When 25-year-old Courtney Sit got influenza in autumn 2013 she wasn’t sure what was wrong with her. She thought she had a migraine headache but had never had one before that continued for days and left her completely incapacitated.
[Interview with Courtney, a young woman in her 20s.]
Title: Courtney Sit, Auckland inflenza sufferer
I had the flu around March of this year, so that’s 2013. I was kind of feeling a bit under the weather, and I woke up every day for about 2 weeks with a migraine, which didn’t go away with the painkillers. And then I decided after about 4 days of symptoms, it seemed to kind of be getting worse, so I decided to go to the doctor. And that was when she told me, oh, you have the flu.
And she knew it straight away. She could see that I was sweating, but my body temperature was normal, the mild symptoms of the headache in the morning, and still no appetite. So the no appetite lasted for about 20 days. Not eating that much, or eating very little, and just taking a spoonful of yoghurt, as per the doctor’s orders, so that I could take the medicine.
Before I got sick with the flu this year, I had never had a flu vaccination. Partly, because I used to think that it was quite expensive, and that it was a yearly thing. And I’d probably say that given the price, that it’s within a reasonable price range, or if they can get it from work, to not turn it down. Given that I’ve gone through it first-hand, I’d say I would probably try to get it as much as I can.
I think the hardest thing about having the flu is that you can’t really do much except rest. So I was taking painkillers and sometimes that would or would not alleviate the pain. Most of the time, it wouldn’t, actually, it would just kind of dull the pain. And there was not much else I could do except just feel sorry for myself, and sleep all the time.
I think, really having ... when I realised that I had developed wheezing as a result of the flu, that really scared me. I actually asked my doctor, if she gave me an inhaler, if I was going to become asthmatic. She goes no, it’s fine, it’s just temporary.
When I started to feel the difference was when I woke up with no migraine. That was the biggest change. You know, being able to lift up your head ... I was so worried that it was never going to go away, that I would wake up and feel that weight in my head all day. So I knew, I knew that it was all over when I woke up that day and it didn’t come back ever again. And that was a good day. A good day, yeah [laughs].
‘I had this terrible pain that kept shifting around my head; my chest and stomach hurt; and I didn’t want to eat anything, which is very unusual for me because I’m a bit of gym junkie and like my food,’ she says.
After 3 days, Courtney went to her family doctor who much to her surprise diagnosed that she had influenza and prescribed Tamiflu to try and prevent her from becoming even more unwell.
‘The doctor found that I had a fever, swelling in my neck and a chest infection that was making me wheeze and causing the pains in my chest and stomach. She gave me a puffer to help with my breathing and advised me to stay at home and keep away from people until I was better.’
Courtney went home to bed and stayed there for the next week.
‘My parents were away and I was supposed to be taking my little sister to school each day but I just couldn’t do it. Thankfully my older sister was able to step in and also do the cooking and cleaning for us.’
She says that aside from the headaches, which she struggled to relieve with painkillers, the worst thing about having the flu was tiredness. ‘I was getting more sleep than anyone would ever need but whenever I tried to do something to relieve the boredom, I was too tired to concentrate.’
After about 12 days Courtney started to feel better but her sore head stayed with her for a few more days and she had little appetite for 3 weeks. By the time she was completely better she had lost ‘around 5 kgs’.
Her weight loss and lack of activity meant the former 5-to-6-day-a-week gym goer struggled when she tried to return to her usual fitness regime. ‘When I went back my fitness had dropped so much it was like starting from the beginning again – my breathing was difficult and I’d get fatigued very quickly.’
At the same time as returning to the gym, Courtney took her GP’s advice and got a flu vaccination. ‘I didn’t think it was necessary because I’d just had the flu but my doctor said my immunity was now low which would make me more susceptible to one of the other influenza strains.’
Courtney’s experience also helped convince her mother that an annual influenza vaccination was a wise move for her and the rest of her family.
‘Mum works with people arriving from overseas and her GP has told her that her job puts her at greater risk of exposure to new strains of flu. Seeing what I had experienced made Mum want to better protect herself and the rest of us from the flu,’ Courtney says.
From now on Courtney says she will be doing her best to get an annual flu vaccination. ‘Having the flu is quite serious and it can knock you back for a long time. It’s so much better to prevent it, especially if you have work and family commitments that mean you need to stay fit and healthy.’