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H1N1 & Healthcare in Sweden

November 26th, 2009 by Cortney Elin

Before I dive into my next topic, I would like to stop and thank all of you for reading my previous blog, I’m A Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing. To be completely  honest, I didn’t expect to get very much, if any, feedback on it. Imagine my surprise when I recieved over 53 comments on the blog, 8 friend requests on Facebook, 2 follower requests on Twitter, and several emails from readers with more helpful tips or questions about my life in Sweden. I’ve been fascinated by your stories, often checking my blog several times a day just to re-read them. So, again, thank you all so much!

My health, since arriving in Sweden, has been extremely poor. Like, my immune system is completely shot. In the almost six months since I’ve been here, I have caught five seperate head colds, courtesy of my beautiful, 1½ year old niece, and her little friends at daycare. This has really caught me off guard, because I never used to get sick very often. I think, in my lifetime, I caught the flu twice, had tonsilitis once, and a very strange, fluke case of scarlet fever when I was fifteen. Other than that, I would catch maybe one cold in the beginning of the winter time, and that would be that. Not the case anymore! The theory behind this madness is that, since I am not accustomed to the same “bugs” in Sweden as the natives, I am more vulnerable to get sick. Thankfully, I haven’t gotten anything more serious. However, as Swine Flu (H1N1) seems to be everyone’s main concern these days, this is where my story leads me…

I’d like to point out before I go any further that I did not want the Swine Flu vaccine. I have several reservations against it, but yesterday I went and got myself vaccinated anyway.

Why didn’t I want the vaccine? To be honest, I don’t trust it. No, I am not a conspiracy theorist who believes that the government is really injecting GPS tracking devices into our blood stream, and using the flu as a cover-up. Nor do I believe it’s a devious plot constructed by the pharmaceutical industry just to make money off of a scared public. I don’t trust it because modern medical achievements are paved with trial and error. Top research teams from around the world have been working round the clock for the last year preparing this vaccine, so that when flu season came around this time, we would be better prepared to protect our people. I have nothing against that. They have done everything in their power to ensure that this vaccine is as safe as possible, given the time frame they had to work with. But that’s just it: the time frame! We’ve only had a year to test the vaccine. This is a brand new drug, with serious side effects, and we don’t know what the long term effects on our bodies will be.

I’ve heard the arguments out of my brother, my teacher, a few of my classmates: But Cortney, you can’t catch Swine Flu! What about your niece, you have a baby in the house! Do you want her to get sick?

First of all, the vaccine is a live, although weakened, version of the actual Swine Flu virus. And with my immune system the way it is? I’m going to get sick one way or the other, whether it be from the actual Swine Flu, or just the vaccine. Second of all, let’s say I did get vaccinated for the sake of my niece, trying to save her from catching the dreaded H1N1. Sure, I won’t get the full blown virus, and bring it home to her. But with how persistent and clingy germs are, isn’t there still a very good chance that I could bring the germs home with me (from school, or some other public place), causing her to catch it? The fact that she goes to daycare three days a week, with other small children who have weak immune systems… Surely that couldn’t cause her to catch Swine Flu? My point is, my being vaccinated won’t guarantee that she is safe. It could help prevent it, yes, but it’s not a bullet proof plan, so stop making it out to be one. She’s as much at risk as I am.

To be honest, I also believe that the media has blown this Swine Flu “epidemic” thing way out of proportion. According to the CDC, the American Center for Disease Control & Prevention, 220,000 americans are hospitalized every year with seasonal flu. Out of those 220,000 people, 36,000 die. The CDC estimates that between April and October of 2009, somewhere between 63,000 – 153,000 americans were hospitalized with Swine Flu related symptoms. The death rate, among these sometimes uncomfirmed cases? 2,500 – 6,000 deaths.

(My references on seasonal flu http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/disease.htm and Swine Flu http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/estimates_2009_h1n1.htm courtesy of the CDC)

Yes, while those are just the statistics in America, and every country is different, the point I am trying to make is this – When the media does nothing but talk about how many cases there are, or how many have died, of course it’s going to seem like a big, bad, scary epidemic. You know what I view as an epidemic? AIDS. To quote a good friend of mine, “Millions upon millions of people have AIDs, and you still have idiots who don’t wear condoms. A little over a hundred thousand people catch Swine Flu, and all of a sudden everyone wants a vaccination.”

