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H1N1 & Healthcare in Sweden

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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