Those who are my “friends” on Facebook already know this, but on Thursday I was diagnosed with H1N1, or the “Swine Flu”. For me, it has been, well… it has been the flu… and a pretty mild flu at that. I have had some deep chest congestion (but not nasal), some sneezing, body aches, fatigue, windedness, headaches, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). Since finding out, I have isolated myself at home, and even kept my distance from my wife, who appears to be doing okay (but even she is staying home as much as possible, and limiting her contacts with anyone else.)
Now, some of you also know that I am currently in a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency, so I am spending most of my time this year in hospitals, nursing homes, and the homes of people under hospice care… so needless to say I am not going to work for a little while. Luckily, in the days immediately preceding my diagnosis, I had been mostly in the office and classroom settings, and not with patients.
This morning I read that a 14 year old young woman here in the Chicago area had died, and they suspect H1N1 as the cause. I grieve for her family… and take it is a lesson in why I need to stay home. However, I cannot escape the paradox that there is so much fear around this illness, and it is the least sick I think I have ever felt while being “sick”. My annual cold is worse than this.
Now, I know I have an excellent immune system. Even with the rough and tumble life I have lived, I have never had an infected cut, even though I don’t do anything for them, not even band-aids. As a child, most of the illness I felt was either psychosomatic (please don’t make me go to school) or emotional in its source. My body will sometimes react with flu-like symptoms when I am dealing with deeply emotional issues. I generally get two colds a year… when fall comes and when spring comes. Once again, it is probably less the virus and more my body adjusting to the temperature and humidity change.
That is what is so tricky about this particular flu virus… is that for many of us we really don’t feel all that bad. I could easily have gone to work with this… a couple of Dayquil and I feel just fine. My Protestant work ethic is kicking me for staying home. I’m diverting that energy into working on some studies and projects (like my MFC packet) that I can do at home and have needed doing… but if I was not in healthcare, I don’t know I would have had the awareness to not go to work.
Actually, that is not true. Even being in healthcare, I still went to work. What I did was drop my computer bag in my office and take myself right to “Employee Health”. They took one look at me, handed me a mask, checked my temperature, and told me to go home. In fact, they had me sign a document saying that I would not come back to the hospital until a doctor told me I was clear, and that there would be significant penalties if I tried.
I thought about asking if I could just go to my office and work, but the look the nurse gave me when I began to open my mouth said “If you say anything other than ‘Yes Nurse, I’m leaving right now’ we will be calling security to ‘assist’ you”. They also informed me that I had to wear my mask until I was at least out of the hospital, and preferably all the way home.
Do you know what it is like to wear a mask like that in public? I had never seen people avoid me like that, as I walked through the hospital. I took it off about halfway home (in the car) because I thought someone driving next to me on the interstate might cause an accident with all the staring. I put it back on before I went into my doctor’s office, and I have never seen a doctor move so fast when he came in, saw it, and turned around to go get his own.
I wanted Burger King last night (comfort food)… but thought the idea of a mask in the drive-through might give someone a heart attack.
One of my favorite television shows is the British Murder Mystery “Cadfael”. In one episode, someone hides under a leper’s cloak and veil at the local lazar house. People would stare, but they would see nothing but the leper’s cloak… so they never saw the person. It struck me that my mask was working the same way…
Unlike some people our society treats as “contagious”, my H1N1 will go away soon… but for the disabled, for those with HIV, for those with PTSD, for those with the results of chemo-therapy, and even those in hospice, they will not shed their leper status so easily… even though I am much more contagious than many of those who live with this stigma daily.
How do we treat each other, when our fears have been engaged? I once again come back to thinking about Cadfael… because for him, no one was a “leper”. His compassion was always greater than his fear.
Yours in Faith,