How the Flu Kicked My Ass
Our Family of 6 Was Hit Hard This Year.
It was Monday, January 21, 2019 when our 4 year old first showed signs of fever. I remember the date because the day before, on Sunday, I had taken our 3 daughters (6, 4 and 2) to the Santa Monica pier amusement park to go on rides and hang out on the beach. They were all healthy and full of smiles.
That was about to change.
That Monday night our 4 year old started to feel sick. She was feverish, lethargic and had even thrown up once or twice. She didn’t want to sleep alone so I volunteered to sleep with her in the Queen sized bed in our guest room. That turned out to be a huge mistake, but more about that later.
We survived the night pretty well and on Tuesday, we took her to the doctor because her fever had not yet abated. The doctor suspected Strep Throat and did both an instant test, which showed negative, and a slower but more reliable swab test which was going to take until Friday to get the results.
While at the doctor I looked at the thermometer they used to measure her temperature and I thought to myself “we’ve got to get a really high quality thermometer like that at home, I’m tired of these cheap ear thermometers which vary by a degree or more from one ear to the other.” I texted my wife a photo of the model they had at the doctor’s office with instructions “Order This Now!” She followed through but balked at the $240 price tag. I said “look, we’ve got 4 daughters, we need something state of the art for the next 20 years, it’s worth the investment.” She couldn’t bring herself to pull the trigger on that price, so I had to do it. It arrived two days later on Wednesday, just in time for the real fit to hit the shan:
This doctor never once mentioned the word “flu” nor gave any other possible diagnosis besides strep. This turned out to be a very grave error because, assuming it was strep throat, we weren’t that worried about it being spread around the family. The thinking was, “oh well, if it’s strep, we can just all go on antibiotics and no big deal. Certainly not a picnic, but at least very manageable.”
Tuesday night came and our 4 year old was still feverish and sick, so I slept with her in the guest room again. The next morning I woke up feeling a little bit “off.” Not quite sick but not my usual, energetic self. Oh well, off to the pool for my morning swim, then to the office at 9am to start my day. At about Noon I called my wife “Babe, I’m getting sick, I can already tell.”
At this point I was operating under the belief that I too had caught Strep Throat. The test results from our daughter was still two days away and I was assuming they were going to come back positive. I didn’t bother going to the doctor for myself at this point because I just assumed that the test on my daughter was going to be a proxy for any test I was going to do.
I came home, took my armpit temperature with our brand spanking new professional thermometer and clocked in at 102.7°. Went right to bed without eating dinner. Later that night I was clocking in at a fiery 103.5°, which level was to last for the next 3 days, only to be managed by taking Tylenol, Advil, DayQuil and NyQuil. I was a mess.
By the time Thursday rolled around our 6 year old and 2 year old were both spotting high fevers of around 102.5°. So by now, I had it and three out of 4 of our daughters had it. My wife was still ok as was our one-month old newborn. At this time we still didn’t suspect the culprit was the flu.
Feeling too sick to take us all to the doctor, I tried out a new service I had heart about called Heal.com. For $99 they sent a doctor and medical assistant to you. This was literally just what the doctor ordered. They sent Dr. Nayeri for me and Dr. Tang for the kids. Dr. Nayeri examined me, also did an instant Strep test at my insistence, but said he was 99% sure it wasn’t Strep before he even did the test. He was pretty sure it was Influenza A, which he said has been doing around a lot lately.
Now, why our original Pediatrician didn’t even mention the Flu is still a mystery to me. Why did she go all in on the Strep hypothesis without even considering or mentioning that it could also be the flu? Had we known that we might have the flu, we most certainly would have taken a whole other level of precautions so that it would’t spread so easily within the family. I wouldn’t have slept in the same bed with my 4 year old, we would have separated her from the other 3 kids, etc. There was plenty we could have done to minimize the contagion.
