I’m still alive, post-influenza. I think. . .

by Carolyn Thomas     ♥    @HeartSisters 

        Where I’ve spent the past 19 days…

I’ve missed a bunch of really good stuff during the past few weeks: walking our Everly Rose home from Grade 2, watching Baby Zack take his first steps, long phone chats with my sister up-island, or writing last Sunday’s blog post here on Heart Sisters. Also:  Getting dressed. Brushing my teeth. Washing my hair. Feeling like a human being. In fact, I’ve been at death’s door (sort of) with a brutal case of influenza – commonly known as “the flu”.  And let me assure you, the flu is NOT “just like a cold”.         .   

My flu symptoms have been awful (and remember, I say “awful” as a person with lived experienced of a ruptured appendix, broken bones, arthritis, a misdiagnosed  widowmaker” heart attack, and popping out two babies the old-fashioned way, which is merely to let you know: I know my pain.

The freakish part of being at death’s door with influenza is that severe symptoms tend to strike so suddenly!

In fact, this may be your first clue that you do indeed have influenza, and not the common cold or other respiratory illness.  The rhinovirus that causes colds, by comparison, typically starts slowly, with 1-2 days of feeling “a cold coming on”  before things blossom into a full-blown mess.

Influenza, on the other hand, distinguishes itself by starting abruptly and out of the blue.  That specific morning, for example, I’d gone for an early walk in the sun with CP (my Monday walking buddy), then had a lovely visit over coffee, then stopped at the farmers’ market on the way home to pick up veggies. Perfectly normal morning. Felt fine.

But not long afterwards, the “normal” plans for the rest of my day evaporated in one hot minute. The first symptoms were fever and a searing sore throat, immediately followed by an explosion of dry hacking cough. It hurt to talk. It hurt to swallow. It really hurt to cough. Everything hurt.

A “dry” cough, by the way, sounds and feels different than the “productive” or “wet” cough of the common chest cold. The dry cough sounds like someone hacking up a lung. It carries a consistent, rough tone because it doesn’t contain the slimy mucus of a wet cough. And it’s persistent, a kind of painful loop of coughing that irritates an already dry throat, so the cough can keep coming and coming with very little relief in between coughs. It’s actually hard to stop coughing once you start – sometimes, yes, for hours. The only tiniest good thing about my particular cough is that I never once felt short of breath, meaning I was still able to inhale between coughs. This is important: if you’re unable to catch your breath, call 911.

Like most adults, I’ve had countless colds over my long life, from mild to severe, but I can’t recall ever  having the flu before – because for decades I’ve been getting my annual flu shot, which have been offered each year since 1945.

Influenza is particularly dangerous for heart patients. People with heart disease are more likely to get the flu than those with any other longterm chronic illness, and worse, we’re at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu – ranging from pneumonia to bronchitis, heart attack or death. The flu can also make diabetes, asthma or other chronic conditions feel much worse. If you’re one of those patients, call 911 for any signs of a health emergency.

After the first week of the flu, I began to wonder:  could this be COVID?  I knew that respiratory infections can share similar symptoms, so it’s often hard to tell the difference. I’ve done several rapid-antigen COVID tests so far (everybody I know has home packs of test kits, available free from local pharmacies). My tests were done about 2-3 days apart, all negative. (Keep in mind, however, that home COVID tests are sometimes known to produce false-negative results).

But whether it’s the cold or flu or COVID, I knew that all viral infections are very contagious.  I learned from a local nurse that influenza is most contagious during the first 3-4 days.  Keep yourself away from infants and people with chronic illness or weakened immune systems during that time.

Ironically, I became very sick just before my scheduled flu shot. I asked the nurse if I should still plan on getting my flu shot as soon as I’m well enough – even though I’m guessing I’ll have immunity to the flu by then. But she explained that the nature of most viral infections is that we do develop antibodies to the specific kind of virus we catch. So yes, I will likely be mostly protected by my new antibodies from catching the one specific type of influenza virus that I caught – but only that one type. Keep that flu shot appointment, the nurse warned. It’s our very best defense against what can be a really dreadful illness – one that can be very dangerous in those with heart disease. Yet a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported that people already diagnosed with heart disease continue to have low flu vaccination rates every year – despite their higher rates of death and complications from influenza.  UPDATE:  November 4, 2022 – Five days after I ran this post, I was able to get my flu shot!  It was one of two approved vaccines that are recommended this year specifically for people over age 65 in my region.

