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How My Swine Flu Experience Prepared Me for the Wuhan Coronavirus

How My Swine Flu Experience Prepared Me for the Wuhan Coronavirus

It’s hard not to panic considering the non-stop media reports and all the varying opinions you read on social media. But there are ways to keep yourself from hitting the panic button.

As long as I have my memory, October 9, 2009, will be a day I’ll never forget.

I’d fought (with OTC meds) what I thought was just the common cold for several days prior, but wasn’t getting any better. So I decided to go to the doctor to see what was going on. My regular doctor was booked solid along with all the other doctors at the medical facility, but fortunately, I was able to snag an appointment with my doctor’s PA-C.

My dad had to drive me, as my car wouldn’t start that morning. I didn’t like it, because it concerned me he’d catch what I had, but I had no choice. Plus, he was pretty insistent on helping. I had to get to the doctor.

After the tests came back, I was told the big news: “Your test was flu-positive.”

“Oh, ok – you mean the seasonal flu?” I asked in response. Like many people, I’d had the flu before, so I knew the experience. “No,” she said. “H1N1.”

I blinked several times in shock. How could this have happened? I had watched the news reports and read the stories about the people who had become infected and died from the swine flu, so I had taken precautions like faithfully washing my hands and using hand sanitizers. But short of either holing yourself up in your home for months or walking around outside in a literal bubble, no method was fool-proof.

Suddenly I was part of the statistics that year on the swine flu. Was I going to be able to beat this thing? Fortunately, the PA eased my fears on the media hype surrounding H1N1, noting I caught it early.

But it was a battle and a half to beat it. Like Professor Jacobson, I was prescribed Tamiflu and inhalers, lots of chicken soup and bed rest, of course. Both my mom and dad insisted I stay with them, even though I was terrified I’d give it to them. I quarantined myself in the bedroom, and mom made sure to stock up on Lysol, face masks and gloves, and surface wipes and hand sanitizer.

I put on a brave face for my family, but I was scared as hell.

Going through the swine flu was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I had had the regular flu a few times in my life, had pneumonia, bronchitis, the common cold. But nothing at all like the swine flu. Sure, a lot of the symptoms were the same, but the swine flu was different than all the rest. Very different. It took just about everything out of me to fight it.

At a certain point, I felt good enough to return to work, but my recovery time from the swine flu was roughly a month. I would come home from work and lay on the couch and sleep for hours – utterly exhausted. I felt like a freight train hit me. Too tired to change clothes, too tired to even make dinner. The recovery part of the swine flu for me seemed worse than the swine flu itself. But, thank God, I survived.

Fast forward a little over ten years later, and here we are with the Wuhan Coronavirus. It’s hard not to feel a certain sense of déjà vu.

Outside of those who have been directly impacted by it here in America, I don’t think it hit most Americans that we were in for some rough times ahead with it until President Trump’s address to the nation last Wednesday. Between the international travel restrictions, and all the cancellations of sports tournaments, and the decisions made by individual states to shut down schools for several weeks, it’s all suddenly become very, very real.

This is something to take very seriously.

What with the non-stop media reports that feed into the hysteria, and all the varying opinions you read at different websites, and on social media, it’s hard to know how to react except to panic. That includes “panic buying,” which is happening everywhere, including here in Charlotte. People are advertising 12 packs of toilet paper for sale out of their homes on the Nextdoor app. Crazy.

Both my parents are in their 70s now. My dad, in particular, has underlying conditions that make him an exceptionally high risk. I’m extremely concerned about both of them. Most of the people who have died from the Wuhan Coronavirus have been older adults.

Being someone who writes for a living and who has written a lot about the Wuhan Coronavirus over the last few weeks, it’s not like I can just detach myself from it completely, as much as I wish I could. Between having to write about it, having family members who are at high risk, and having gone through a similar experience a decade ago has had me on edge at times. I also suffer from anxiety, and it’s been hard to try and keep that in check.

So what have I done to keep myself from hitting the panic button?

I’ve blocked out time during the day to read things unrelated to the virus. I’ve watched old movies and TV shows, random YouTube videos about funny things. I’m learning new recipes—anything to get my mind off of the virus. I sit on my back porch sometimes to get some fresh air.

I’ve read stories about people who have recovered from the Wuhan Coronavirus. I’ve learned that most diagnosed people as having the virus have recovered from it.

