Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tis the season, for flu


     You have reached the Covenant Medical Group. All our lines are busy assisting other patients. Please hold on and your call will be answered promptly. Thank you.

     Shortly after 9 a.m. I heard it for the first time. An eight-second message, I learned when, after hearing it for 10 minutes or so, I took out a stopwatch and timed it, along with the gap before the message repeated.
     
     Every seven seconds. Like a ball peen hammer tapping against the side of my head.
     
     I wondered if, assuming I ever go through to the nurse, and assuming she gives me an appointment to see the doctor, whether I should ask: "I assume the purpose of the message it to thin the herd of sick callers waiting for help."
      
     But doctors can react poorly to that kind of thing. They don't like to be questioned. And they are genuinely busy. This year's influenza outbreak started early, hit harder, and is now widespread in 43 states; 21 children have died. Serious stuff.
     
     Particularly when it happens to you. The Steinberg household is not faring well. My younger son succumbed a day or two before New Year's and has been battling it for a week. My wife was felled like a tree over the weekend. I assumed I was immune because of my hardy Eastern European lineage and general bullets-will-not-harm-us exceptionalism.
     
     Then I started to cough. And sneeze. And get ... well, achy. And very tired.
     
     Nothing to bother a doctor with. I'm a big believer in soldiering on, waiting and letting things go away. But my wife, God bless her, insisted, I get tested. If I catch the flu early, she said, I can take something called "Tamaflu" which will shave off a few days of misery. If I don't have it, I can get a vaccine, which are 50 percent effective in good years, but only 33 percent effective this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

     
     You have reached the Covenant Medical Group. All our lines are busy assisting other patients. Please hold on and your call will be answered promptly. Thank you.

     "Influenza" is an interesting word. Italian, obviously, for "influence," and it refers, not to what a person needs to get through to a doctor quickly, but to astrology. In the Middle Ages, people though the stars influenced illness (some still do, but that's a different column) bringing sickness on, particularly plagues and general outbreaks, and the word was applied first to any sort of epidemic, then to a certain kind of contagious respiratory ailment previously known as "la grippe."
     
     "News from Rome of a contagious Distemper raging there call'd the Influenza" The London Magazine reported in 1743.
  
   
     You have reached the Covenant Medical Group. All our lines are busy assisting other patients. Please hold on and your call will be answered promptly. Thank you.
     

     Half an hour. I'd say they've blown "promptly." Let me say, lest I malign hardworking, dedicated professionals, that I've gotten my health care there for years, and am always very happy with their treatment, and I'm sure I would be happy again now. If they'd pick up the phone.
     
     Do I even need to go? The CDC points out that you shouldn't seek medical attention unless you are in a high risk group: young children, the elderly, already suffering from lung or heart ailments, or have severe symptoms such as high fever. The CDC recommends you stay home for 24 hours so you don't spread the thing around. People worry about being sneezed on, but the virus can live for hours in dried mucus. I've taken to using the paper towel that I wash my hands with to open the rest room door, fat lot of good that has done me.
     
     Up to 40 million Americans get the flu each year; what makes it so contagious is that the flu viruses constantly adapt. This year's strain is not the same as last year's, and you can have various types of flu being passed around at the same time.
     
     Because of the mutation, settling on a vaccine for the strain of flu that might be around is considered a "crap shoot." This year the doctors lost.
   

     You have reached the Covenant Medical Group. All our lines are busy assisting other patients. Please hold on and your call will be answered promptly. Thank you.
    

     I set the volume down on the phone and put it on speaker, making it more of a background, the gentle hum of anxiety that all medical situations bring. I avoid doctors and hospitals—half the time they get you sick there—and you usually get better whether treated or not.
   
     The hour mark—that seemed a decent period to abandon the quest—the sun was dazzling the frost on the window. I listened one more time to the friendly mantra.

   
      You have reached the Covenant Medical Group. All our lines are busy assisting other patients. Please hold on and your call will be answered promptly. Thank you.
     

    At least this column was about done. I wandered downstairs, figuring I should tell my wife before I hung up. My wife made a face, grabbed her cell phone, dialed the same number I had dialed an hour earlier. Someone answered immediately. My wife shot me a just-how-stupid-are-you glance, then handed me the phone. I'm seeing the doctor this afternoon. Better safe than sorry.

     Postscript: I didn't have the flu. 






8 comments:

  1. How can you leave your readers wondering just what did you have?

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    1. David. I couldn't. See above. Posted yesterday. Thank you for your concern. Feeling better today.

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    2. Thank goodness!

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  2. Don't forget zinc lozenges - while evidence mixed I find the higher doses persuasive (and personal experience good) - like Tamiflu needs to be taken at cold/flu's incipiency.

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    1. I don't know, A-n-a, I haven't researched zinc lozenges (or echinacea, or Emergen-C, or the various other cold-fighters). I suppose that minerals or herbs could be effective, given that even many "real" medicines are based on some natural compound or another. But when the substance in question "needs to be taken at cold/flu's incipiency," I just tend to take self-reporting on their effectiveness with a grain of salt. (And salt's natural!) Because I don't take any of these things. It's not unusual for me to think "Uh-oh, I'm getting a cold." If I were the type, I'd rush for the zinc at that point. But I don't. And many more times than not, I either don't get a cold, or it's just not very significant. If I'd taken the zinc, I'd give it the credit! Alas, this self-reporting needs to be taken with a grain of salt, too, of course! : )

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  3. Shaking it off like a shiver. Like a dog coming in from the rain. See it's a good line you could've used it in today's article. I didn't get a straight answer if it was original but I Googled many different combinations and it appears it is original. Good one.

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    1. Andy posted above comment. Sorry

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  4. Okay but be proactive and get the flu shot in the fall. It usually helps.

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