Every year, our British Columbia public health professionals study predictive models to learn which strains of the flu virus will most likely be prominent during the coming flu season. Viruses like to mutate (consider the number of COVID-19 variants that have emerged so far). That’s just what viruses do.  So for the 2022-23 flu season, the annual flu vaccine available in my region is designed to protect against different strains of influenza virus:

  • Influenza A (Victoria H1N1)
  • Influenza A (Darwin H3N2)
  • Influenza B (Austria)
  • Influenza B (Phuket).

It was the H1N1 influenza virus that caused the 1918-19 flu pandemic, killing an estimated 50 million people world-wide, almost 30 years before the first flu vaccines became available.   Influenza A and B viruses are generally responsible for our seasonal flu epidemics every year. NOTE: your  own community’s range of anticipated influenza strains each flu season may or may not be the same as ours.

I also learned from the nurse that the severe cough common in influenza can continue up to two weeks after we’re no longer contagious. This is similarly found in COVID-19 infections (although let’s face it, if I start coughing in public the way I’ve been coughing here at home for almost three weeks, everybody around me would freak out). I’m not going anywhere with a severe cough.

In case you missed it, just this past week Vox ran a timely article by Dylan Scott called “Why Everybody You Know is Sick Right Now, including this:

“With the country stepping down from the pandemic footing of the past few years, these various respiratory viruses are now on the rebound. Cases of seasonal influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV, a common respiratory bug that can occasionally turn serious for infants and older adults) had been held down in 2020 and 2021 because people were wearing masks and taking other public health precautions to avoid Covid-19.

“But almost all official pandemic policies have lapsed, most people have returned to some or all of their pre-pandemic activities, and immunity to other common viruses may have waned after two years of largely avoiding them.”

As you can tell, I did somehow escape death’s door and am hopeful that I will soon turn a corner. I’m still feeling like I’ve been hit by a large bus, but compared to the first couple of weeks, I feel better! Well, except for this new case of pink eye (conjunctivitis) – a common eye infection linked to respiratory infections. Oh, joy. . .

Finally, here’s what I did learn about how to treat influenza if you too get it:

-Anti-viral drugs are available by prescription, but work best only when taken in the first few days after the onset of symptoms.

-Drink lots of fluids (it’s easy to get dehydrated during the flu). Speaking of drinking fluids, remember to keep taking your prescribed cardiac meds every day.

– Try to eat healthy foods while you’re recuperating. If your family or friends ask what they can do to help while you’re sick, do NOT say “Oh, nothing, thanks!” (For me, all I wanted was flat ginger ale and Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup, which was the magic medicinal combo my Mum gave us when we were kids). But I sure appreciated family and friends who dropped off homemade soup and other goodies for me.

-Try over-the counter cold and flu medicines, throat lozenges, or Tylenol to ease your symptoms. (NOTE: If you have heart disease, Tylenol is your safest pain relief choice. Avoid taking any drugs with ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Aleve, etc.) because of harmful cardiac side effects.

-Use a vaporizer in your bedroom to help you breathe easier by increasing moisture in the air. One night, I was so miserable during a long coughing fit that I ran very hot water into the bathroom sink, draped a big towel over my head and shoulders, and just leaned over the sink for several minutes, breathing in the steam. This seemed to temporarily help, so I repeated this routine regularly during the past few weeks.

-Stay home.  Put everything on hold until after you’re no longer contagious. This not only helps you recover, but staying home also prevents spreading your flu virus to others.

-Revisit your trusty old COVID precautions that got us through the first two years of the pandemic: wear a mask any time you’re outside your home, wash your hands often with soap and water, don’t stand or sit close to people, cover your mouth when you cough, use hand sanitizer after you’ve been touching strange doorknobs, elevator buttons, etc.

-Get lots of rest. Naps are good.

– If – like me – you didn’t get your flu shot before you got sick, please book your appointment as soon as you are able.

Q: Have you ever had influenza?


NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote much more about adjusting to serious illness in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”. You can ask for it at your local bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).

27 thoughts on “I’m still alive, post-influenza. I think. . .

