How H1N1 Changed My Life

When I was in my mid-20s, like most, I went through a career shift.  I had moved to the States with my husband and found a job at a company I liked, but didn’t feel purposeful.  I was 27 and knew it was time to go back to school.

I started taking classes at a local in-state university and settled on communication.  I liked it well enough, I had been doing it for years and I told myself that I could work for a non-profit when I graduated and somehow change the world that way.

H1N1

At the same time the H1N1 pandemic flu outbreak began to garner attention on the news.  I paid little attention to it.  I had always gotten my flu shot, less out of a greater responsibility to prevent the spread of the flu, but because I didn’t want to get the flu myself.  At the time, I reasoned that I would get the H1N1 flu shot once it was opened up to those who weren’t in a priority group.  Until I could get the shot I reasoned that I wasn’t likely to get H1N1 and that it wouldn’t be severe if I got it.

Sound familiar, risk communicators?

Then I got it.

I had been at a party with friends where there was a group of young siblings.  I interacted with the kids and thought nothing of it when at the end of the night one of the kids was complaining of a sore throat.

36 hours later I had a tickle in my throat and a massive headache.  After a few hours I realized I was getting very sick and needed to leave work and go home to rest.  To be honest, I don’t remember much of actually getting home.  I do remember stumbling in the door, my husband telling me I looked very sick and the thermometer reading 105F.

For the next 12 hours my fever wavered between 103 and 105F, I couldn’t keep down water and every joint in my body hurt, it was the sickest I had been in two decades.  Enough was enough and my husband took me to the emergency room.

Without checking my insurance information the nurses took me directly back for evaluation.  My fever read 104 degrees and the physician was concerned that I was so dehydrated my kidney function was becoming impaired.  I was placed on IV fluids, a fever reducer and anti-nausea medication. Four hours and three bags of saline solution later I was released with strict instructions to avoid contact with others for the next five days.

Finding Patient Zero

A few days later when I was well enough I emailed some friends who had been at the party and asked them if they had been sick.  Four people who had been at the party had come down with the same symptoms as I had, and it turns out that two of the children who had been at the get-together were diagnosed with H1N1 the day after the party.

“But they would have had the vaccine, they were in a priority group,” I said to my friend.

“I talked to [party host] she said the kids’ parents don’t believe in vaccines,” my friend explained, “So they didn’t get the shot.”

I was still sick, the hospital visit still fresh in my mind, I became upset that it had all been completely avoidable.  First I was upset at the parents for not vaccinating their children, then I was upset at myself for not taking H1N1 seriously before I contracted it.

Finding a Purpose

From that moment on, I read everything I could on vaccine hesitant parents and vaccine safety.  I wanted to understand the issue and contribute to the solution.  I became passionate about it and began to wonder if maybe I should transfer from an MA in Communication to an MPH.  I spoke with my professor and he told me there was no need, there was a stream within the communication program specifically dedicated to Health Communication.

I was where I needed to be.

I want to hear your story.  Why did you become a public health professional? 

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