So, now that I’ve gone on my politcal rant about H1N1, you’re probably wondering why I got the vaccination, and why my steadfast, stubborn beliefs didn’t stop me. Well, two reasons. My niece was one of them, yes. In the end, I wanted to be one less possible route of infection for her. But don’t call me selfless just yet. My other reason is purely selfish. There’s been a lot of talk recently about international travel being affected by H1N1, and to be frank, I don’t want to take any risks when it comes to going back to America this summer, and seeing my family & friends. That all being said, I braced and prepared myself for the inevitable. I knew I was going to get sick.

Around 3:15 yesterday, I got the vaccination. My nurses were wonderful, and very friendly. One noticed my person number and remarked “Wait, you said you were an American! But it says here you were born in Stockholm! How could this be?” I smiled, laughed, and said it was a long, long story. (Also gave her the link to my blog, so, if she’s reading, thank you for being so good to me!) The wait was not near as long as I had expected, I was in and out in five minutes. I didn’t feel the shot, though one of my girlfriends from Uganda experienced some discomfort when recieving hers. I felt fine… for the first ten minutes. Then my shoulder, neck, and other muscles near my clavicle really started to sting & ache. Within an hour, I had a horrible headache, and was beginning to feel incredibly sleepy. I actually started nodding off at the train station, while waiting for my train! Needless to say, I got some funny looks from people when I kept bobbing up and down, half awake, half asleep. Thankfully, I had another friend to keep me company (this time a boy from Iraq who was in SFI a few years ago) on the train ride home, so I didn’t fall asleep again and miss my stop. After I got home, I started to feel a little better. I ate some delicious spaghetti with garlic bread, and sat down on the couch to watch “My Place at Half Past Seven” (translated name) with my sister-in-law. It was as if I blinked, and all of a sudden, I was out cold. I woke up on the couch two hours later. My brother was now home, which was a new development. I blinked again, and a half hour passed. I was now covered with a blanket, and someone had just tossed a bar of chocolate into my lap. Turns out my brother’s friend had come by, and they had almost finished watching a movie. I sat up, and tried to drink a little water to keep myself up. My arm was killing me, my headache still hadn’t gone away, and I now had a case of the chills. I didn’t go to bed for another few hours, but none of my symptoms had changed by the time I went to sleep for the night.

This morning, I woke up and found a lump on my arm near the injection site. They told me to expect my arm to swell, but they didn’t say I’d have a ping-pong ball under my skin! It’s been really uncomfortable maneuvering with my arm being almost completely useless, for the time being, but I’m managing. The headache hasn’t changed, but my chills aren’t as bad as they were last night. I’m sorry to say that I had to miss class today, but I literally couldn’t get off the couch this morning, I felt so weak. I called my teacher, and she said that she understood. Turns out my girlfriend from Uganda was also experiencing some problems, as was my friend from Iraq, though he had managed to make it to school later in the day.

All of the symptoms I’m experiencing are trademark vaccine side-effects. I have no reason to be worried, unless my symptoms persist for longer than a week, or if they escalate to an unbearable level. The sad thing is that my six year old nephew got the vaccine the day before I did, and he’s been completely fine. Not even swelling! Lucky native Swedes and their immune systems… *;)

Looking back through this article, I realize how negative I am sounding today. That could just be the headache making it’s presence known.. But regardless, I want to end this blog on a positive note.

The healthcare system in Sweden, though it may have some flaws (as every system does), is wonderful. Like, I can not tell you how much it has done for my family and I. Some are the smaller things, like free vaccinations. In America, it costs the public ten dollars per dose for the H1N1 vaccine. Sure, that may not seem like a lot of money right now, but it sometimes takes two doses to gain full protection against Swine Flu. So that’s now twenty dollars per person. Now imagine that you are a family of three adults, and three small children, as it is with my current living situation. That’s 120 dollars, per family. With the economy still very sluggish, that is a big chunk of change.