  1. Glad you are feeling better Carolyn. My husband works in our high school in the cafeteria. This week there has been a lot of sick teachers and kids.

    We both have never gotten the flu shot. He gets sick a lot more then I do, but with my recent open heart surgery, I am thinking we should go for it.

    I have a Doctor’s appointment in a few weeks; I am sure my doctor will suggest it.

    There is a lot of adjustments that I need to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Susan – I think you’re right about your doctor recommending that you get a flu shot. Believe me, you do NOT want to ever be as sick as I was for a whole month (ironically, as I mentioned in this article, it hit just before my scheduled annual flu shot appointment!)

      Many studies confirm that, especially for people who live with a chronic condition like heart disease, the flu shot is our best chance at lowering our risk of severe complications even if we do get the flu. The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the chance of hospitalization by 37%, and to reduce the risk of admission to the Intensive Care Unit by 82%.

      And remember that one of the reasons your husband’s seeing more cases at school among teachers and kids is that the influenza virus is extremely contagious (you can just imagine how fast it can spread from infected kids coughing on each other all day long!) If your husband does get the flu at school, you will then be even more vulnerable to catching it from him, too – so knowing that you’re now more at risk as a heart patient might convince him to help protect you by getting his flu shot, too.

      I get my annual flu shots each fall because I’ve learned that I’m more likely to catch it during flu season than non-heart patients are, and – worse! – I’m significantly more likely to have a very bad outcome if I do (including hospitalization, heart attack/stroke, and even death).

      This is very serious. I now believe my underlying heart diagnosis is the key reason that I suffered so terribly compared to those people who report a “mild” case of the flu.

      For heart patients like you and me (especially over age 50), it’s far more dangerous to get the flu than to get the flu vaccine. Good luck to you!

      Take care of that precious heart of yours and please, stay safe. . . ♥


  2. Hi Carolyn,

    I’m so glad you’re feeling better. It sounds like you were pretty darn sick. I have not ever had the flu – not that I’m aware of anyway. Sounds like I probably would be aware if I had.

    I plan to schedule my flu shot and my next COVID booster soon. Mayo was super slow to get in the flu vaccine – I recently had a physical, and they didn’t yet have it. Was the same deal for the COVID shots when they first came out. Ended up going to our county health department. I mean really, Mayo?

    I plan to schedule them both for the same day. Big mistake?? Just want to get them over and done.

    Thank you for this super informative post. I will come back to it if need be. May we all have a healthy winter.

    Take care of yourself! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nancy, thanks so much. Apparently, here on the west coast, we too had a slow start to getting enough vaccine stock. Even now, one of the two vaccines recommended for those over 65 is “out of stock” and most pharmacies I’ve contacted have no idea when that stock will be delivered. This is hard to understand – it’s not like they don’t know flu season hits every fall.

      Many people I know have chosen to get both their COVID booster and their flu shot at the same time, with no ill effects. Plus only one trip.

      Good luck getting those shots!
      Take care, and stay safe, Nancy. . . ♥


  3. Thank you Carolyn for this informative and potentially lifesaving blog.

    I trust you continue to improve – and wishing you the best.

    Kind regards,

    Irene Clarke

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad you are recovering from this nasty virus. I did notice that one variant is called Phuket which is a nice spelling for the way I feel about all of them. Good reminder about not using Ibi and other NSAID drugs. My cardiologist warned me not to use them ever.

    I don’t think I’ve ever had influenza and always gotten my flu shot.

    May rest and time restore you fully.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this, Sara! I saw the word PHUKET (“poo ket“)and just thought “named after a city in Thailand”, while you saw the word as the brilliantly alternative response to a dreadful infection.
      You are so funny! 🙂


  5. Just a fact from a recent flu shot experience. I went to get my flu shot at one clinic and they were out of the “Over 65 yrs old” version. They said I could take the regular shot or go to another clinic.

    I almost took the regular shot, but I’m glad I didn’t, especially after reading your report!

    I went to a different clinic the next day that had the senior flu shot available. I asked what the difference between the 2 shots were and found out that the Over 65 version is 3 TIMES STRONGER than the regular version.

    Blessings and glad you are feeling better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jill – thanks for raising this point about specific flu vaccines that are recommended for seniors. I suspect that where we live affects which vaccines will be regionally available.

