This week, I learned an important lesson: When your obstetrician recommends that you get a flu shot, you should listen to her.
To be honest, I’ve never been a huge believer in the flu shot. I know that each year, health experts must choose which strains of the flu they believe will be most active, and then build the shot to protect against those. And often times, new varieties of the flu emerge after the shots are created, meaning the shot doesn’t protect against them. Plus, I’ve always considered myself a healthy person with a strong immune system. Shouldn’t the flu shot be saved for older people or those who are more at risk of getting sick? Oh wait, that includes pregnant women as well.
Last Monday morning, I came down with what I thought was a run-of-the-mill cough. I decided to take an afternoon nap to ward off anything more serious, but I woke up with full-on body aches and the chills. That night, I hunkered down with some Tylenol and a box of tissues, but woke up the next morning feeling no better. So I thought it was worth a trip to the doctor for a quick check.
At my appointment, everything seemed to check out okay – slightly elevated fever but under control thanks to the Tylenol, clear sounding lungs, good blood pressure. But the baby’s heart rate was a little high, so they decided to put me on a fetal monitor to make sure she was okay. Twenty minutes later, her heartbeat was averaging about 40 beats per minute higher than normal and my fever was climbing. So it was over to the hospital for more monitoring and some IV fluids.
Once there, my fever measured 102 even after another dose of Tylenol. And the baby girl’s heart rate was still high. I was sent up to the maternity ward, where I got a bag of IV fluids and a fetal monitor to keep an eye on the little girl. I also had a flu test, a blood test, a one-time dose of ibuprofen (in an effort to bring down my fever), and my first dose of the antiviral medicine Tamiflu.
By that evening, the baby’s heart rate came down. I was sent home with a stack of prescriptions, a mask to avoid passing along my germs, and a firm – if friendly – scolding from my midwife about the importance of the flu vaccine for pregnant women. It turns out that when you’re pregnant, your immune system doesn’t function as well by design to prevent your body from rejecting the new little person inside you. That leaves you more vulnerable to illnesses, like the flu.
As for me, I’m on the mend. My fever has broken, and now I’m just left with a nasty cough and orders not to go out in public for 10 days. I was fortunate that my flu didn’t develop into anything more serious, like pneumonia, which would have been more harmful to the baby. The rest of my family was also lucky. Both Paul and Aaron had their flu shots this year – and neither of them came down with the flu. Needless to say, next year I will be the first in line for mine.