Zhang: How I survived swine flu

There I was, lying on the examination table, moaning like a car engine between bouts of hyperventilation. My eyeballs burned as if my brain had turned into a furnace. I coughed, sending my body into a painful twist. “This can’t be happening,” I thought. “It’s only my first week of college.”

It all started with a cough last Monday. Too preoccupied with the activities of Camp Yale, shopping for classes, and making friends, I sucked on a couple cough drops and ignored the pain in my throat. By Tuesday, my cough worsened. That afternoon, I woke up from a nap drenched in sweat. But sweat quickly turned into chills. I bundled myself in quilts, seriously wondering whether there was something wrong with me.

Not wanting to miss my first day of class, I dragged myself to a Directed Studies lecture and an economics seminar. That same night, I ended up at Yale University Health Services with a high fever and very slurred speech. After waiting nearly an hour, I was examined by a nurse. While wobbling to the doctor’s office, it suddenly hit me: I might have swine flu!

The doctor’s diagnosis was more hazy than reassuring. After testing a sample of my mucus, he told me I had the flu, “probably the swine flu.” Then he disappeared, as did the nurse, who promised to call my residential college dean. In that moment of confusion, I dialed my mom. When I broke out the news, she didn’t believe it.

“Swine flu? No, it can’t be!” she exclaimed in Chinese. “How did you catch it?”

I didn’t have an answer. In my frustration, I hung up the phone.

Instead of the Tamiflu I expected, I got a care pack that consisted of surgical masks, cough drops, tissues and Tylenol. I was to be quarantined in my room until I remained fever-free for 24 hours without medicine. In the meantime, freshman counselors would deliver food and medicine to me.

My first night in quarantine began with a warm visit from Calhoun College Dean Leslie Woodard and a mass e-mail from Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway alerting Hounies that a student — me — had tested positive for H1N1. Concerned but understanding, my suitemates started arming themselves against my germs by whipping out their Clorox wipes. And for the remainder of that night, I tried to convince my mom that I really had the swine flu.

The next three days of quarantine went by quickly. I passed my hours in a sequence of sleeping, drinking fluids, eating, reading sympathetic Facebook messages and more sleeping. Devoid of face-to-face contact, I looked forward to each food delivery like a kid anticipating Christmas. Not only did I get to enjoy those delicious cupcakes, I got to see another human being!

Thanks to Tylenol, orange juice and 14 hours of sleep each day, I rapidly recovered. At midnight on Sunday, I was officially out of quarantine. And so I celebrated — by sleeping some more.

Aside from the initial delay and confusion at YUHS, I felt Yale treated my case of swine flu professionally. Unlike sick students at other universities who are quarantined together in sick wards, I had the limited freedom of my room. The food and medicine delivery was timely and well-organized.

When people ask me how my swine flu experience was, I tell them it’s not as bad as they think. Sometimes I get a skeptical frown or a glare of disbelief. Trust me: It’s really not as bad as you think.

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