But one of my favorite examples of how amazing the Swedish healthcare system is? My younger nephew, the six year old I mentioned before, was born with a condition called Gastroschisis, where a baby is born with all of its organs outside of its body. He literally had an empty chest cavity, but all of his organs were in tact. He was only hours old when he had surgery to place all of his organs back inside of his body, an incredibly risky procedure. We were fortunate, not only that the surgery went along smoothly with no complications, but also that he had been born here in Sweden. The hospital only charged my brother and sister-in-law for the cot my brother slept on during the nights in the hospital. The rest of the medical costs were covered by the Swedish government/healthcare system. In America, the surgery for my nephew alone would have cost well over 1 million dollars, leaving my brother and sister-in-law at the mercy of the ruthless insurance companies, and in debt for maybe the rest of their lives. My nephew is now a perfectly healthy, vibrant little boy, and according to my sister-in-law, she can’t even remember the last time the kid got sick! That, to me, is a success story.

And so, my dear readers, I am off to go get some more sleep, and maybe a little bite to eat. Gotta keep my strength up! Hope you all have a wonderful day.

(Note: I am not a medical professional. I do not claim to have extensive knowledge about the medical field. The opinions I have expressed in this blog are based upon research I have done myself, but I am in no way suggesting you avoid recieving the vaccine if you feel so inclined. It’s your choice.)

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I’m a Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

November 22nd, 2009 by Cortney Elin

This story begins with a Swedish man. This story also begins with an American woman. This story, my story, begins with my parents. My father was born and raised in Sweden, and moved to the United States during the 1970’s to seek his fame and fortune in the land of opportunity. My mother was born in Chicago, Illinois. The two met in a small, summer resort town in southeast Wisconsin, in the late 1980’s. They moved back to Sweden, where they were married, and soon settled to raise a family.

I was born in Stockholm, as was my younger sister, and we lived there with our family until I was two years old. We packed up & moved to the United States, and from there on out, I was raised as an American child. In the following sixteen years, I moved around quite a bit. My parents divorced when I was six, and at the time we had been living in Wisconsin, near my mother’s family. I moved to California, with my mother & sister, and lived there until I was fifteen. I left California for Michigan, to live with my father and stepmom, just before I turned sixteen, and lived there until June of this year.

I’d just graduated high school. My older brother, who had remained in Sweden (and was now married, with four children), was strongly encouraging me to come and visit him, if not just to see him & our family, but also to get in touch with my roots. The plan was simple: I was to live with them for six months, take a few classes in Swedish, and just get a feel for what day to day Swedish life was like. But as the months have passed, the plan has evolved and changed a great deal. Seems I’m going to be here longer than I thought. Whether or not it is for the better has yet to reveal itself, but as I am an optimist by nature, I can only hope that I am doing the right thing by staying here… over four thousand miles away from the people I love, and the only life I’ve ever really known.

And so, here I am. What am I doing here? Well, that’s a question I’m still asking myself, but for the time being, I am just rolling with the punches. I’m enrolled in SFI (Swedish For Immigrants) at a Gymnasiet in a neighboring community, and I’m going to school five days a week, trying to learn Swedish. What comes next? I honestly have no idea. I’d love to get a job somewhere, but it’s slim pickings for someone who only speaks English. ((Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!))

I’m really starting to grasp a sense of irony from the situation I’ve found myself in. Growing up, I was extremely proud of being Swedish. Any time a teacher, school counselor, potential employer, pageant judge, or DMV clerk would notice on a piece of paperwork that I was born in Stockholm, I would glow, and happily answer any questions they had. And they always had questions. “What was it like, there? Do you remember it at all? Do you ever go back to visit? Why did you move to America?” I revelled in the fact that I had dual citizenship, and as a child used to brag about it to my friends. Hey, cut me some slack! Whenever anyone found out I was from Sweden, they were immediately interested in whatever I had to say, as if my birth place somehow affected my IQ and gave me an award-winning personality. It’s pretty hard to not abuse that kind of power when you’re that young.

So where is the irony? Well, I am starting to realize how (I don’t know any other way to put it) not-Swedish I am. That’s not to say I am now identifying myself as an American. To be honest, I have no idea who, or what, I am. All I know is that I have been thrown into an environment where my world has been turned completely upside down, and it’s as if I am having to learn to walk & talk all over again.

