THAT TIME THE FLU SHOT NEARLY KILLED ME…I THINK
By Liz Gunn || My husband would disagree with me here, but I am actually the first to admit when I’m wrong. Okay, maybe not the first – but I will eventually own up to it. I’ve done it here before, and I’m sure I’ll do it again…starting now actually.
I didn’t write about the flu vaccine specifically, but when I wrote about vaccinating children by the schedule set forth by the CDC, I mentioned how important I think it is for people to also get their flu shot every year. I got one last year, and aside from the sting of the injection, I had no problems whatsoever.
This year I have a very different story to tell. I’m not a doctor and I’m not a research analyst. I’ll share the timeline of my events and let you decide for yourself. It’s a long way off, but I’m not sure I’ll be the first in line next to get my shot next fall – regardless of what my doctor begs me to do.
Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. – My husband and I walk into CVS and ask for flu shots. After a brief pre-screening, our vaccines are quickly administered and we’re on our way. Simple as that.
Wednesday, 4:30 p.m. – I text my husband to ask him if his arm hurts. Pain at the sight of injection is not uncommon. It’s usually not severe and goes away in a day or two. He said his was a tad sore, but nothing out of the ordinary. Me on the other hand? I could barely move my arm. It felt like I’d been attacked with a baseball bat.
Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. – By this time I was in a considerable amount of pain. At the advice of a friend, I took a hot bath and massaged the site of injection. I popped some Advil and went to bed early. I was delighted to wake up the next morning in a lot less pain.
Thursday, 3:00 p.m. – While the pain in my arm was all but gone, I noticed a dull pain deep in the left side of my chest. It hurt when I inhaled deeply and again on exhale. It wasn’t painful enough to really worry me, just enough to be annoying. I concluded that I must have tweaked a muscle in that area lugging around my 23-pound, one year old.
Friday, 7:00 a.m. – I woke up feeling the same pain, but it was more intense. At the urging of my husband and my mother, I later decided to give my doctor a call. He couldn’t fit me in but recommended I be seen, so I decided to go to Doctor’s Care and avoid the long wait and hefty bill of the emergency room.
Friday, 11:00 a.m. – I was seen by a doctor who decided to do a chest x-ray as well as run some blood work. The results made me feel a lot better, as both came back clean, but he was unable to make a clear diagnosis; it didn’t accomplish more than ruling out a few things.
Friday, 10:00 p.m. – I’m still in a good bit of pain, so I take a double dose of Advil before bed.
Saturday, 7:00 a.m. – I woke up feeling pretty good. I assume at this point, whatever is causing this pain is on it’s way out. We had a full day ahead and my condition didn’t hold us up. The pain that I thought was on its way out gradually started to return mid-afternoon. By the time I went to bed it was back in full force. I decided to take prescription pain medication (leftover from surgery last year) this time, as opposed to Advil.
Sunday, 7:00 a.m. – Woke up in more pain than ever, and it got worse by the minute. I stayed in bed and tried to sleep until 9:30 or so when I finally stood up and subsequently almost collapsed.
Sunday. 10:00 a.m. – I tried to get dressed and the pain brought me to tears. At this point, I’ll be honest, I considered the fact that I might actually be dying. I called my best friend to come watch my daughter and my husband and I got to the emergency room around 11:00 a.m..
Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – We were seen quickly once arriving at the emergency room. When you have severe chest pain and shortness of breath you tend to skip everyone else in line. Again, they ran a series of test (X-Rays, ultrasound, blood work, ECG) to rule out some pretty scary possibilities. Once they ruled out a heart attack, a punctured or collapsed lung, a hiatial hernia and a blood clot – they landed on pleurisy.
Pleurisy is an inflammation of the lining of the lungs and rib cage. This explains the sharp pain I feel with every breath, as the inflamed outer lining of my lung expands and bumps into the inflamed outer lining of my ribs. Ouch.
I know this story is long, but the details are important. Pleurisy is rare these days and even more rare for someone who hasn’t recently been ill. The only virus I was knowingly exposed to during this turn of events? The influenza virus that’s in the vaccine. No one in my house was sick before or since this diagnosis.
Neither of the doctors I saw would rule out the possibility that the flu shot caused this condition. Doctors are very non-committal about declaring cause and effect relationships on the fly. I understand that. But they wouldn’t rule it out, therefore I still think it’s a strong possibility.
So how do I feel now? A lot worse than the last time I had the flu. It’s very painful to breathe, which is obviously problematic. Sleeping is also difficult because of the pain.The only treatment for viral pleurisy is rest and taking a large dose of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Motrin or Advil.
So other than not being able to breathe freely and not being able to rest, which would be helpful in my recovery, I am doing okay. The pain typically increases the more active I am so I am trying to take it easy. But that’s difficult for me -I have a lot to do!
Pleurisy is rare these days, and has declined over the years thanks to antibiotics now used to treat most of the bacterial infections that usually cause it, like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Benjamin Franklin, Charlemagne and Catherine de’ Medici all died from pleurisy. But don’t get your hopes up – it looks as if this will only keep me down for a short while.
Back to my original point though – I would honestly rather have the flu right now; so the chances of me getting another flu vaccine are slim, unless this condition affects my memory as well. Hand washing is also an effective germ deterrent and so far has not caused me to fall ill. I think I will stick with that for the time being.
Liz Gunn is a wife, mom, travel enthusiast, food snob, daydreamer and lifelong Gamecock fan. A graduate of the University of South Carolina, she lives in Columbia, S.C. with her husband and daughter.