Iqaluit’s first H1N1 patient tells her story

Swine flu “really knocked me down”


There was one night during her bout of swine flu, Patricia Bell said, when she was afraid to fall asleep.

Breathing felt so difficult that she feared she wouldn’t wake up.

But she did fall asleep eventually — and she did wake up — and she did recover, after more than a week of illness as Iqaluit’s first confirmed case of the H1N1 virus, as the swine flu is officially known.

Looking back on it, she said it probably wasn’t any worse than a bad bout of any flu.

Not that the flu is ever any fun, or that she would wish the virus on anyone else.

Maybe it was mild, she said, “but it really knocked me down.”

“I had fever. I was aching. The bed sheets were soaking wet. I had difficulty breathing.

“The headaches were terrible, and I was coughing non-stop. I couldn’t stand without getting dizzy. I was probably really sick for about five days.”

Bell, who works with the CBC, doesn’t know how she caught the swine flu virus.

But she suspects germs transmitted on one of several airplanes she’d ridden on the previous few days, when work took her to Vancouver and Nelson, B.C., and a conference in Ottawa.

“I felt fine when I flew back to Nunavut,” she told Nunatsiaq News, “but a couple of days later I started coughing.”

She went to the Qikiqtani General Hospital where staff took a nasal swab to send to a lab in Alberta.

She was surprised that neither the doctor nor the nurses were wearing surgical masks.

They sent her home, told her to stay away from work, drink lots of orange juice and herbal tea, and come back if the symptoms got worse.

“They did get worse,” she said, recalling the night she was afraid to fall asleep. She’d decided to go back to the hospital the next day, but found she was feeling “somewhat better” by then, so just stayed home.

“I was probably really sick for about five days.”

And on the sixth day — six days after they took the swab — her doctor phoned her at home to tell her that lab results confirmed she had the H1N1 virus.

Of course, that made no difference to the suggested treatment — bed rest and drink lots of fluids.

But it made staying away from others perhaps even more important.

And Bell’s friends and work colleagues took that message seriously. Nobody wanted to come near her, it seemed.

They very kindly dropped off groceries for her, and someone brought her laptop computer around from the office, so she could keep up on emails, and even begin working again as her condition improved.

But they wouldn’t come in. It was just a matter of leave it on the doorstep, ring the bell, and retreat to a safe distance.

Her doctor sent Bell home after she saw him on the afternoon of June 9. Lab results came back confirming H1N1 on June 15. By June 19 she felt ready to return to work.

But the CBC wanted a doctors note before letting her return to work, and her doctor thought, since she was still a bit “phlegmy,” she should stay off till June 26 — which would have been over two weeks.

No way, Bell said. She loves her work and felt she was going stir crazy confined to the house.

He doctor agreed to check again with public health, who told him 10 days away from work, school or public functions, dating from the onset of symptoms, is considered safe.

At press-time, Bell was happily preparing to collect her doctor’s note and get back to business.

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