Flu memories – let’s not create any new ones

Yesterday Chuck came home from work feeling ill. I was fairly certain it wasn’t influenza, but can I ever be 100% sure? Sometimes. Not always. It wasn’t so long ago that I posted this.

I was searching and sorting and purging a pile of papers and I found this, a predecessor to Monday’s post. It’s on a scrap of yellow legal pad, so it probably rose from the ashes of a school staff meeting or staff development. This piece wasn’t for the CDC. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wrote it pre-blog. To make it current, it would need almost no changes.

You know the flu has taken over when:

  • Chicken soup and cinnamon toast make a meal.
  • The phone rings and the teenager doesn’t move.
  • The blind family member identifies people by their coughs rather than their voices.
  • The dishwasher is full of glasses and bowls because no one is eating real meals.
  • Each sick person carries around his/her own box of tissue.
  • Suddenly the supply of Tylenol and ibuprofen in the medicine cabinet looks woefully under stocked.

The above list was written with a sense of – well, something close to gallows humor, if I remember correctly. Since that year, all of us have stayed up to date on flu shots. Get your own flu vaccine, people. It’s not too late.

The entire family has been vaccinated. This year’s vaccine may only be 10% – 30% effective, but at least it’s something. As for Chuck, he felt much better today and went back to work. That’s a relief to all of us!

Hawaii – Paradise, Innocence Lost

Influenza has reached epidemic levels in 49 of these United States. The lucky state without the dreaded flu (for now) is Hawaii. Hawaii, however, had its own scare Saturday.

First: Cell phones across Hawaii received an emergency alert telling them in all caps:

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. 

Parents called their children. Young adults called their parents. Those who could, sought shelter. Those who had no way of getting out of harm’s way – well, all did what they could.

For 38 minutes, people prepared and panicked and told their loved ones – if we’re completely honest here, folks, people called their loved ones to say goodbye. They called to say love you, love you forever, I may not survive the day.

Then the announcement came: FALSE ALARM! Roadside signs announced NO THREAT! Word on social media spread that the cause of this outrageous scare was due to a “wrong button pushed” during a shift change. The governor came on (after a long wait – he’ll take flack for that) and assured the residents and visitors to his state that “steps have been taken to ensure that a situation of this type will never happen again.”

Mr. Governor has a tough road ahead of him. We in the continental U.S. join our island friends in asking questions, too.

  1. What took so long? In today’s techie world, 38 minutes? Did no one notice sooner?
  2. Why did social media hit the story ages before the mainstream media? Not even a crawl addressed this in cable news or on the major networks – even after the 38 minute long scare.
  3. Where was our president? Did no one inform him? Did he even care?
  4. On the other hand, maybe we should be glad he was heavily into a golf game and didn’t have a knee-jerk reaction that would send out an attack in response to a perceived threat.
  5. Think about it. One wrong button pushed? I have a hard time believing that a single click or press could result in an emergency announcement of this magnitude. Steps taken after the fact may be too little, too late.
  6. Think long run: how will this affect travelers’ willingness to visit the Aloha state?

Hawaiians and tourists, I feel for you. For once in my life, I’m grateful to be in the middle of the heartland, surrounded by the Great Lakes instead of the Pacific Ocean. I can’t say I mind the cold and the snow. I’ll deal with the below-zero wind chills; I’ll power through the snowdrifts. I’ll wrap myself in blankets and give thanks that my fair city is unlikely to be target for a missile attack, unless that missile is a football soaring over Clay Mathews’ head into an opponent’s arms.

Still, I have questions. I’m sure many thousands of others have questions, too.

Prepping for the Flu

Influenza always scares me at least a little. I trained as a public health volunteer when Avian Flu was the big fear, and I was more than a little shocked to realize how close we were to a pandemic. Then H1N1 strain came to my fair state, and my fourth graders were really hard hit. An average day would see anywhere from eight to ten kids absent (out of a class of 26), and those kids were sick for a week or more. The flu season that year lasted four or five weeks – or was it six? Eight, even? I remember slowing down the pace of instruction almost to a standstill. My kiddos needed to rest, to get better, and not worry about missing school. When the first group made it back, the second batch went out, followed by several more. That particular influenza strain hit kids a lot harder that it hit adults. I remember needing two flu shots that year, and I don’t remember missing school myself – not for influenza, anyway.

