got resistance, so I'm OK--weewy, weewy OK.

For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.

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