I’m pretty sure that I don’t have swine flu (even if Brent has lovingly taken to calling me swiney), but I did wake up with a cold this morning that has brought with it a mildly spiking fever over the last couple hours.
Though I’m a bit of a germ-a-phobe when it comes to other people’s bugs, once I actually get sick I tend not to be so concerned about the prognosis. Sure, I’m a little bit anxious about the marathon on Sunday, but I fully intend to be a-okay by then.
That said, I’m more than a little bit freaked out about the swine flu hysteria of the last few months. No, I’m not worried about actually contracting H1N1. While I’ve never had the flu, I’m confident that when all is said and done, I would come out of it relatively unscathed. Rather, I’m worried about the masses of people that will be lining up for the vaccine in the next few weeks.
When I was three years old, I came down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome
. You may have heard of it in connection with the swine flu outbreak of 1976 – that ‘deadly nerve disease
‘ that ultimately killed more people than the flu itself, which they contracted as a result of the miracle vaccine. According to one study, the shot may have increased a person’s chance of contracting GBS eight-fold.
I wasn’t born for the 1976 outbreak. My bout with the disease came by way of an auto-immune response to chicken pox. I ultimately spent the weeks leading up to and following my fourth birthday in the ICU at children’s hospital in Philadelphia, the paralysis inching closer and closer to my heart and lungs as my parents looked on helplessly. A year later, my grandfather contracted the illness, following a case of colon cancer. So rare was it to have two people in the same family with GBS that we were written up in an Australian medical journal. I’ve only met a few other people over the years who’ve had Guillain-Barre, one being Brent’s mother, who was one of the swine vaccine victims.
After several months of rehab, I ultimately recovered completely, the only residual effects showing up when the doctor hits my knee with the little hammer and encounters no reflex response. To this day, my mother often remarks how striking it is that I became an athlete after all that, spending a dozen years as a competitive swimmer before finding my way to distance running and adventure racing.
I don’t think about Guillain-Barre much – generally only when I need to remind a doctor that I shouldn’t have an immunization – but with this swine flu outbreak, I’ve become particularly attuned to the conversations surrounding the vaccine and its risks. It was a little surreal to see GBS plastered across CNN this summer, and more than a little frustrating to hear so many medical professionals pushing the shot on the general public over the last few weeks without giving voice to the potential side effects.
Do I want to get the flu? Of course not. Are there risks attached to it? Sure. Are there certain people for whom the vaccine makes sense, be they medical professionals or the like? Probably. But compared to the prospect of my immune system attacking my nerves and rendering me at best weak and tingly and at worst paralyzed (or even dead)?
Seems like a no-brainer… in my humble opinion.