If that hadn’t been enough to make me nervous, Amigo had a long stretch of ill health that started with influenza when he was 16. A few years ago, Chuck fell victim to a nasty strain of Influenza A that landed him in the ER, barely breathing. If you haven’t yet guessed, each and every one of us at the O.K. Chorale makes a point of getting a flu shot every year. My flu shot was delayed this year due to other problems (hey, vertigo and Prednisone, I’m talking about you), but I finally got one in December.

This kind of worry activates my prepper-style paranoia. Any time we go grocery shopping, I make my list and check it twice for any over-the-counter medicines we might need. The chicken soup section of our pantry is well-stocked, too. Tissues? Check. Juices? Check. Crackers and white soda? Check, check.

I no longer have direct face to face contact with my students, so I’m not breathing their germs  and handling their papers daily. Computer viruses are more likely (Ha! Ha!) in an online school. Chuck works in a large plant, and the people there are conscientious about hand washing and the works. They all touch the same tools, so they’re not willing to spread illness through the line. Amigo doesn’t get out much, so if he brings home a virus, it’ll be one spread through his singing buddies in the barbershop chorus.

Now that the current influenza has reached epidemic status, I’m going to take every precaution I can to avoid bringing it home. At last count, I heard the virus had bloomed and spread its, er, pollen in 49 states. Hawaii is the only state with out an influenza epidemic, and Hawaii has its own issues.

But Hawaii’s troubles are a whole post in themselves.

Top Ten List – in which Daisy is under the weather

Remember the Daisy Reality Show? It was the fictional creation of a reality show featuring yours truly, a television producer, and the producer’s bumbling assistant. Creating “Reality Show” posts lets me experiment with point of view and reassure myself that my life, in reality, is quite ordinary. Here’s a potential discussion between the producer and her assistant.

Producer: We won’t get much today. Daisy isn’t feeling well.

Assistant: Really? I hadn’t noticed. How can you tell? Give me one good way to tell that Daisy isn’t at her best!

Producer: I’ll do better than that.

  1. Daisy didn’t label or put away the applesauce she canned three days ago.
  2. The kitchen compost bucket is full.
  3. She stepped outside, said,”The container plants need watering,” and stepped inside without watering anything.
  4. The large hot water bath canner, full of water, still sits on the stove, taking up space.
  5. Daisy made coffee this morning and only drank half of what she brewed.
  6. Daisy ate popcorn for breakfast – stale popcorn, at that. Easy on the tummy, I guess.
  7. She didn’t empty the dishwasher, either. That’s one of her pet peeves; a dishwasher full of clean dishes, and a counter with piles of dirty dishes.
  8. The newspapers from the last two days are still in their (stupid, wasteful, plastic) delivery bags.
  9. Bunny didn’t get fed until quite late this morning, and the litter box still isn’t clean.
  10. And the biggest piece of evidence that Daisy might be ill: It’s Saturday, and she didn’t go to the downtown Farmers’ Market.

Assistant: Oh.

Health Care – It’s Personal

A few years ago, I posted this:

Strong Enough Now

 

Without access to health care, I might indeed have died or become severely incapacitated a few years ago. Thanks to health insurance through my employer, I was able to see the doctors I needed, get my stroke diagnosed, and then go to physical therapy and slowly but surely teach my left side to communicate with my brain. Ironic, I know. I lean left figuratively, politically, so leaning left literally – hey, why not? 

The stroke was only one item in a long list of illnesses and near-catastrophes. Had I not been covered through my job, I’d either be bankrupted by medical bills or – gone. Done. Deceased.

The vote on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon allows the bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act to be discussed, debated, amended, and eventually, it could be voted into law. Make no mistake, my friends, repealing the ACA will be catastrophic.

It’s time for us, the voters, to learn exactly what’s in this bill and how it will affect each and every one of us. Pre-existing conditions, maternity care, disabilities, mental illness, vaccinations, birth control, and more: learn what they mean and why these pieces matter in the puzzle as a whole.