I’ve prayed—a lot.

I also hit the way back button and remembered what I went through in 2009 and how it shaped me afterward. I survived it. The vast majority of the people diagnosed with the swine flu survived it. The statistics for the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic helped me put things in perspective:

From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086-402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the (H1N1)pdm09 virus.

Will we see worse numbers with the Wuhan Coronavirus in terms of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths here in the U.S.? The guesstimates from the medical experts have been all over the map. No one knows for sure.

I’m one of those “better be safe than sorry” types, so I’m heeding the advice that’s given by the CDC. I’m practicing “social distancing” now out of an abundance of caution, so I’m not doing a lot of the things I’d typically do (hanging out with friends/neighbors, spending entire afternoons shopping, etc). I will continue to visit and stay with my parents roughly two weeks out of the month each month, Lord-willing, to help them with whatever they need.

Technology being what it is, fortunately, people can do video calls from home to catch up with family members and friends. Now might be an excellent time to familiarize yourself with that, if you’re not already. It’s also a good idea to familiarize your family members with it, too.

The country can make it through this, just as it did with the swine flu. It will be necessary for everyone to remember what we went through in 2009-2010 to keep the panic down in the days, weeks, and months ahead as the 24-7 media reports ramp up even more and up to the minute statistics on Wuhan Coronavirus infections worldwide continue to come in.

Stay safe, everyone.

— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —


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It’s hard to practice “social distancing” when it takes three trips to a mobbed grocery store to just pick up essentials. Yes, “flu” hysteria has finally hit S. Texas.

    legacyrepublican in reply to txvet2. | March 16, 2020 at 7:30 pm

    Hit DFW about five days ago. The one thing that made me laugh the hardest yesterday was seeing no flour at the store and plenty of yeast on the shelf. I mean, come on, how many people really know how to bake bread these days.

      Petrushka in reply to legacyrepublican. | March 16, 2020 at 8:20 pm

      Let them bake cake.

      My funniest moment was remembering that I forgot to buy bread, and then checking out the bread aisle. Laughed out loud at my stupidity as I gazed down the line of empty shelves.

        B Buchanan in reply to txvet2. | March 17, 2020 at 1:50 am

        I overheard a conversation between an older couple:
        “You got Rye bread?” he asked incredulously.
        “Your going to eat it and like it! “ his wife hissed.
        “It was the only loaf of bread they had left!”

      You look down the pasta aisle and while normal pasta was gone, gluten free, spinach pasta, extra protein pasta .. almost anything but the garden variety pasta was right there on the shelf.

      You don’t need yeast. You can make a flat bread from flour, salt and water. It becomes a pancake type thing. Also you can add dumplings to your soup. Roll out the dough, cut them up in 1/4 inch pieces and drop them in the boiling soup.

      Of course they could have been knuckleheads who didn’t know better.

There are illnesses such as this which hit harder than others, but I just don’t see the need to panic.

So far, despite the over the top reactions to this from the media, I am not seeing the numbers that make this any worse than what we see every flu season. A lot of reports from those who have tested positive has been that they felt like they had a mild flu. Sure, there will be cases which are far worse, but so far in this country we are not seeing it.

I place my trust in God, and if I get the virus it is in His hands if I survive or not. I don’t go out of my way to get it, and do what I can to limit exposure, but while I don’t want it, I believe that a number of people have already had this virus and never knew it. I think it has been going around already, as we had a lot of people in my area who were hit with a bad flu, at least so we think, around Christmas time. It lasted at least a week, and people felt like crap for weeks after.

I fear more about the way our government is handling this, and the panic they are sowing. I fear this is far too overblown, despite how bad this can be, and it will lead to more lost freedom. People are just nuts about this. You would almost think we are talking about the plague, with a mortality rate in the 70% or higher, than the rates we are seeing.

This is being treated far too politically, and of course it is to hurt President Trump, hurt the economy, all in an effort to get him out of office, rather than it being for the public welfare.

    Went for a few supplies at the grocery store yesterday (QFC) and a few things were noticeably depleted after the weekend – but there was still stock – even TP. Powdered (Carnation) milk which they stock very little of, was out.