I am having a lot of difficulty relating to Swedish kids my age, particularly the ones I’m now going to Gymnasiet with. Part of that could have something to do with my maturity level: I always hung out with the older kids in high school, and never could quite get along with the students in my grade. But the culture clash is also starting to wear on me, and making it clear to me just how different I am. For example, from what I have observed thus far –

Swedes hate eye contact, and are very reserved around strangers. I, on the other hand, am bright eyed, eager, and smiling at people on the bus.

Swedes are quick to think you have some sort of hidden intention if you try to brush up a conversation with them. Then there’s me, where I feel no embarassment whatsoever about approaching someone at school and remarking about the shoes they are wearing, the book they’re reading, or asking them if they can recommend anything fun to do in town.

I’m not doing these things to be a creep, or drive people away from me. This is the way I’ve interacted with people for the last eighteen years. I’ve never known any other way. Is my behavior considered American? Not necessarily. I’ve met many Americans who are just as reserved around strangers, and wouldn’t think twice about saying “F*** off” to someone who randomly approached them on the street. It could all be a matter of personality, and a person’s comfort zone.

Regardless, I’m having a hard time making friends since I’ve moved to Sweden. Part of it could be my behavior, part of it could be the way I dress (though I will touch up on the subject of my fashion vs. Swedish fashion on another day), but I think the main reason is because I don’t speak Swedish. It immediately throws up red flags to anyone I meet, and stamps a big, red label on my forehead: “Immigrant”. No one has ever once taken the time to ask me where I came from, so I’ve never been given the opportunity to explain the situation: that I am indeed Swedish, and merely trying to catch up! I’m sure it probably doesn’t help my situation that the only kids I really socialize with at school come from the Middle East and Africa, all of whom look the part of an immigrant moreso than I do. I’m not the only one who is being ignored. Several of the kids in my class speak nearly fluent Swedish, and have tried breaking out of their shells to socialize more with the Swedish kids at our school, but no one will even give them the time of day. There are the rare few, who are former SFI students, who talk to us, and a couple of kids who approach us to ask how to say something in English, so they won’t look stupid when they go to class in an hour without having studied the night before. But other than that? Nobody. And it’s truly heartbreaking, because the kids in my class are good-hearted, wonderful people. I turned eighteen on my third day in class, and was horribly depressed because I was so far away from home. You know what they did for me? They threw me a birthday party during class! Cakes, cupcakes, delicious orange flavored saft, birthday candles, the works. Do these Swedish kids realize what kind of friends they are missing out on?

I know that not all Swedes are biased against immigrants. To assume so would be asinine. I do believe that the general Swedish public is full of intriguing, open minded people, many of whom would like a chance to get to know me, or any other person with a story to tell. But the fact of the matter is, I am currently meeting a lot of hostility & resentment because I am not a native Swedish speaker, and no one is really giving me a chance. That is a hard mountain to climb.

As I’m sure you’ve read the title to this blog post, I’m sure you’re wondering what it means/what it has to do with me. Well, it’s a bit of a spin on an old proverb: “Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.” I’ve had this analogy in my head for quite some time. You see, I’ve been trying to explain to my friends back home why I am having such difficulty adjusting to life in Sweden, and after trying in vain to make them understand why people immediately dislike me, I figured out the perfect way to word it: Sweden, and it’s people, are a flock of sheep. Some Swedes view immigrants as potential threats, or simply dislike them/feel uncomfortable around them because they are different. The immigrants are seen as wolves, and though they may be harmless, the sheep aren’t taking any chances. And that’s where I come in. I’m the sheep in wolf’s clothing.

And so, now that I have gone & thrown myself a pity party, allow me to introduce myself: My name is Cortney. I’m eighteen years old, and I am a citizen of both America and Sweden. I’ve started this blog because I want to chronicle my experiences of re-discovering my roots (and maybe even re-discovering myself), & share them with others in the hopes that I can reach out to people in similar positions, or maybe even help someone who finds themself as lonely as I’ve been feeling these last months.

I believe I will make friends here, I don’t think this rut will last forever. I believe I’m going to find happiness in Sweden. I just have to work hard enough to find it. I’ve yet to meet a challenge that I couldn’t overcome.

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