Starve a cold, feed a fever: Do I have a cold or the flu, that’s the question.
It’s a question that many people nationwide are asking themselves right now. The Center for Disease Control says that roughly half of the United States is experiencing “high levels of flu activity.” The CDC’s top recommendation is no surprise – get a flu shot now.
From my personal experience, you don’t want to tangle with the beast that is known as the flu.
I once taught aerobics five days a week; picture me in leg warmers (or don’t). A man of steel was I. On this particular Monday, the 5:30 a.m. class was tough to get through because I was a little off. I thought about the night before and blamed it on the one Cinco de Mayo strawberry margarita I’d had at a friend’s house.
No worries for a man of steel. After the morning aerobics class, I went to the office and saw patients. Little did I know that I was 48 hours away from intensive care, going from doctor to critically ill patient.
I went to the gym again the next morning, but was so weak I didn’t even consider teaching my class. I struggled through the day at work, and by afternoon a staff member had to take me home because she didn’t think I could drive.
She was right. But neither of us could have envisioned that I was 24 hours away from respiratory failure. Funny thing about being really sick; my medical mind was too scrambled to even diagnose myself.
The real fun started with a severe headache, the worst I’ve ever had. I couldn’t even bend down to pick up a $100 bill if I had seen one on the ground; I was feeling that bad.
My fever was so high that I was hallucinating. Fever delirium invariably produces nightmares. You are half out of your mind and the images are truly terrifying.
About this time the muscle pain started. Ache isn’t really a very good word for it. Remember when you were a kid and watched Star Trek and one of your friends tried the Dr. Spock grip on you (at the base of your neck). All my muscles felt just like that. When I weakly said – “just shoot me” – I wasn’t trying to be funny.
Later that day I’m told that I turned blue. A friend who was taking care of me asked if that was normal, but I was too sick to answer.
I don’t remember the rest of that day, but I know I was rushed to the emergency room. I was incubated and put in ICU. It wasn’t until 10 days later that I left the hospital at a meager 112 pounds.
That took place at age 24, when I exercised two hours a day, took my vitamins, watched my weight, and made 1,300 skydives. I was immortal, or at least I thought so. What did I have to fear from some respiratory virus? I didn’t even usually stop running when I had a virus.
But this time was different. They had the ventilator settings turned all the way up. As a doctor, I haven’t seen anyone survive an illness that needed maximal ventilator settings.
They actually called my parents and told them to fly in that day if they wanted to see me before I died. I was getting the best of care in an ICU that I actually trained in. Yet I was much closer to death than I ever was as a skydiver.
So how many flu shots do you think I have missed in the last 20 years? If I had to climb Mount McKinley to get a flu shot I would be looking for my ice axe and climbing boots.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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