Wednesday, February 05, 2014

It's coming. It's coming for all of us.

At this point, it doesn't matter whether it's a mismatch between this year's flu shot and this year's virus, or a secret government plot, or just plain crappy luck: everybody I know, practically, has the flu.

We have nine full-time nurses in our unit. Two of them have pneumonia. A third is out for another week, until the Tamiflu and chicken soup kick in. The remaining half-dozen of us are bathing in alcohol foam, refusing to get too close to each other (I swear; it's like Sweden up in there), and running away from anybody with the slightest hint of a cough. I myself have taken to bathing daily in boiling bleach and wrapping myself in plastic wrap, head to toe, before I leave the house. I figure a nice tight seal will still leave me enough oxygen to get to the grocery store and back.

Today I took advantage of a sale on soup at the local weird grocery store. I have something like ten cans of Campbell's in the cupboard, as well as a pot of homemade Mexican-inspired chicken soup simmering on the stove. I'll be making a simple salad later, with cucumber, red bell pepper, plum tomatoes, oregano, feta cheese, and about six cloves of raw garlic. (That number is not an exaggeration. Raw garlic, when blended with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, gets surprisingly mellow.)

I'm not even letting Mongo kiss me.

It's hard, to be honest. Everybody but me in the neurocritical care unit is from somewhere else, and they're all from touchy places like Southern India and the Phillipines and Italy. We practically snuggle while we're giving report. I'm the one person who's not A Delicate Tropical Flowah, so I'm the only one who's treating this lack of hand-on-knee, hug-and-cheek-kiss as normal. All the dark, large-eyed beauties I work with are starting to look positively glum. It's the paranoia.

Because, really? Having the flu--and I have had the flu, the real thing, twice in twelve years--is generally not as bad as you expect it to be. (The one exception to that is the first time you have it. That is the worst you will ever feel, ever, short of being shot repeatedly in non-critical places with non-expanding bullets, then roasted over a dying fire, then drawn and quartered by somebody with a dull knife, and finally hanged by an incompetent knot-tier.) A few days of body aches, some pills to swallow, the inability to walk to the couch without getting winded. The best thing about the flu is that when you start feeling merely bloody, it's like you feel great. The worst thing is the anticipation.

So I'm being proactive. I have now got three large tins of Tiger Balm Ultra (the white stuff) coming in the mail. I stocked up on soup, as I mentioned before, and plan to go out tomorrow for ginger ale and ramen (only because I forgot today). I'll get some of those Totino party pizzas. I'll splurge on the big bottle of ibuprofen. Maybe pick up an extra hot water bottle, or even a heating pad.

Putting things in perspective: My pal Joy came down with the flu on Thursday of last week, the same day that my pal Stacy got salmonella food poisoning. Joy is now, thanks to the miracles of modern antivirals, back at work teaching. Stacy just today managed to get through an entire shower without having to sit down in the middle of it.

. . . . .Still. You can talk all you want about the partial protection conferred even by a mismatched flu vaccine, realize intellectually that it's not as bad as a bad hangover, and still want a canvas mask with a bird's beak on the front when you walk around work.

In short, save yourselves. Invest in bleach-manufacturer stock and buy some NyQuil.


Unknown said...

I work in home health and my patient was hospitalized for three weeks (that means no work for me) then when they were finally discharged, I got sick! What's worse is they got sick at the doctors office when they went in for their flu vaccine. That was October, it's only gotten worse from there. Now I'm with a patient that is a frequent flyer (lots of bad paychecks for me) and like to hit and curse at staff. @_@

JEN said...

I got what I think was influenza aout six weeks ago. This was the first year that I got the shot ever (which I am glad about), so I think it was shorter in duration - two entire days of feeling like death and five days of weakness.

What is going on this year? Scary.

Megan said...

hi jo- I just wanted to stop by and say hello. I've been reading your blog for about three years now and I would like to say thank you for how much your words have positively influence and impacted my life. I love reading about your stories and your beliefs and I think you kick ass beyond anyone I know. I myself am a fellow texas girl and I am so thankful for you being there for me to read and laugh and talk over. You have inspired me a lot- I'm going to school so I can be a nurse, I am working and pro-choice (this blog helped me to look at my beliefs critically) and just thank you so much for being out there and making me feel for so long like I wasn't lonely. I have wanted to write this for a long time and I just want you to know I am so glad you are here. Thank you.

cowango said...

I've been saying everybody here either has pneumonia or the flu, with a touch of COPD thrown in for some of them. Our med/surg unit is the base for all the respiratory ailments so we're having a heyday right now. Manglement has required everybody to get flu vaccines this year, which isn't such a bad idea. But honestly, we've had quite a time trying to find beds for all these folks some weeks. The morning I came to work to find 3 ambulances butted up to the ER unloading, I knew we were in for some interesting times. (We being a rather smallish place, 3 ambulances at once is an event.) Tamiflu for everyone!

Jackie K said...

On our Surgical ICU we haven't seen too many patients with the flu, but it's making the rounds of the staff. Can't go too far without finding someone's stashed tissue box. Unfortunately for us, recent policy changes dictate that calling in sick 4 times in a year incites disciplinary processes. These proceedings then preclude you from any chance of a raise come evaluation season. So my coworkers are now calling off if they have to take care of sick kids, but showing up to work wearing masks and looking like death warmed over if they become sick themselves. We've become incentivized to show up sick. This is ridiculous in light of the fact that we counsel all visitors with flu symptoms to stay home. I'm cloroxing my keyboards qshift.

Laura A said...

Your story cracks me up. Isn't that the truth especially with flu season here upon us. I think what makes it worse is that 99% of the patient rooms are iso rooms. I may take your advise and start bathing in boiling bleach and using plastic wrap ;-). Thanks again for a humorous way of sharing the woe of flu season.

RehabRN said...

I believe you on the Tamiflu (since my kid got it last year with his flu).

It is wonderful. Hope you all have plenty in stock.

Knocking wood that it hasn't been as bad at the Hotel as recent years. The staff right now have been sicker than the patients.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, it definitely gets down to what flu season for nurses is all about! I work in the ED, and definitely can tell when flu season starts and ends, I'm grateful to be almost out of it!
Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Hey Jackie K,
They did something like that at my hospital two years ago.

Everyone who had 5% over the mean sick time in a quarter was a bad, bad health care provider and had to have a long lovely meeting with multiple admin, blah, blah, blah, and was forbidden from taking overtime shifts for a year. So, of course, everyone worked sick.

So, of course, last year was The Year of Noro.

Two straight months of truly explosive madness, made worse by the fact they'd fired all the union janitors and were going with Cheapy McCheaperson's Cheap Cheap Cheap Hospital Cleanup Company a few years prior.

It got so crazy they stationed security at the elevators with big bottles of hand sanitizer to hose down visitors and the patients going for a smoke. Staff, of course, quickly retreated to the stairs to get around … the stairs that are not part of the cleaning contract.

Truly impressively bad manglement.

Now, the "sick" policy has a big exception- if your self-reported symptoms include fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, your sick time doesn't get you on the bad list.

So, they're still screwing the employees who have chronic health problems, but it's a little less stupid.