Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A few lines on the page

I don't know what day it was, or what the date was nor for that matter which season, just that it was 2009.  The scant marking and squiggles in my diary that had once meant everything I needed to know about what I was to do or had done are now something of an enigma.  As I tried to decipher them into meaningful stuff all I can figure was that over the period I was delivering lectures to groups about roadcraft and road safety during the working week and off at the weekends.

I have this strong feeling it would have been a Saturday morning, with the light streaming through the window, that I was scanning the news on my laptop.  The homepage on my browser is set to a web news service to keep things straight forward. The normal course was to scan the front page and check for the most likely looking article, click the headline link and read the first one or two paragraphs.  If it was something of interest I would continue to the end, if not then I would look at the other links on that page and click or just return to the homepage and start again. 

This particular day I followed the links and found myself looking at news from the South American section.  I'm not sure how I got to that point or how many links I had clicked to reach that report.  There was just a few lines on the page, three or four, which basically said that two people had died and several were in critical condition, in a village no one had heard of in Mexico.  The local authorities were gathering a specialist team together to investigate a potential outbreak of swine flu.

There was no silent alarm bells, no tingling spider sense, I am not aware of reading the page twice, just staring at it.  It's was as if my sub-conscious brain took over as it extracted information I had learnt before.  I knew the so called 'Spanish Flu' pandemic of 1918 was, in fact, a swine flu but had it's name changed as the government of the day was concerned about the impact on the pig farming industry.  There had been expeditions to Svalbard islands as well as Alaska to exhume victims for viral genetic research.  That the pandemic had wiped out more then 30 million people and the scientific community still didn't have the answers. The recent Avian flu's from South East Asia had travelled around the globe at a rapid speed with modern transport systems reaching the UK in short order even though few people succumbed.

As the days went on, and life continued as normal, another death and several people were hospitalised.  News of the teams arrival, investigation and confirmation of findings were noted.  The thing I didn't notice at first was with each day it was getting easier to find the piece, less and less links.  It was climbing up in the news league table.  The mass media got hold of this item and it went mainstream just before the first case was confirmed in North America.  As the weeks turned into months more cases, more deaths and finally it crossed the Atlantic to arrive in Britain.  By now it was headline news big time, each bulletin started with the recent updates on this.

Life for most people carried on as usual, there was no mass panic, no hysteria, but people wanted answers.  The news studios invited government ministers, health experts, and anyone else and his dog to come onto their programs and reassure the public that all was in hand and stocks of medicine were being made available.  The two clear messages in all of this was that if you suspected you had the infection you were not to go to your GP or to the local hospital, for fear of spreading the infection, but to phone the health service help line who would go through your symptoms and issue the tablets if confirmed.  The second was quite simple- wash your hands thoroughly and wash them often, I even managed to secure an A5 poster to help the children.  Ironic then, it was to be me. 

 As more victims were announced a new phrase came into being.  It seemed that all those dying from swine flu had done so because of 'underlying causes'.  As time moved on there was other incidents, people being flown abroad for treatment, an outbreak at a school in South London, but for the most part people that actually caught swine flu didn't realise it because the symptoms were so mild they hardly noticed a slightly sore throat or minor headache.

Volvo B9R Coach
On a Monday, my brain insists, in the middle of October I was not lecturing but rostered to take a coach cross country, Bedford to Oxford and back then later Cambridge and back. This was a journey I had done many times in the past and was looking to it as a refresher from my normal duties.  The coach I was to take was due into the Station about 3 o'clock for hand over and I would take it on what should be just short a 4¼ hour round trip, just inside the legal limits, traffic permitting, never easy at that time of day.

The first sign anything was wrong was a feeling of butterfly's in the stomach, not lots just one, a huge one.  I could just feel the right hand wing gently brushing up and down every two or three seconds with a slight hesitation at the top and bottom.  I put this down to a nothing, grabbed a beaker of cool water and waited for the coach.  One hour into the journey and I noticed the headache, I tried to ignore this thinking I could take some tablets during the 5 minute turn round at Oxford.  I scrabbled round my bag at Oxford but can't recall finding any medication, the headache was stronger now but figured I could get some painkillers at Bedford depot.  I got caught in the evening peak traffic and by the time I got back to Bedford I was late, too late to take the next coach allocated and would have to wait for the one after mine.  As I sat in the rest room my headache was intensifying and interfering with my thoughts, my temperature climbing rapidly. I was struggling to make rational decisions until I thought 'enough, go sick now!'.  I was much later to find out from colleagues that I looked to be in a right state.

I arrived home after a 20 minute walk, to the surprise of the family, who were not expecting me much before midnight.  A cup of tea, as they fussed around me, my temperature had climbed quite high.  I went to bed with some tablets.

Tuesday was not to bad, the head still hurt but not as bad. I felt lethargic, tired, but had not coughed. I managed to get up but not much else.
Wednesday was something else.  The headache was intense, right round the head with a small extension between the right eye and ear. It didn't pound in the usual way with the pulse but just was.  I managed to get some more tablets and went straight back to bed.  As I lay there I became aware of the phrase 'to smack one's head off the wall', never had I thought of doing this before but for some reason I could feel it quite strongly.  While the new pain may be a distraction I knew that in reality it would not help.  I placed my left hand on the pillow, rested my head in the palm and placed my right hand over my head as if to lock it in place.  There I lay waiting for exhaustion to carry me away.  I didn't wake until my daughter Jacqueline woke me with a cup of tea.  I knew I had to get up or I'd probably not sleep that night.  I don't remember if I got dressed or just slung a dressing gown on before joining the family.
Thursday didn't seem too bad.  We got through to the help line and issued with a personal serial number to get Tamiflu.  The allotted chemist was across town and my wife duly trudged over only to find our number and the chemists number didn't match.  Fortunately the chemist was able to resolve the issue and I got my first dose that night.
Friday was similar in that I managed to get up and around the house, the headache was present but not impossible to live with.  It also brought about the first day I noticed the constipation.
Saturday and Sunday passed but I can not remember any details of those days.

Monday, and the headache was back, I managed to get an appointment with my then GP, and arranged for someone to take me.  I related my tale and he seemed to look at me in a 'what do you want me to do about it' way.  He may not have been but that's the impression I got.  I repeated my tale of the headache, leaving work and the rest, this time with emphasis and finished by saying "I need Help!".  He sent me back to the waiting room while he made enquiries, twice I was sent back and forward till he gave me a envelope.  I was to go to Bedford hospital but not the A&E, I was to report to the Acute Assessment Unit, the meaning of which did not register on me.  he gave me instructions on how to find the AAU and off I went.  I was driven home and had a quick cup of tea to quench my thirst, and walked the short distance over the road to the hospital. 
Bedford Hospital, Main entrance

It was about 11 o'clock in the morning.  As I entered the main doors no one, least of all me, had any Idea how fortuitous that timing had become, my odds were shortening rapidly, the numbers falling away like the back of a parabolic arc. 




  1. Well done for starting your blog. It's easy to read and you get a feeling for how suddenly the illness crept up on you and how intensely overwhelming the headache must have been. Natalie

  2. Thanks for the comment. I did want it to be easy to read by most people as opposed to the health care professionally only. Indeed the first 'Day' of symptoms developed over about 4-5 hours and the headache was intense, the most intense I have ever experienced to date. Still get them on occasions at that level.