I had scarcely opened that morning when a high-profile professional burst into my office.
“Sam, I feel like .…!”
Caught of guard, I responded in kind, “And you like it too!”
Accustomed of seeing this friend of mine all buttoned-down in his starched attire, here he was, unshaven and ungroomed like he just rolled out of a restless bed. I really felt sorry and proceeded to set him at ease.
“No Sam, you don’t understand. I feel like I’m dying! I’m 52 years old and I’ve never felt so sick in my life!”
A bit overly dramatic for the simple flu, I thought as I proceeded to render the maximum treatment. The next day his wife came to pick up some paperwork. Only then did I realize how serious he was. She said their son had overheard him making the same comment to her that morning. The boy was so convinced and so troubled that he confided with his teacher at school, “My father is dying and nobody is telling me anything!”
Lo and behold, other patients using the identical words, “I feel like I’m dying!” It was as if they were reading from the same script. Then it actually started to happen. Some of the victims were very well-known. Did preoccupation with Creole Festival and Independence activities short-change the usual public health warnings? Next thing we hear is that for the first time on record, three separate influenza viruses at once are running amok in Dominica: Rhino virus, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and Parainfluenza Type 2 Virus.
I treated so many flu patients; I was using sanitizer like water. Yet, it came as no shock that I too began to feel chilly, achy, especially my scalp. Sneezing and coughing fits wracked my body. My throat was on fire…
But that’s another story.
Maybe we didn’t get the memo or may have forgotten, what was the worst thing ever to happen in human history. That was just about a hundred years ago. Remember this article later next year when they begin commemorating Influenza Epidemic of 1918. It may have killed more people than both world wars combined – up to 100 million. That is more than the Bubonic plague, Flood, tsunami or any other natural disaster. So you see, we are somewhat spoiled when we regard the flu as some minor inconvenience. In most cases the flu does not kill directly. Rather, it weakens the immune system making patients vulnerable to asthmatic attacks, pneumonia, diabetic coma, heart attacks etc.
The matter of flu vaccine is nowhere close to receiving enough press in this neighbourhood. Watch this: Dominica is well in the mix internationally when it comes to digital technology. We love that kind of science. But when it comes to medication, all of a sudden it is ‘white man’s drugs.’ It’s quite alarming to hear that even from our most educated classes. We need to get a grip.
The confusion partly comes from the seemingly logical argument that “It doesn’t matter if I take the flu vaccine or not, I still get the flu.” The truth is that the vaccine only protects against 50 – 60% of the likely strains of virus. Which would mean that as many as half of those vaccinated may still get the flu. But then again, more than half will not. Would some who passed away like another chance to choose? You decide.
At the end of the day, basic common sense precautions still afford our best chance of avoiding the flu. Quarantine yourself. Don’t be a hero. If you’re sick, just stay home. Worry about a medical certificate later. Do not risk spreading the virus. Forcing yourself to work, school or party only delays passing of the epidemic from among us. The longer the virus hangs around, the more opportunity it has to mutate in community. This thereby increases the chance of it later coming back to our house and harming our loved ones even more.
During the recent epidemic crisis in Africa, my All Saints medical students told me of a case of a worshipper in Port Harcourt who felt “under the weather.” The man went up to altar call. Up to 70 people laid hands on him. Turned out the individual had contracted Ebola. The Nigerian Health Ministry clearly outperformed any other in the world. Only their quick reaction and the grace of God prevented a public health catastrophe.
Same principle with the flu: Let them say you ‘pwayjijay,’ but in times of contagious epidemic, lose that laying on of hands, the sign of peace, the holy kiss, the hugs and handshakes, the drinking wine from the same chalice. Because a sneeze or coughing spasm is often explosive, it happens too quickly to grab the tissue or handkerchief. Be ready to do it in your elbow. It is so gratifying to see children do that! That frees our hands from spreading germs. Sanitize afterward. Some old dogs find it hard to learn this new trick. But little things like that make a big difference.
The truth today is that no one needs to die of the flu. If all a doctor can do is say is take Paracetamol, drink lots of fluids and rest, then no wonder why many find it a waste of time to seek medical attention. The antiviral drug Tamiflu is a lifesaver. That was like gold in my medical practice in Ohio. A short burst of the antibiotic Azithromycin will prevent flu from progressing to bronchitis or pneumonia (the sputum becoming thick and colored). It is well-established that steroids are quite effective both in pill or injection form. http://www.query.com/terp/Effective_Influenza_Treatment.pdf It all depends on how much one fears needles or how quickly one wants to get better.
Suffice to say, my early morning patient bounced right back. Oh yes, he was sparkling once again in no time. As for me, you know what they say, “Physician heal thyself…!”
Dr. Sam Christian is surgeon who runs the Urgent Care on 137 Bath Road. It offers general medical care, office surgery, acupuncture. Major Christian is Medical Officer of the Dominica Cadet Corps and Adviser to the Dominica Cancer Society. He is author of the faith and fitness nutrition book, ‘Mannafast Miracle.’ Dr. Christian can be reached at 440-9133, whatsapped at 265-0886 or by logging onto urgentcareda.weebly.com