Two weeks ago a small parasitic organism entered my body and hijacked the controls at a microscopic level. It has been hotly debated if this organism can even be called a living thing, as it is unable to sustain life on its own, requiring the hosts cellular mechanisms of genetic replication and energy production to allow it to survive to reproduce. 

It enters the body innocuously enough. Sliding in on a passing breath. A deep inhale after a good laugh. A touch to the face. The rub of a tired eye after a long day of work. Or the lick of a finger after a tasty meal. The host, unaware their body has been invaded goes about their life all whilst this parasitic beast silently takes over key controls of cells and begins to replicate itself. 

At some point the body catches on and sends out the brigades, but it’s too late. The host will get sick. Th irony of it all is that in defense of itself, the body is partially what makes the host feel sick. Feeling well and healthy becomes the casualty in the war between body and this parasite, a virus. 

The illness begins with a body racked by achy muscles, followed by high fever and headaches. The viruses true genius is the running nose and dry cough that it induces in it’s host’s body. This allows the virus to be spread. The host coughs sending the newly made virus in the form of invisible droplets that float 6 feet in the air waiting for some unsuspected person to breath them in. The host, while dealing with the cough, is also meet with a runny nose. They touch their face, then touch the surfaces around them. The virus then lays in waits for its next victim. 

Somewhere I came across one of these virus warriors seeking out its next human to takeover. Fortunately I was off of work, but I was laid out for 3 plus days on my couch. My situation was made ever more complicated because I can’t take pills larger than an M&M, so I had to break my acetaminophen in half to swallow them. I also can’t take non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) due to the risk of bleeding in my GI tract after my total gastrectomy. My other go to cold medication, NyQuil, was off limits too being to large to swallow and the liquid form has 19 grams of sugar per serving. The most sugar I’ve been able handle is about 7-9 grams of sugar without sending myself into full on dumping syndrome. I’ve only been able to tolerate this amount of sugar after I’ve eaten, so the idea of taking NyQuil on an empty stomach was less than appealing, so I skipped it too. 

The larger question is what infected me? While the world is in the grips of overblown paranoia about the Wuhan coronavirus, that causes a disease now known as COVID-19, I was attacked by a virus that has been estimated to have killed 12,000 people in the US alone this season. What is it you may ask? Influenza. Yup. While the world freaks out about the novel coronavirus and people are purchasing up the worlds supplies of medical masks—creating shortages for those of us who actually work in healthcare and actually need them—the flu is attacking people, making them ill, trying to kill them. I see this on a daily basis at work, as I take care of those inflicted with the flu. 

When I said I was sick with the flu, there was probably a resounding wah-wah-wah playing in the background as people were hoping for something more exotic, mysterious, and news worthy to strike down this doctor. Alas, it was the ordinary flu. It’s my belief people are lulled in a sense of ease about the flu because they can get a vaccine and if they do get sick, there’s a treatment for it, none of which exists for COVID-19 to date. The problem is the flu can kill and has killed far more people than COVID-19 has or likely ever will. People don’t really see the true negative effects of the flu. There isn’t wall to wall news coverage about how the flu, or minute by minute updates on the latest flu death toll. The estimated death toll of 12,000 is an estimate on the low side. The upper limit is 30,000. Thirty thousand people dead. If the news ran with this story, I’m sure people would be freaking out more, possibly more than they would be about COVID-19. But I suspect this would still be a one flu season news story because the American media attention span would move onto something else next flu season unless the death toll was far worse.

For those of us in healthcare, unfortunately we do see the effects of the flu on a daily basis and understand how severe the illness can be. Was I that sick? No. I was laid out for about 5-6 days total and was able to go back to work, albeit tired, but I was able to work.

What is the moral of the story? Cover your cough. Wash your hands. A lot. Get vaccinated. If you’re sick go and see your doctor and then stay home. You’re welcome.