Monday, November 2, 2009

Dr. Swine Flu Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Shot

Communication regarding the H1N1 has been a hot topic across the country and an interesting case study for class. Myles' personal experiences during reading week echos the sentiments across the country and demonstrates the influence of media.

To begin, I hate needles. I was that 5 year old that you saw 4 nurses running towards because I struck another trying to avoid a meningitis vaccine (true story). I’ve had enough dental work done without Novocain to tenderly know the feel of that drill and not really squirm or squint when it starts to screech. Having a shot is almost as bad as flying for me and I’ve considered cross-country on a train or overseas on cruises (they still do both at a fairly comparable price as well).

So when I first started hearing about the H1N1 vaccine, I was a doubter. I found every reason not to get it. “It’s just a milder flu”, “Young people don’t need it”, “It’s just a way to brainwash people” were some of my favorite phrases for the last 2 months. It just seemed like another thing that the news had overblown and used to fill their hour reports on slow days. And all this before I saw the “Land of Panic” I call Nova Scotia.

Last Saturday, I traveled to Nova Scotia, and it seemed I entered a George Orwell novel. Signs were all over the airport and hand sanitizer stations seemed like a new part of the landscape. As soon as I started driving home, my parents questioned me; "Did you get the vaccine? "When are you going to get the vaccine?" "Why aren't you getting the vaccine now?" And so on.

Everyone was asking, there were clinics being overwhelmed by people trying to get the shot, turning people away at the door, something was arriving in the mail daily telling the horrors of Swine Flu. Yet I maintained that I was not getting a mercury-laden serum than no one knew if it really worked. Then Wednesday rolled around and 3 events occurred that really changed my thinking in a major way.

First I saw a story of a healthy 13-year-old boy from Ontario that passed away from the virus. He had been playing hockey all weekend at a tournament in Mississauga and felt sick. He went to a walk-in clinic on Saturday when he started vomiting but doctors sent him home, advising bed rest and Tylenol and Gravol. Monday morning he had died, never suffering from any disease or condition that aggravated his condition.

The second factor in my conversion was my talk with a good friend’s mom, Lorraine, a nurse. She may have known how to push the right buttons, but what she said really makes sense. She confirmed my beliefs that as a strong young male I may not have the risk of serious heath issues that an infant or an older person does.
However, as a socially responsible person, by getting the vaccine, I decrease my chance of being a host.

This means that I would prevent passing it along to that baby or my grandpa or the whole Sci-comm class and Science North as a whole. That’s one less way that it’s going to keep spreading.  I would be lowering the community’s odds of having another person have an untimely illness resulting in a lengthy hospital visit or worse. I’m not a hero in any way by doing this but I’d like to think that it does count as a good deed.

I happened to meet someone I look up to on Saturday at the Halifax airport, Jack Layton. We got around to talking about what I study, and the fact that when we first started chatting I was writing this. The idea that not being sick is a social responsibility as it breaks the chain of infection resonated with him… If he happens to say this the next few days, remember where you read it first.

The third, most important and real close to home event occurred the following morning. My brother, in St. John’s, got swine flu. Yes, a 19-year-old male, with at least some of my genes got sick and could barely get out of bed. Calls sounded like the brochures to a tee. First he was sore all over, and had been tired for a few days. That afternoon, a cough came on and he could barely breathe. The next say his throat was sore along with a headache. I’ve had the “old thyme” flu before but it sounds like this one really sucks, and at this point he’s still sick.

It’s not just hard on him. He’s had to be quarantined into his residence room, no one getting in or out, no way, no how. If he wants anything staff comes every two hours to drop off food or Advil and just check on him. My mom (and dad though he wont admit it) is a worrier, she wanted to fly down, she calls him at least 6 times a day and she arranged with the only people she happens to know it St. John’s to get him food and Gatorade.

In the end, there is just too much on the table not to get vaccinated. I don’t think that I can avoid H1N1 forever, I don’t want to be the reason people get sick, and I don’t want Kelly Carter on a plane to Sudbury in the middle of the night just to make sure her little boy is okay.  It’s up to everyone to make that decision, but I flew back to Sudbury for the same reason I‘m going to a clinic ASAP, sometimes there’s a lot more sensible reasons to do what you hate rather than avoid it.

- Myles Carter

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