Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…


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. 

6 responses to “Swiney

  1. RunningLaur October 6, 2009 at 2:53 am

    It's so interesting to learn this about you, although I'm sorry you had to be sick to have such an interesting story to tell. NPR had on a story today, telling everyone to be patient yet still seek out the shot as soon as possible, with assurances that there was little to no risk. At the same time, MSNBC had a small headline story posted that 1 in 10 children now have autism. It was an interesting parallel that neither of the sources bothered to mention.

  2. X-Country2 October 6, 2009 at 3:57 am

    I'm totally anti-vaccine too. Wash your hands, eat right, sleep enough, stay active.

  3. Nobel4Lit October 6, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    I have come down with something as well, though with only a half this weekend, I am (hopefully) going to be better by then. Best of luck to you, non-swiney!

  4. The Happy Runner October 6, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Wow, so interesting to learn about your experience. It's one of my fears with the vaccine. I've never had a flu shot, and I'm a bit anti them in general. Since I have a 2-yr-old, I've had to defend my decision not to get the H1N1 or the seasonal flu shot for him. People are ready to condemn me for putting his health at risk. But I believe that having the vaccinations would be more risky. It is tough, though, to deal with all of the conflicting information.

  5. Amanda October 8, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    That's crazy that you had Guillan-Barre. I learned about it in pharmacy school and did a case presentation on it. I am so on the fence with vaccines. I definitely see the need for them, but at the same time I cringe everytime I get one and I'm sure I'll be nuts about it when I have kids.

  6. Jay November 12, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    "A 14-year-old Virginia boy is weak and struggling to walk after coming down with a reported case of Guillain-Barre syndrome within hours after receiving the H1N1 vaccine for swine flu."http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33845867/ns/health-cold_and_flu/

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