      Where I live, for example (Canada’s west coast) there are two enhanced flu vaccines (out of four different vaccines available this year) that are recommended for seniors 65 and over:

      1. FLUZONE® HIGH-DOSE QUADRIVALENT vaccine (higher dose of antigen to help create a stronger immune response) – or
      2. FLUAD® TRIVALENT adjuvanted vaccine (contains an adjuvant that helps create a stronger immune response).

      Those 64 and under (and children) will be offered one of the two other vaccines, including one that is a nasal spray mist. My understanding is that unless a senior has a needle phobia (and thus decides on the nasal spray mist option), seniors would automatically be offered the two vaccines that are recommended specifically for us.

      Of those two vaccines recommended for seniors, our local public health physicians say: “There is not enough evidence to show that one of these enhanced vaccines is better than the other.” So it seems that we’re not comparing the seniors shot to the ‘regular’ non-seniors shot as your flu clinic staff were.

      Vaccines have come a long way, baby!
      Take care, stay safe. . . .♥


  6. So happy to hear you are on the mend, Carolyn and I hope you have no lasting side effects.

    I had influenza 20 years ago, and I will deal with the resulting damage to my ear for the rest of my life. I lost the balance and most of the hearing in one ear, and developed tinnitus. I was so sick I didn’t even think to go see the doctor.

    I missed 6 weeks of work and felt like a dishrag even after that period. Now that I have had a heart attack to go along with my asthma, I’m being so careful with my exposure to other people and locations.

    Influenza isn’t an upset tummy – it’s serious. Do get your vaccine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Debrah – TWENTY YEARS of residual side effects from your flu!? That’s dreadful. I’m so sorry to hear that. I too hope that I might be able skip that part. . .

      Interesting that you mentioned your ear symptoms. One of my own early (temporary) symptoms was a terrible earache in my right ear. The whole right side of my face seems to be affected: right ear pain, right jaw pain, right sinus pain, and now pink eye symptoms in my right eye. So weird.

      And I can completely relate to your statement: “I was so sick I didn’t even think to go see the doctor.” That’s exactly how I’ve been responding to family and friends who ask if I’ve seen my doctor. When you’re that sick, the thought of having to get out of bed, get dressed, go outside and then sit up (sit up?!?) in a crowded clinic waiting room for who-knows-how-long just seems too much to even consider.

      And besides, at first I believed this was “just a cold” that would settle down after the first few days, so no need to bother my busy doctor.

      No wonder you are especially careful these days. Continue to take good care of yourself, and thank you for reminding my readers “Do get your vaccine!”


  7. Although I’m very sorry you got the flu, Carolyn, it’s nice reading your blog again. No one else would give such a great description of the process! Good to know, and good to avoid

    Glad you are getting better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much Christine for your kind comments. I seem to be able to write about what I’m obsessing about, so have had lots to obsess about over the past few weeks. In between naps. . .

      Take care, stay safe. . . ♥


    1. Hello Patti – thank you. . . You know that stage when you’ve been very sick but suddenly you feel just better enough for a glimmer of hope? That’s where I am now.
      Hope your new book is selling well. ♥


  8. Welcome back and thank you for doing all that research for the rest of us. You taught me some things I didn’t know – like keep that flu shot appointment even if you get the flu. (Had my shot on Thursday. Happily it wasn’t preceded by the virus itself.)

    And I bought my first-ever vaporizer two weeks ago. I just thought it might be a good idea. I guess it was!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Deborah and thanks for your kind words. I’ve learned a lot about the flu, too (more than I thought I’d ever want to!)
      Enjoy your new vaporizer – it will be a permanent fixture in the bedroom from now on over the winter months.
      Take care, stay safe. . . ♥


  9. My 7 year old son just recovered from influenza A and we were able to avoid it spreading within the family, but it was rough.

    He rebounded within a few days and I confess to some jealousy of his robust immune system. It’s so much harder to be sick as we get older and because of the cancer meds that have tanked my immune system.

    Glad you are feeling better!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Abigail – it’s amazing to me that your family managed to avoid catching your son’s flu bug. I’m especially glad to hear that you avoided it, too.
      Please take care. . . ♥


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