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My Swine Flu Misery

Sarah Vine describes how her body has been racked with tonsillitis, fever, nausea and sickness — and Tamiflu made it worse

As I write, my brain feels as if it’s rotating very gently, floating uncertainly inside the cavity of my skull. In my left ear, I can hear the faint, rhythmic rush of my pulse. My right ear is a blur of inflammation, the remnants of tonsillitis only just under control.

When I swallow, pain catches in my throat, and I am still grinding my penicillin to stop the bitter pills from getting trapped in the doughy mass of inflamed tissue at the back of my mouth.
Every now and again my heart does a little, inexplicable, fillip in my chest, and if I walk upstairs I become unpleasantly warm and clammy.

And yet, compared with how I felt this time last week, I am in rude . What’s a little dizziness compared with the thumping pain of a headache that made even the softest pillow feel like a rough stone; or a bit of ear-fuzz after a throat so inflamed that swallowing water felt like imbibing shards of glass?
No, I feel positively perky, not to mention extremely lucky that the virus that has gripped me for the past seven days appears, finally, to be subsiding.
Like most people, when it came to the hysteria, I was very much of the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ school of thought. Probably won’t get it, but if I do, it will be, as per the press release, “mild”.
I envisioned myself wrapped in a blanket, watching TCM and sipping healing hot drinks. At no point did I see myself struggling with the impossible dilemma, given my body’s simultaneous need for both, of whether to use the toilet in the conventional manner — or as a vomitorium.

It came on very suddenly. I had gone to bed feeling oddly thirsty, in the way that you do when you’re getting a cold, and woke up with a sore throat. The headache that had been with me for about a week had intensified.
I downed a couple of Nurofen, rang the office to say I would be working from home and sat down at my desk as usual. I felt bad, but OK. Just after lunch came the first bout of diarrhoea, along with a nasty sicky feeling.

By teatime, as I sat watching Dumbo with the children, I realised that I couldn’t really lift my head.
Shooting pains were assailing my arms and chest, and the muscles in my legs were joining in. And I was hot, really hot. Except actually I was cold, really cold. Brrr, shivery cold. Or was I hot? I had absolutely no idea.
If I closed my eyes, I could definitely see pink elephants, though. Dancing ones, with psychedelic trombones.
The next few hours are a blur. Getting my children, aged six and four, ready for bed required every ounce of my willpower.

Who knows what fabled delights I must have promised them in my delirium: trips to Disneyland, the entire Lego Star Wars collection grafted to the bedroom ceiling.
It eventually worked.
With the children in bed, if not actually asleep (and a bit freaked out by my uncharacteristic generosity), I decided, inexplicably, to take a very hot bath.
It just seemed like the right thing to do. I was so unbelievably cold, and also so sweaty after my exertions: I wanted to be clean but also, crucially, warm.

The relief to my aching muscles was heavenly, but it didn’t last long. When my husband came home a few hours later he found me not quite asleep in his winter-weight winceyette pyjamas, clutching a hot-water bottle and shivering under two duvets and a blanket.
Being a man of action, he brought up the laptop and logged on to an online symptom-checker. I had every one of them. He took my temperature, using our superfast digital thermometer, and it was 39.8°C.
The next morning, after a night that is probably best left to the imagination, he called our local surgery. The receptionist was distinctly put out. “We’ve very busy, you know,” she said. He pressed his point. “All right, I’ll see if the doctor can call you,” she said, and that was that.

Around me, the day got under way. My daughter was still at school, so my husband took her on the way to the office, while my son stayed at home with our au pair.
Luckily, as both my husband and I work full time, we have childcare during the week, and so I was able to stay in bed.
Goodness only knows how I would have coped if I’d have had to look after my son myself — I’m really not sure that I would have been able to. I was having trouble making it to the bathroom, let alone meeting the vigorous demands of a bumptious four-year-old boy. And at least my children are at a relatively self-sufficient age.
Trying to cope with something like this with a toddler or a baby would be quite frightening, not to say dangerous.
Eventually, around 1pm, the doctor called. She sounded harried, poor woman. It had been a nightmare morning. Anyway: what were my symptoms? By now I was finding it quite hard to speak, both because of exhaustion but mainly because my throat was so painful. Nevertheless, I managed an outline.
“Oh dear, it really does sound like you have got this ,” she said. “It’s hard to tell sometimes, but the chest pains are a bit of a give-away. Do you think you want Tamiflu?”
I asked her what she thought. She said that she wasn’t entirely convinced, that it helped some people but that it made quite a lot of her other patients very sick.
Then again, if it could help shorten the illness… I decided to try it.
My au pair, now promoted to “flu friend”, collected the prescription and I took my first Tamiflu at around 6pm.
After about an hour, I became dimly aware of a strange foreboding in my stomach. I turned over, willing it to subside. Nope, there it was again: unmistakable.
I adjusted my pillows, hoping for a reprieve. No, I was going to be sick. Really sick.
I barely made it to the bathroom before my body unceremoniously ejected the Tamiflu, along with the only other thing I had swallowed that day, Ribena.
Three clean pairs of pyjamas, several packets of antibacterial wipes, a bucket of bleach and a washing machine load of unspeakably soiled linen later, my system seemed finally satisfied that the chemicals were now gone and it settled back into a straightforward fever.
I couldn’t face another run-in with the Tamiflu, so the night passed relatively uneventfully between dizzying trips to the bathroom and sweat-soaked sheets. On day three, I woke at 6am with only one thing in mind: antibiotics.
My tonsils were so swollen that I couldn’t open my mouth more than half an inch.
It was reported in the UK that a six-year-old girl who died after becoming infected with swine flu suffered septic shock as a result of tonsillitis — and doctors say there is evidence that influenza A infections such as swine flu could increase a person’s susceptibility to other infections.

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