Experience: Here's what it’s like to catch the flu during a pandemic

Mar 14 2020, 5:10 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Alyssa Negard in Calgary.

While the world is currently in a heightened state with the pandemic that is COVID-19, catching the regular ol’ flu can seem like quite the adventure.

I’ve spent this past week watching the world unfold from the comforts of my own bed while battling the seasonal flu — and I’ve experienced first-hand what the initial coronavirus response processes are like. 

On Monday I went into work feeling slightly off, but work is busy, so I didn’t think I could miss any days.

As the morning progressed, I began to feel more and more ill, and my co-workers started to notice that I wasn’t looking very good; I was sporting huge black bags under my eyes that my concealer couldn’t hide, a pale complexion, and a nice, sweaty sheen across my face.

So, naturally, I started to see the panic from my coworkers, worrying that I may have something (the word “coronavirus” was said a few too many times), and then I was promptly sent home. 

I honestly can’t even remember the trip home from work.

I had such a bad headache, and my nausea was so strong, that as soon as I got home I shut all my blinds and fell straight to asleep.

I was in and out of consciousness for about 24 hours and rarely checked my phone because the light was too bright. You know the feeling when you have the flu— your skin aches, the sun is too bright, and literally nothing in the world is more important than sleep.

The idea that I may have coronavirus hadn’t really phased me when my coworkers were discussing it, because I knew that I was only rocking one of the three main symptoms of the virus; fever. I wasn’t experiencing any shortness of breath and I didn’t have a cough.  

I had people checking in on my everyday via text or phone call, and I constantly felt the need to tell them I didn’t have COVID-19. They kept saying “Are you sure? Have you been checked?”

 I get it, it’s scary, but I definitely didn’t want to clog up the doctor’s office, or jam up the HealthLink phone line when I can easily read the CDC’s coronavirus symptoms list online. 

However, due to the heightened state of worry we’re all in, the following day I was asked to get a doctor’s note in order to return back to work. Honesty… it was fair enough, as I work in a place where I am interacting with a lot of different people all day long, and quite a few of them are travelling from all over the world. My workplace was simply being proactive, and I was glad they had a plan in place.

I was still too ill to leave my bed or return to work for a few days, so I spent the time recovering.

While I was planning on going to the doctor, I wanted to be smart about it.

All my Googling aside, what if I was wrong… I mean, I am definitely not a doctor. If i just strolled into a doctor’s office and I did actually have coronavirus, I would be putting everyone in there in jeopardy. So, I did some research and found out I should call 8-1-1, as that is the number for my local health authorities here in Alberta. 

Mentally preparing myself to sit on hold for a few hours, I dialed the number. The call literally didn’t even have an option to stay on hold, it just ended my call due to the high volumes. Okay, makes sense seeing I called during peak times, so I tried again a few hours later; the same thing happened again. 

I decided to directly call the doctor’s office and tell the receptionist what was going on, and to see if maybe they had a protocol in place, or another number that could help me out. She didn’t have a number to offer, but was able to book me in for a doctor’s appointment on Thursday afternoon.

She seemed calm about the whole thing, which made me feel calm. 

Thankfully, the receptionist warned me they only take cash and that I was going to need $20 for the doctor’s note. So on Thursday I headed towards the clinic, stopped at an ATM, and then went to my appointment.

I couldn’t help but notice how many people I crossed paths with  in that short trip: the Uber driver, a bunch of people inside 7-11 (where I used the ATM), and inside the clinic waiting room itself, which was full.

I chose a seat in the corner away from everyone else, just in case. I actually ended up dozing  off in the chair, feeling so exhausted from leaving my house and not being fully recovered.

When I opened my eyes again, an elderly man had come in. He had an oxygen tank with him and he had sat down right beside me. My heart completely sank.

All I could think was that if I did actually have coronavirus, that I could potentially be ending this older gentleman’s life by visiting the doctor today. My heart started racing, and I didn’t know what to do.

I kept my hands tucked into my lap so I wouldn’t touch any part of our adjoining chairs, and I kept breathing away from him and towards the wall. I was questioning everything I had read online and cursing 8-1-1 in my head for not being able to get through. 

Finally they called my name, so I jumped up and followed the nurse. 

I didn’t have to wait long and the doctor came in right away. Honestly, I was surprised to see he wasn’t wearing a mask or gloves. I told him that I had the flu all week and was slowly on the mend, however I needed a doctor’s note to return back to work to confirm that I don’t have coronavirus.

He laughed and asked me to stand up. He listened to two breaths on my back and one on my chest, hung his stethoscope back around his neck and pulled out his pad of paper to write the doctor’s note.

Again, I was surprised, as he didn’t do any further testing or ask any other questions. He acknowledged my fever and my headache and agreed that I had the flu, but not COVID-19. He then sent me on my way with my little doctor’s note. 

As I left the doctor’s office, I saw the older gentleman sitting there still waiting and I had a wave of gratitude wash over me that the doctor didn’t think I had coronavirus. 

Even after seeing the doctor and getting the A-Okay to return to work on Monday, my friends and family are still afraid to be around me, and I anticipate coworkers will be keeping their distance when I return to work. 

With all of that being said, I realized that even with all this hype and hysteria, I knew from the beginning that I didn’t have COVID-19.

I was so completely enthralled in the panic, that I ‘d convinced myself that there was a chance I could have the virus even without presenting the right symptoms — which I think is understandable, because there is the chance of carrying it (and being contagious) without displaying any symptoms.

This is probably why the phone lines were completely jammed when I called, regardless of the fact that we have only had a few dozen confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Alberta so far. 

Still, it’s best to err on the side of caution by being sure to wash your hands as well and as often as you can, people.

Lest you end up like me.

With coronavirus on the rise, Health Canada is reminding individuals who attend events and large gatherings to monitor their health for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. And if you’re not feeling well, they recommend staying home at this time. Also, due to unexpected cancellations, please check the event you plan to attend is still taking place. Keep up with COVID-19 news here.

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