Earlier this month, I had a head cold, complete with runny nose and cough, but no fever. At least, that is what I assumed because it went away rather quickly, and my symptoms were mild.
But how do we know whether we are experiencing the onset of a cold and can continue with our daily activities or are becoming one of a growing number of people who have been waylaid by H1N1?
Denise Fields, wife of Lexington Herald-Leader high school sports writer Mike Fields, was diagnosed with swine flu earlier this month. I called her to glean some tips from one of the many thousands of people who have lived to tell the tale.
Denise Fields said her symptoms began Sept. 29.
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"I didn't really feel ill that morning at work," she said, "but after noon I had a dry, funny cough. It was like I had swallowed dust. I kept thinking, this is really weird. It just came out of the blue."
That evening after turning in for the night, she awakened with a "what-truck-hit-me kind of fever."
Having written articles for the Kentucky Blood Center newsletter about precautionary steps employees can take to fight the spread of H1N1, Fields, marketing and communications specialist for the blood center, knew better than to go into work. Besides, she didn't have the strength to get out of bed.
Still, she thought her illness would blow over.
By Oct. 2, after a fever of 100 degrees or more for several days, Fields conceded defeat and called her doctor.
"They were booked," she said. "I didn't feel like I could get in the car and go anywhere, but the woman (on the phone) kept encouraging me to go somewhere" to be seen.
Finally, on Oct. 3, a Saturday, her husband dragged her out to the First Choice Beaumont medical center, where she was given some tests.
One proved that she indeed had H1N1, and the other determined that she had bronchitis and not pneumonia, as the doctor had feared after watching the difficulty she had breathing.
And that annoying dry cough she had in the beginning had progressed to a cough that seemed to resonate from her toes, she said. "It just wore you out."
Fields was prescribed antibiotics and a strong cough syrup. The illness had progressed too far for anti-viral medicine to have any effect.
She returned to work Oct. 7, which was too soon, she said. She worked part-time for a couple of days and didn't get back to full strength until last week.
Fields is 52, healthy and slender. She walks with her husband through their neighborhood several times a week and maintains a healthful diet.
If the virus knocked her around for more than a week, how much physical trauma can it wreak on the young and on pregnant women?
None of her co-workers nor anyone in her family has contracted swine flu, Fields said. So where does she think she picked it up?
She visited the grocery store and the pharmacy on Sept. 27, and she might have acquired the virus then.
I have loved the addition of anti-bacterial wipes near the entrances of most grocery stores. I use them to wipe any area of the cart I touch. I also keep sanitizer in my purse at all times, in case the wipes are all gone.
But Fields said the virus might have been on the attached pen that shoppers use to sign electronically for debit cards and credit cards. I hadn't thought of that.
For all of us, Fields has this advice: "Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands."
H1N1 has a history of attacking children and pregnant women more severely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise adults to seek urgent medical attention for the following symptoms:
■ Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
■ Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
■ Sudden dizziness.
■ Severe or persistent vomiting.
There was one bright note for Fields. Her husband cooked for her for three weeks.
Hmm. Maybe. ... Well, maybe not.