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The flu, round two

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Winter decided to have one last hurrah this week: below freezing temperatures, snow, ice and gray skies. Instead of watching spring’s arrival, a fresh layer of frozen precipitation covered most of the budding life in our garden. I’m trying to remain positive, but I’ve had it with winter this year. Living in a village on the outskirts of Prague is fantastic during barbeque season, but it can be a tough place to be in the dark days of winter, especially when sickness abounds. Secluded at home, I miss the city’s lights and the convenience of running to a corner market for a few quick groceries.

The flu struck our family yet again the end of last week, just after I’d finished gloating about enjoying the sunshine and springtime outside. First, Samuel came down with a high fever. Then, the director of Anna Lee’s school ski trip called to say that she’d come down with a high fever and hadn’t been able to ski the previous day. Did we want to leave her in the mountains to see if she’d recover in a day or two, or did we want to come for her that night? After talking with a pitiful Anna, Radek set off after work to the Krkonose Mountains to bring her home. The morning after they returned, Oliver woke with a high fever of his own.

A trip to the doctor’s the following morning confirmed that the two older children had a regular case of the flu, while Samuel had some bacterial complications on top of the flu. I was ordered by the doctor to take everyone home to bed, to give them tea and sliced citrus fruit to eat and to air the house frequently. “In hopes,” the doctor offered, “that you won’t end up sick yourself.”

After a winter of having dealt with illness after illness (sinus infections, bronchitis, and a previous case of the flu) that had required antibiotics or an anti-viral treatment, I was surprised to hear the doctor dole out her common sense remedy. In addition to prescribing the vitamin fruit boost, I expected her to instruct me to make some chicken or garlic soup. She didn’t, but I knew it was a given in this culture. After living several years in the Czech Republic, I too am a now a believer in the healing benefits of rest, vitamins, and a dose of homemade soup. Even though the children never eat my soup as readily as they do those prepared by Radek’s mother or grandfather, I still try to offer it, especially when they’re ill.

When Samuel got the flu on our trip to the US this Christmas, we took him to the doctor, as I assumed he had a bacterial infection, like strep. After doing a nose mucus test, the nurse declared he had Type-A Influenza. She questioned why we hadn’t gotten the children flu shots and warned that the rest of the family might come down with the flu too. When I explained that children in the Czech Republic (and in many other European countries) don’t automatically get flu shots, and, in fact, that our Czech pediatrician warned against using such vaccines without due cause, the American nurse was shocked. She was even more surprised to learn that healthy older adults in the Czech Republic don’t routinely get them either. With signs advertising free flu-shot clinics at nearly every pharmacy in my parents’ small town, I could understand how she’d expect the flu vaccine to be regularly administered. It was another visible sign to my family back home that the US approach to healthcare is not universal.

After his diagnosis, Samuel was prescribed the Tamiflu anti-viral vaccine, which cost USD 200 in the local pharmacy. Reluctantly, I filled the prescription, not wanting anyone else in the family to suffer through the flu and also hoping that the anti-viral vaccine would help shorten the length of his virus. Since we were in the US, I opted to follow the doctor’s recommended treatment. Nothing was mentioned about getting rest or any extra dose of vitamins, though we were warned to keep Samuel from coughing on the rest of the family, easier said than done, of course. Other than my mother, the rest of the family escaped that round of the flu.

Afterward, I wondered if the Tamiflu vaccine had helped Samuel recover from the flu quicker, or if it had helped stop the flu’s spread to the rest of the family. I also wondered, at such a high cost, if it was really necessary? Yet since we’d been on-the-go the entire holiday, I was glad I’d had some medicine to dole out for Samuel. Plus, he did recover within a few days of the diagnosis without infecting the other children.

Back in the Czech Republic, the flu diagnosis was done by a process of elimination. First the doctor determined that the children didn’t have a bacterial infection by doing a finger prick blood test; then she checked their throats and listened to their breathing. Although I felt a bit disappointed not to receive some sure-fire treatment like we had in the US, once we’d left the doctor’s office, I realized it would be quite an experience for all three of the children to be home for a week in bed. I might as well make the most of it.

I’d like to say that I spent this week thinking up fun, crafty ideas for the children to do while they were resting in their beds, but I confess that beyond squeezing fruits for extra Vitamin C and making garlic soup, I did little beyond refereeing which movies they put on the television.

Finding a movie that all three consented to watch meant allowing them to watch parts of three different movies, in turn, to satisfy each child’s individual taste. By lunch time each day, they were worn out from the television, so we turned to reading stories. At first, I started reading the same story to each child, then I moved from bed to bed, starting with Samuel and finishing with Anna Lee and read story after story until each child fell asleep.

Anna Lee and I have been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, and we’re now in the middle of the fifth book, “On the Shores of Silver Lake.” When the railroad camps clear out for winter leaving Laura and her family to stay the winter in the head surveyor’s house, with the nearest neighbor at least 50 miles away, the family cozies up to survive the long, cold days with nothing but the howling of nearby wolves to break the silence. Although our quiet dead end street doesn’t compare by any means to Silver Lake in terms of isolation, I admit, that with Radek away traveling for work and the children all home sick, I have felt a bit like a lonely pioneer, albeit one with modern conveniences.

Over the week, I discovered that apart from watching a movie or two on television, the children were mostly interested in being together, with me. We read stories in my big bed, and the boys even slept with me, so I didn’t have to keep getting up to check their fevers in the night. We ate meals together, unhurriedly, a treat which usually doesn’t occur more than once in a normal week. As the children anxiously awaited Radek’s return, I realized that we’d soon return to our busy lives, and though I’d be relieved to have everyone healthy again, I would miss the closeness we shared in this week of the flu.

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