It’s time for us, the voters, to pay even closer attention to our elected officials. What are they saying? What are they doing? And how do their actions affect us? And then we need to let those elected officials know that we’re watching, and what they do matters. Their votes on this bill will affect people nationwide.

For me, it’s time to get out the postcards again. I plan to remind my senators that being able to see a doctor is not an abstract concept. Without insurance, without access to medical professionals, people will die. Health care, indeed, is personal.

 

Working from home? Or not?

The discussion comes up each time we get a new teacher on staff.

“Can we work from home?”

The answers begin as vague, and end as…well, you’ll see.

“Well, it’s teaching. Of course you’ll work at home sometimes.”

“Um, kind of. I like grading tests on the couch with my laptop. Essays, I’d rather grade at my desk with the two monitors.”

“On snow days, I answer emails from home. That’s all.”

“Work from home? If you call in sick, you’ll use a sick day, but you can keep working at home if you want.”

“Truth be told, you can work from home, but you won’t be paid for it. You’ll still need a sick day.”

And therein lies the dilemma. How much will a teacher do for free? I fell victim to the New Virus on the Block and missed almost a full week of school. But I teach online! I can do a lot of my job from home! And we don’t call subs at my online school (well, most of the time). I don’t have to leave sub plans! So…how much will I accomplish in between medication breaks and naps?

Follow this with a deep sigh and a gulp of whatever fluid is in the glass at my side. I’m really messed up either way. If I dig in my heals and do nothing because, well, I’m not being paid, I will really suffer when I go back to work. If I do too much from home, I’m setting a precedent I may not be able to meet in the future. But if I…and what about…and I really should be able to…oh, heck.

I did what I do: I made healing my priority. I remembered the day in the Emergency Room when the doctor wanted to keep me overnight and I said “No, no! I’m a teacher! I have to leave sub plans!” To make a long story short, I went to school at 10:30 PM on a Sunday night to leave plans. I made appointments for follow-up testing and rested all day Monday. My class behaved abysmally, and I caught hell for it. I vowed never, never again would I put my work before my health.

My home page looked like this.

Translation: 48 items my virtual red pen.

Translation: 48 items my virtual red pen.

I graded a lot, and I replied to a few emails from families. And then, I took medicines and rested. A lot.

I have virtual mountains of virtual papers to grade and a long, long list of phone calls to complete. I will bring fluids with me in the form of Snapple or cranberry juice, and I will pack a large orange in my lunch. If the additional drinks and vitamin C don’t help me recover physically, they’ll remind me that I’m still healing. I’ve been sick for over a week, and it’s okay to spread the catch-up work over the span of another week.

Meanwhile, I’ll make sure Amigo has all the fluids he needs. He’s the next sufferer in the New Virus on the Block.

State Count Day – a semi annual event

In a brick and mortar school, State Count Day is simple. Encourage your students to show up, take attendance, and sign the attendance to verify its accuracy.

In a virtual school, we need to document attendance in slightly different ways. I send out an email first thing in the morning (from home! before I get to work!) reminding parents of the numerous ways they can prove that their children are enrolled with us.

  • email, including names of students
  • take online attendance (Mark P for Present)
  • call the school or teacher to verify enrollment
  • Attend a virtual class (I held a homeroom meeting for just that purpose!)

I sent my instructions out with a Read Receipt so as soon as a parent clicked on the email, I received confirmation. We only use those as documentation if we’re desperate.

Meanwhile, I taught three virtual classes: a homeroom meeting, my regular Friday morning Social Studies, and my high school music class.

It was a busy day. (hahaha, Captain Obvious, I know)

On top of this, I was starting to run a fever. Chuck has a virus of some kind, and I’m afraid it’s my turn. Neither one of us likes being ill. The one who is relatively healthier cooks up the chicken soup, basically.

In conclusion (I’m already sounding like an English Language Arts teacher), I wasn’t the most pleasant to be around, so I posted a guard outside my cubicle.

Hee. Hee. Hee.

Hee. Hee. Hee.

