This column sounds like a public service announcement. It’s coming to you from a woman who just crawled out of Flu-ville, back to the land of the living (barely) with shaky legs, unsteady mind and bad memories — but standing upright. Not far from the bathroom.
Why, you may ask.
Why, indeed. Because someone somewhere out there suffering from a flu bug put their germy hand on something or didn’t cover their cough or didn’t wash their hands. They successfully conveyed their germy bug to me — which landed somewhere on me and made its way into my body, and there it multiplied. So quickly, in fact, that I went to sleep one evening feeling normal and woke up two hours later, rousted up from dead sleep to hit the floor running for the bathroom even before my mind caught up to what was going down. Or coming up.
But it caught up. Real fast. And then came hours of pouring myself out in every direction as I vacillated between being afraid I was going to die sitting there and afraid I wasn’t.
Strangely, this all took place in a hospital where I was staying to help a close relative through heart surgery. I’d planned to stay for three nights, sleeping on the tiny fold-out bed. This worked fine the first and second nights. This did not work fine the third night because at 2 a.m., which is supposed to be lights out and quiet time on the cardio floor, the visitor of one of the patients was noisily emptying her body of everything it had consumed in the past week inside the echoey bathroom. News flash: It’s impossible to vomit quietly.
So the nurses periodically slid more barf bags through the bathroom door while insisting I either leave the hospital or go downstairs and admit myself. Leave was precisely what I wanted to do, but, well, when you’re attached to the commode, it’s impossible to just get up and saunter down the hall. My patient husband arrived, found a wheel chair, rushed me to the car, rushed me home and rushed me to our bathroom — my new home for the next two days. (Mercifully, my relative did not come down with the flu).
That’s enough of the details. You get the picture. Hopefully well enough to be as inspired as I now am to commit to the policy of No Germ Left Behind.
Folks, we are ALL carriers. Even if we’re not full-blown ill at the moment, we still carry germs that can turn any one of us from a functioning person to a leaking mass in mere hours. Ironically, even a hospital isn’t sanitized enough to thwart our carelessness. The only way we can get through this is by collectively agreeing to the CDC’s three main rules of the game: Get vaccinated, use preventive steps, and use prescription meds called “antiviral drugs” to treat flu illness. Their website teaches that the flu can be spread by a contagious person up to 6 feet away by coughing, sneezing or even talking. Or, if they touch a surface an infected person has touched, then convey it to their own mouth, nose or eyes. We’re most contagious in the first three to four days after illness begins, but also one day before symptoms begin. So we can infect others even before we know we are infected. (Sure puts a damper on kissing.)
Vaccination is the CDC’s number one recommendation — for everyone six months and older. For the past three years I’ve come down with the flu within 48 hours of getting my shot. (Coincidence, right?) But I’m still going to get it because as bad as my experience was, it could be a lot worse. And I dread the idea that if I don’t get my flu shot and the flu bug gets me, someone else in my world could become exposed to the flu because of me.
Common sense plays a role here too. Got a fever? Stay home until you don’t. Kids have a fever, cough, runny nose? Keep them home. Don’t infect their entire grade school class because you have plans. Use tissues, don’t cough on anyone or anything and wash your hands constantly. Most of all, get your flu shot. Remember, most people don’t die from the flu — but a few do. Don’t be the carrier that makes that happen.
Finally, join me in the belief that if we collectively spend one entire season following all the rules, maybe, just maybe, we can nearly eliminate the flu. It sure beats having it eliminate us.