    Had a memorable moment with a lovely lady while picking up a few bags of greens. There was a salad kit by Dole (?) called “Bourbon and Bacon” and I laughed out loud. She stepped into my space, leaned in and asked “what’s so funny”? I read and pointed at the bag and asked rhetorically “you think they’re going for the male demographic that?” We shared a warm laugh and wished each other well.

    This community has a large retirement population, and while I cuss it from time to time, I’m glad for the common sense that seems to prevail here – and the friendliness. This has us talking to our neighbors more – offering to check on each other – pick up supplies for each other if one of us goes to town. Not much talk of politics; conservative and liberal alike, folks know what’s going on.

“This is being treated far too politically, and of course it is to hurt President Trump, hurt the economy, all in an effort to get him out of office, rather than it being for the public welfare.” Bingo! This is what scares me the most. What if they succeed?

Well, that, and the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates 1% and offering easy lending on a Sunday night. They wouldn’t have done that unless there was some serious kinks in the financial systems. I believe the last time they did that was the financial panic in 1987. That decision did raise my hair some, panicked the markets.

However, along with trust in God, I believe Trump and his helpers are doing everything possible, and making good decisions. As far as I can tell, he is covering all the bases, recruiting all the help and cooperation he can get from business ad the states. Some of what they do is has to be CYA, but I know they’re doing their best.

Another Voice | March 16, 2020 at 9:20 pm

Curious and would ask?
Do you make a point of getting your Flu Shot each & every year since your experience?

I knew we had trouble as soon as I heard the word “novel.” A novel virus is one that we do not know well, and do not have any immunity to.

I was glad to see the airplanes stop their flights to China, followed by supportive government action. Shutting down those flights and taking good care of the people we subsequently brought home may have saved us many thousands of lives.

The President is listening to his skilled advisors. I like that, even if it is quite inconvenient at the moment.

The one thing that bothers me is the slowness of getting good testing available in quantity. The FDA should have no role in “approving” analytical methods. Let them stick to food and drugs.

Finally, DJT has been talking about our strategic dependence on China for thirty years. I am glad he started rearranging our chains of supply before this happened.

Stacey can give Shania Twain some competition in the looks department, can’t she?

I’ve been working at home for almost two years so self-quarantining is not exactly a lifestyle change. Being a runner, I also do most of my running long before sunrise so I spend a lot of time alone. The major difference lately has been the almost complete lack of social intercourse. Food shopping has become a post-apocalyptic experience, confused zombies stumbling among empty shelves. And yet, it is even harder to find a parking spot.

    My experiences are the same as Phil’s. Breakfast at my favorite cafe with the “breakfast club” and other semi-regulars (including the best LA has to offer in up-and-coming entertainers and executives) looks like its now gone. Sure, the owner looks the other way as we take our “to go” packages to the back section, but there are fewer of us showing up since the county-wide shut-down of dine-in services. And dinners out are just that, out of the question.

    On the other hand, this enforced social distancing may substantially reduce this year’s flu and common cold transmissions as well as diminish the Wuhan coronavirus.

Few of us are challenged as you were. You demonstrated that someone can prevail.

I’m glad you did.

Completely off topic- You have lovely eyes!

Former California congresswoman Katie Hill seeks the title of the most famous Coronavirus hypochondriac

I’m a physician (pediatrician), and I vividly remember the 2009 H1N1 epidemic. It came early in my town (late August), and was extraordinarily prevalent (~ 1:2 infected, versus normal 1:10 flu season). But, it was very mild for most people. A 2-3 day cold. Some people had worse symptoms (like Stacey), but for most it was a non-event. I did have several very sick kids that developed complex pneumonia (empyema) that required transfer to a tertiary care center. These kids all had preexisting, moderate, chronic asthma. There were no draconian suppression tactics, just standard advice for the flu. In 6 weeks it was over, and herd immunity kept residual cases to a minimum from October forward.
The current panic over COVID19 may have a heavy price. Ruining the economy, bankrupting people, taking away people’s freedom, and likely prolonging the illness. If Stacey is under 70 years old, and in decent health, she has very little to fear. The current strategy of mitigation and suppression will have to go on until an effective vaccine is produced, possibly next year. A better strategy, in my mind, is to do targeted volunteer isolation of the most vulnerable, and let herd immunity happen naturally with resumption of school, activities. It is impossible to contain as the viral genie is out of the bottle now.