The Dystopian Novel That Wasn’t

I toyed with the idea of writing dystopian fiction. I had a plot in mind, a set of main characters, and the major events that would set the plot in motion.

The first draft was junk. Trash. The dialogue was stilted, narrative felt forced, and basically, it was a piece of crap. I didn’t hit delete (I could have, easily), but I set aside my lousy work in a Draft One folder and started over.

This time, I thought and thought hard about what attracts me to this genre. It’s not the disasters, it’s not the End of the World philosophy, but more the survival aspect. How do people cope? How far will they go to feed the family and keep them safe? What kind of teamwork or individualism seems to be most common? Most successful? And finally, perspective. How do I hear this story in my head, and how can I pass that on to my readers?

I started again with these elements in mind. And then, I had to quit. Again. For good, most likely.

My plot premise was turning out to be too close to truth. I had an election in mind with a candidate who couldn’t take losing. This candidate would lose by a landslide, and then he (wouldn’t be she, that’s for sure) would announce that the system was rigged. Sound familiar? At this point, the loser would call for his followers to riot in the streets. His followers, most of whom lacked the ability to think independently, would follow directions and start the craziness.

I think I’ll still to nonfiction. The dark underside of this election is truly frightening.

Influenza – I spoke too soon.

It’s my turn. I cared for the boys, washed my hands frequently, stayed out of range of their coughing as much as I could — and it wasn’t enough. I’m on my second day home today. Chuck is back at work, but Amigo is still suffering.

In the category of Simple Pleasures, also known as For What it’s Worth, there are some reasons to feel (almost) good these days.

We have a new couch – with dual recliners on the ends. With this set-up, two of us can lean back and relax with the tissue box between us. No one fights over the couch because we can both stretch out.

Spring weather might return late in the week. Right now, none of us want to step outside into the cold air for fear of setting off a coughing fit.

I did the shopping last weekend, and I stocked up on chicken noodle soup. I’ve also thrown together crock pot meals to tempt our meager appetites while not spending precious energy in the kitchen.

Positives aside, I need a nap. After that, I need chicken soup.

 

The Dreaded Influenza A

Most of my family members faithfully get the flu vaccine each year. Chuck doesn’t. For some reason, he doesn’t seem to be as vulnerable to the annual flu virus. This year, flu season is different.

Flu season this year came later than usual. Here it is April – April! – not November, not January, and both Chuck and Amigo are down with diagnoses of Influenza A. Chuck ended up in the emergency room a few days ago, struggling to breathe. After a chest x-ray, a nebulizer breathing treatment, and a flu test, the official word was Influenza A. Flu. The upper respiratory virus from hell.

Amigo got his a few days later. We were a little bummed; he’d been ill with some sort of virus for about two weeks, and I thought maybe that was his flu. He gets the shot every year, and that might have mitigated the severity somewhat. No such luck; he is currently curled up on the couch with pillows and blankets and a humidifier on high. Well, the humidifier is on the floor nearby. He’s not curled up with it. Yet.

Chuck most likely came in contact with the virus Tuesday night. His symptoms started in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Tuesday night he was out late covering Ted Cruz’ primary election event in Milwaukee. Governor Walker was there, too. Can I blame Cruz and Walker for my dear hubby getting sick? Maybe not, but I do like to blame the governor for anything and everything possible.

Meanwhile, he brought home the bug and got quite sick, too. I’ve been taking care of him the best I can, treating the symptoms and cooking up comfort foods.

Amigo’s symptoms turned up overnight Friday. His diagnosis was confirmed over the phone with the nurse on call. Once again, we’re treating the symptoms. Chuck was too late for the famous Tamiflu. Amigo couldn’t get an appointment within the magic first 24 hours, and the nurse told me many doctors are hesitating to prescribe it these days. There is some doubt as to its true effectiveness.

Meanwhile, I’m still healthy and knocking on wood and washing my hands and trying not to breathe near either of my guys. If I make it past this week…well, let’s not chance anything.

Readers, I’m feeding the sick ones (and myself) chicken soup and other sources of fluid and nutrition. Advice is welcome – for treating their symptoms and keeping myself flu-free. Add your prescriptions for comfort in the comments.