And given the fact that we had a newborn in the house, it makes this misdiagnosis all the more dangerous, almost bordering on malpractice in my (albeit layman’s) opinion. Had our newborn caught the flu, and she ended up not catching it, Thank God, she most certainly would have ended up in the hospital for several days attached to all kinds of feeding and medication tubes. Newborns don’t handle high fevers very well and the first thing they stop doing is nursing, which is very dangerous for them.
Dr. Nayeri prescribed Tamiflu for me and Dr. Tang offered the liquid version for the kids. They were both realistic about the prospects of the medication and didn’t overpromise. They cautioned that Tamiflu is only effective within 48 hours onset of the virus and that the most it could do in the best case scenario would be to shorten by a day or so the recovery time. No matter, we would have taken anything at this point and this medication had the distinct advantage that it had the word “flu” in its name, which certainly heightened its placebo effect, at the very least.
Friday rolled around and our original pediatrician didn’t even call to let us know that the Strep test came in negative, we had to call, and all they offered us at this point was the generic and obvious advice to drink plenty of liquids and get lots of rest. By this time we pretty much decided not to see this pediatrician anymore and to start the search for a new one.
At this point my wife started to feel sick as well and she clocked in at 102.7° as well. She went on Tamiflu also. Luckily for the whole family, the Tamiflu seemed to actually work for her and the next morning she was feeling much better. She seems to have dodged the bullet completely…hallelujah!
After going on Tamiflu we also started to quarantine our newborn in the master bedroom and we put up a doggie gate so that none of the other kids could go in there. This proved to be a huge challenge for our 2 year old who still wasn’t used to not sleeping in the family bed. I camped out in her room and she refused to sleep in there with me. We had a gate up at the door of her room and she would stand by the door for what seemed like hours at a time every night screaming for “MOMMY!” over and over and over.
We had to stand firm on not letting her out though because we were panicked about the newborn catching her flu, that was just something we were not willing to allow.
Over time this separation from Mommy proved to be quite traumatic for our 2 year old and after two nights of torture, we finally took the risk and let her sleep in bed with my wife and the newborn. It was a tradeoff we felt we had to make, plus we felt that the Tamiflu had already kicked in and might help prevent transmission.
The kids symptoms started to abate by Monday, January 28th, about a full week after this whole mess started. My symptoms lasted much longer, about 11 full days in total. As of this writing, I’m still not 100% better. My flu morphed into a cold, replete with congestion, a hacking cough and cold sweats in the night.
I weighed myself this morning and came in at 172.6, which is a full 8 POUNDS lighter than I was 11 days ago. I’ve been hovering around 180 pounds for the last 20 years never seeming able to lose much more than 2 pounds, which only comes after several months of super healthful eating, no sugar, plenty of exercise, etc. I was really shocked to see the numbers 172 on the scaled between my feet, I really didn’t expect to have lost so much weight in such a short period of time.
At the risk of sounding histrionic, this illness has proven to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. When you’re so sick and your whole family is just as sick, the experience takes on apocalyptic dimensions that have an “end of the world” quality to them.
Today for the first time in 11 days we all left the house to go for brunch at our favorite brunch place. Coincidentally, we sat near another couple with 3 little kids who had also just recovered from this same flu experience; somehow the topic came up. The husband was so sick he ended up going to the Emergency Room, he was also on Tamiflu and the side effects of that medication had gotten the best of him apparently. There’s something comforting about knowing that other families were hit by the same curse, there’s an inexplicable loneliness in thinking you are the only one.
Interestingly, this whole family had taken flu shots this year, which apparently did them absolutely no good at all. And that was something we were already swearing we were going to do next year “for sure.”
After pigging out at Joan’s — I am after all trying to gain back those lost 8 pounds — we took the kids to the Skirball Center for a morning of art, climbing and music. The kids had been suffering from Cabin Fever and were begging us to take them somewhere…anywhere. Your wish is our command.
I’m not a religious person, but if I were, I most certainly would say that God had been keeping an eye out for our newborn and not letting this plague of the flu hit her the way it had hit the rest of us.
I’m so grateful for that.